Can't I just take a break?
November and early December were a bit of a blur for me. I allowed myself to overload my thresholds for stress and work, and consequently, some things fell through the cracks (including my blog writing). I found myself socially, physically, and mentally withdrawing from anything that wasn’t getting my work done. Ultimately, this left me feeling exhausted, cranky, and generally unwell. I kept saying to myself, “Just get through this last deadline, and then everything will be back to normal.” However, I neglected to think about the ripple effect of procrastination that was occurring as I tried to focus on completing one large task. Now that those big deadlines have passed, I stare at the pile of things that is life + grad school; items waiting ever so patiently for my attention, but I’m tired. I only manage to look at them thinking, “Can’t I just take a break?” Furthermore, my flow feels off. I feel like there is a disconnect between my brain, my mind, my spirit, and my body. Does this sound like something you’ve ever related to?
Now that my deadlines have passed, I feel like I’m left playing catch-up on all of the things I should have been maintaining over the last 4 weeks. I feel large waves of relief and accomplishment for having passed my annual dissertation advisory committee meetings with positive feedback and discussions for my future career prospects, and for having submitted my independent research fellowship application despite all of the administrative challenges we had to overcome. Perhaps, it is somewhat related to the time of year with the holiday season just around the corner, but my personal battery is drained. I need to rest and recharge, without the feeling of PhD guilt lingering on my mind.
I think I’m feeling extra negative energy these days because I’m feeling the pressure to power through some critical experiments during the holidays to ensure the project can wrap up before one of my lovely colleagues finishes early next year. When I found out this news, it was a little bit soul-crushing as I had mentally planned to begin these experiments upon the New Year. You could say that I shouldn’t be complaining, because it is good to wrap up projects and this may be the driving force we needed to finish it for good. However, I am a grad student who is feeling stretched too thin, so please allow my complaining as a form of self-comfort.
Despite letting so many of my normal routine, daily or weekly tasks slack during the hectic time of reaching my deadlines, I did not neglect my practice of mindfulness meditation. For me, mindfulness was and is critical to my perspective on pretty much everything in life. Mindfulness reminded me to be accepting of those things that I could not control, like uploaded PDFs being “corrupted” or bureaucratic drama playing out. Mindfulness continues to remind me to be present and not let myself and my mind get swept away as if I’m white water rafting my to-do list!
I could go on and on about the ways mindfulness helps me, but I want to end with the most meaningful way in which mindfulness impacts my daily life – and that is kindness. Having kindness towards myself is so important; for not only getting through difficult times, but also for making it out to the other side without feeling beaten and bruised. We all deserve happiness, even in times of great stress. Learning how to be kind to myself has shifted my perspective to a more positive one, collectively helping me accept and be present in life. May you all enjoy the holiday season and bring in a little mindfulness to make it even more special.
Amanda Renee Clark (@ARClark16) is a PhD student in chemical biology in the Greater Boston area. This story was published on December 10, 2018, on Amanda’s blog, Mindful Path to PhD (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.
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