PhD Self-Care Project: Simple Ways to Be in the Moment

I have written a few pieces now on easy ways to relieve stress. That seems to paint a picture that a PhD student’s life is consumed by stress. It’s not! There are a lot of aspects of this journey I am really enjoying. Also allow me to clarify, stress is not always a bad thing. In general, positive stress can be associated with events like competing in the university-wide heat of a Three-Minute Thesis competition, or your upcoming graduation. They still make you feel nervous, but there is also an element of excitement and motivation. The kind of stress I look out for during my candidature is the type that elicits a full-blown stress response that just leaves me fatigued and unproductively anxious.

Tuning in to the present moment helps me to keep healthy stress levels, but also helps me to enjoy the nice moments in my candidature. It feels like I will never finish, but already I am well past the halfway mark. I am certain that, when all of this has passed, I will miss the experiences unique to a PhD life. Below is a quick exercise I use to allow me to take a break from worrying about the future.

Dropping my anchor. This is one of my favorite exercises to do. As a marine ecologist it immediately gives me that cue to visualize being out at sea, which instantly calms me. I plant both my feet on the floor. Next, I try to push them against the surface of the floor and notice how it feels. I then pay attention to my entire body and notice the feeling of gravity through my head, spine, and legs down through to both my feet. I pause for a moment and then look around to notice five things I can see. After that, I listen very carefully and notice five things I can hear. I then notice five things that I can feel in contact with my body, such as the ground, maybe the chair I am sitting on, or my watch against my wrist, and so on. Finally, I try to tune in to the sights, sounds, and smells in their entirety.

What does being present mean to you?

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