Practising Self-Care as a Researcher
Academia can be a relentless environment. As a researcher, you encounter major stressors, such as the constant cycle of rejection and re-application, short employment contracts and juggling work–life balance, which can take their toll over time. It is therefore especially important for you to take care of yourself.
As the name suggests, self-care essentially describes practices that help you to achieve or maintain a good level of physical and mental health. That could include putting your feet up and playing games (physical or virtual), meditating or simply going for a walk.
It could also include using over-the-counter (OTC) solutions for monitoring and maintaining your health – i.e., dealing with any minor health issues you might be facing using OTC medications (obtained after having a discussion with a pharmacist), when the need for a formal medical consultation is not felt. That said, there is no shame in turning to further professional medical treatment and advice if you require it.
Emerging significance of destressing and self-care
The World Health Organisation (through its conceptual framework for self-care) actively promotes self-care as essential for imparting significant impact on human health, even reducing the incidence of disease. Thus, while it can initially feel like work stress is simply ‘part of the job’, there is acknowledgment from health care providers, published literature and workplaces themselves that excessive stress at work can develop into mental illness, and progress into physical illness.
a. Identifying your stressors
Addressing potential sources of stress early on is the ideal situation. Routine is a big part of swatting away pesky, potentially stressful situations, and forms an important step towards taking control of your day.
b. Managing your time better
Managing your time as closely as possible can help you to make time for work and ensure you are working efficiently. Just as important, however, it also helps you plan in time for yourself. It’s particularly important to draw a line for yourself this way, so that you do not risk becoming overloaded by work.
c. Switching off
Drawing a hard line between work and your own time is very important, but many researchers tend to live and breathe their work, often being active on their emails hours after their working timings have ended, or even still physically at their institution or lab late at night. This is sometimes – very wrongly – worn as a badge of honour, but it can have detrimental effects.
Try taking emailing apps off your personal phone and mute any work chat groups you might be in when you’re off the clock. Make efforts to avoid working after hours wherever possible. This can be tricky sometimes, but it can be genuinely risky if you’re a researcher who works in hazardous environments, where you might put yourself or others in danger if you’re working in a lab after hours, exhausted and tired.
d. Learning to say ‘no’
Another facet to managing your time better is learning to say ‘no’ when asked to take on work that might stretch you that little bit too thinly. Set realistic timelines for yourself and your line manager, so that you can meet deadlines as practically and comfortably as possible.
The bottom line is to do things that help you relax. Try to think back to a time before your current career, where you might have had hobbies you no longer have time for. Better still, take up new hobbies to help you relax and to give you a change of pace from your daily work pressures. You’ll be surprised by how effective this can be for switching off and helping you feel more like yourself.
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