7 Early signs that indicate you need to focus on self-care

This article is part of a Series
This article is part of a Series

Self-care for researchers

As a researcher there is a lot you need to deal with, not to mention balancing your research with the demands of your personal life. Often, in the struggle to navigate academic life, researchers neglect themselves. One thing you can do to manage your own physical and mental well-being is practice self-care. In this series we bring you a set of posts that talk about self-care in academia and how you can go about taking care of yourself.

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7 Early signs that indicate you need to focus on self-care

Stress is something most of us have accepted to be an indivisible part of our life. Between managing deadlines, planning career progression, dealing with supervisors, and keeping your family happy, do you feel that you’re spreading yourself thin?

It is a well-documented fact that a majority of academics struggle with mental health problems. How do you know if you are at the risk of facing mental health issues? It is common to feel stressed in certain situations. However, we may get so accustomed to the presence of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that some subtle, yet telling, changes in our thought patterns and daily routines may go unnoticed.

Admittedly, it is not easy to know whether you’re facing a mental health issue without professional help. However, some common early signs or indicators can help you reflect on and work toward your mental well-being. Let’s have a look at them.

1. Changes in sleep pattern

“A good night’s sleep…what’s that?”

Most of you would have worked overnight to finish writing a paper or analyze a data set. If, however, you’re persistently experiencing problems such as having difficulty falling asleep, not feeling rested in the morning, or feeling sleepy through the day, it is a sign of an underlying problem. Stress can at times manifest itself in not-so-obvious ways, so if your mind is unable to feel calm it is likely for your sleep pattern to get disturbed. It is a good idea to pin down the factors that are causing the feelings of restlessness. You can also try listening to some relaxing music or meditate before hitting the bed to enhance the quality of your sleep.

2. Appetite changes

“I am feeling terrible. I need a bag of chips.”

When you feel stressed or anxious, do you find yourself reaching for sugary or fried food? Or, do you lose your appetite altogether? Stress can disrupt our hunger cues and this can lead you to seek comfort in food, which is also popularly called “stress eating.” However, some people under stress develop an aversion to food. Any sudden or extreme eating patterns should prompt you to take a closer look at the causes behind this behavior.       

3. Emotional outbursts

“How dare they get my coffee order wrong?”

If, over time, you’ve observed that you’re unable to control your anger, have emotional outbursts, or are experiencing distress over things that otherwise didn’t bother you as much, it’s time for you to pause and analyze your reactions closely. Mood swings and emotional outbursts typically indicate anxiety, stress, or fatigue. This can have an impact on your daily life and work as well. So if this behavior pattern persists, it is advisable to speak with your primary healthcare provider.

4. Feeling disinterested

“I want to park myself on the couch all day!”

Do you feel as though you need to drag yourself out of bed to work or lab every day? If you’ve been feeling demotivated while engaging in activities that brought you joy or a sense of purpose, you’re likely in need of self-analysis and self-care. Take time out to identify what is triggering this sense of disinterest. If you have supportive colleagues or friends, seek their help in finding out whether they have seen a change in you and how they may be able to support you to feel better.   

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5. Difficulty in making decisions

“Do I want water or soda? I just can’t decide!”

Most of us have found ourselves thinking for an extra few minutes when accepting a party invitation or scheduling a meeting. However, when we’re under constant stress, making any decision can seem a like a huge test. If you’re finding it tough to think rationally or evaluate various aspects of a situation adequately before making a decision, you probably should take a moment to think about your mental wellbeing.

6. Feelings of worthlessness

“I’m good for nothing.”

We all know that academia is highly competitive, which can prompt you to become self-critical. Now, being a little critical of yourself helps you have bigger aspirations. However, if you are finding yourself engaging in negative self-talk all the time, please take it as a strong indicator that you are in need of self-care. Feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness can lead one to feel like a failure and trigger a state of depression. Try to burst the bubble of negative self-talk by accepting your limitations and celebrating your wins, whether small or big.  

7. Feeling unwell

“Why do I have a headache?”

It’s not uncommon to experience backaches or headaches. However, if these aches don’t seem to have a plausible explanation, they may be stemming from extreme levels of stress. Our body reacts to stress in various ways. So if you’re experiencing aches or are displaying other symptoms such as palpitations or dizziness at times of distress, treat it as a sign that you need to focus on your mental health.       

How do I take the first step toward self-care?

Know that it is absolutely normal to experience negative feelings and thoughts. Several academics have shared their stories of facing mental health related problems and emerging stronger and better. If you’ve noticed any fluctuations or deviations in your behavior and thoughts, you now know that you need to take care of yourself.

Self-care essentially means listening to and focusing on the need of your mind and body at a particular time. Whether it is a break from work or some ‘me’ time, indulge in activities that make you feel content and reduce your stress.

You can seek help from a close friend or a family member to manage the things that make you feel stressed. Based on how you feel you could also consult a mental health professional who could help you break away from negative thought patterns and cope up with stress.

No one but you can make yourself feel happy and content. So take that first step toward self-care today, right now. All the best!

You may also like to read this post: Commit to love yourself this Valentine's Day

Do you often feel stressed? Wouldn't it be nice to share your highs and lows with a group of researchers who understand you? Join Researcher Voice, a support group for researchers on Facebook that focuses on their physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Click here to join and read this article to take a sneak peak into what's going on in the group. 

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Published on: Feb 12, 2020

Sneha’s interest in the communication of research led her to her current role of developing and designing content for researchers and authors.
See more from Sneha Kulkarni


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