stress management

Make time for ‘self-care’: 30 suggestions to reduce thesis stress this month 

Are you feeling tired, a little low, stressed, overwhelmed or just slightly ‘over it all’? 

If so, give yourself permission to take a little break from your thesis and do something positive and fun.. you will be happier AND more productive, guaranteed! 

Successfully completing a research degree is a marathon, not a sprint – as much as you might try, you simply cannot always live and breathe your thesis 24/7. It is really important in your research journey that you take a little time for self-care and look after yourself – emotionally, physically and socially. We all need to stop, every now and then, and make the conscious choice to do something non-thesis related that makes us happy.

Here are 30 suggestions – do one, some of them or all, or make up your own. Just have some stress-relieving fun this month!   Make sure that, for this month at least, you carve out some time for yourself, away from thinking about and working on your thesis constantly.

1. Be brave and step outside your comfort zone. This month, do something exciting and positive that scares you, just a little – join (and go to) a ‘meet-up’ event that interests you, sign up for that Hot Yoga course or the skydive.

2. Music. Start your morning by listening (and signing and dancing along) to music that energises and inspires you.

3. Social media and internet detox. Turn off your phone, iPad and laptop all day.

4. Movies. Go see a movie at a theatre all by yourself. Buy and enjoy the popcorn – and the silence.

5. Productive Action. If your ‘mental to-do list’ is long and stressing you out, pick one thing and do it.

6. Treat yourself – indulge in that special dinner out, get a manicure, pedicure, massage or that brave new haircut or outfit. If money is an issue, look for specials online, have a progressive dinner party with friends or look in second-hand stores.

7. Scheduling. Use your online or physical diary to intentionally schedule and ‘block out’ daily “me-time” – whether it is 30 minutes in the morning or at lunch to escape and read a favourite non-work book (Harry Potter, anyone?) go for a walk, run, yoga, bootcamp or simply listen to/watch your favourite comedy, prioritise doing what makes you happy every day this month.

8. Learn something new (non-thesis related) – just for fun. Get (or download) a book from the library on a topic you are interested in but have never taken the time to learn about. Listen to a podcast or join/follow a Facebook group in this area. Maybe enroll in a free MOOC (massive online open course).

9. Declutter. Start with your wardrobe and donate something to a local charity. If you need inspiration, read Marie Kondo’s “Life changing manic of changing up”.

10. Cook. Try out a new recipe – channel Donna Hay, Pete Evans or Jamie Oliver (or your favourite chief) and make something new. Invite a friend over to eat it with you or take it into the office and share.

11. Go for a walk or jog around your local neighbourhood, and discover some place new. If you want, put your headphones in and listen to music (or a podcast) you love at the same time.

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12. Adopt a positive attitude. Write something positive and encouraging on a post-it, and put it where you will see it every day (your computer, mirror etc). Change your university log in password to this word.

13. Plan a ‘staycation’. Most of you are in Brisbane, so explore your city like a tourist: ride the city cat and explore somewhere new, go swim at the free beach pools at Southbank or Redcliffe, visit and enjoy GOMA or simply people watch in a lane-way bar.

14. Start a cycle of positivity and encouragement. Tell someone what you appreciate about them. Send a ‘thank-you email’ or twitter to someone you admire;  send a card, postcard or ‘self-care’ parcel to a friend/ family member ‘just because’ you were thinking of them.

15. Get outside and enjoy nature. Search Brisbane City Council healthy and active parks. Find and enrol in an activity in a local park near you or just sit by the Brisbane river and relax, just enjoying the moment and being in nature. I highly recommend finding a space at the Gardens Point campus, near the bridge to South Bank or in the botanical gardens.

16. Start a gratitude diary. Research shows that writing down three positive things each day for a week makes us happier. Try it.

17. Recharge your batteries. Have a “Doona” day. Stay in bed. Stay in your PJs all day and don’t leave the house. Do very little. Watch something light heartened on TV or online (I recommend Mrs Browns Boys).

18. Local history day. Dedicate a day to engaging with and learning about local history and heritage – I encourage you to read, learn about and engage with  Australia’s history, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories. Learn about ‘Sorry Day’ (26 May) and engage with the celebration of indigenous culture and achievements in early July through NADIOC (National Aboriginal and Indigenous Observances  Committee) week – the 2017 theme is ‘our languages matter’. As a starting point, visit: shareourpride.org.au and nadioc.org.au.

And if built heritage interests you, put the annual Brisbane Open House (in October) in your diary: http://brisbaneopenhouse.com.au/

19. Personal memories. Share a special, funny or embarrassing picture of you from childhood or high school, with friends, family or on social media. Enjoy the walk down memory lane, and let go of any negativity.

20. Sleep. Take a nap on Sunday afternoon. Enjoy it.

21. Charity. Skip buying your morning coffee or lunch today and donate the money to your favourite charity.

22. Do something good for the environment. Recycle, re-use, commit to buying recycled toilet paper.. do something different and make one positive change for the planet.

23. Engage in and explore your local community. Most weekends, there is a free local festival or event of some sort. Get involved – whether it is music in a local cafe, yoga in a park, local community markets, a festival  or a play at the high school.

24. Drink more water. It’s free and good for you.

25. Learn how to say no. If you are overwhelmed and don’t want to do something, learn how to tactfully say “no”. Memorise a helpful phrase (e.g. ‘That sounds like a wonderful opportunity, but right now I need to honour my existing [research] commitments. I cannot take on anything new for six months, but let me recommend someone else’ ).

26. Go camping. Go alone or with a group. Pick a weekend and create a private event on Facebook, inviting friends to camp near the beach or in the mountains for a few days.

27. Exercise. It’s true, you feel better after exercise due to all the endorphins. Do something you love, there are many free videos on u-tube so try something new this month – whether it is yoga, dancing or body weights.. there are some super fun (and free) utube videos, so dance and move along to one – check out The Fitness Marshall for some positive movement energy (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=f6wm2g682JM).

28. Don’t exercise. Do nothing and enjoy it – guilt-free! Maybe watch a few funny cat videos.. that’s what the Internet is for, right?

29. Dress up and go to the theatre. There are many low cost and entertaining events (music, art, drama etc) through local universities and art colleges, and you can also take in a comedy show or something at QPAC or the Powerhouse.

30.Ask for help. If you are feeling significant stress about your thesis or some other part of your life, PLEASE reach out and ask for help. Take a moment to reflect on how everything is going in your life – and if you need help, ask for it. Speak to your friends, fellow research students, your supervisors, your GP/psychologist, me or the HDR team – we might have some ideas that could help, so please ask us.

It is really important to make your health and wellbeing a priority during your thesis journey, so I encourage you to try one, and/or all of these suggestions as a ‘self-care’ activity this month.. .. and please also come up with your own ‘self-care’ activities and share them below. 

Your friend and HDR mentor, Evonne

Ps The photograph of a large houseboat and outdoor fire on the banks of the Murray River is from a wonderful trip I did several years ago, where we hired a large houseboat (with an outdoor spa)  for a friend’s 40th…. a magical trip. Please take time this month to enjoy life, outside of your thesis.   Images: of a houseboat, on the  banks of the Murray River; and the Brisbane River – Photo Credit Evonne Miller

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