Managing a PhD during big life transitions

If you have been following me and my journey on Instagram, you would have seen lots of updates on our recent move. My husband and I found a new home to rent in order to get some more space for the baby. We are used to living in under 1000 sq f tplaces, so having four different floors is a really big change for us. For the month of December, most of our time was spent, packing, unpacking and organizing the new space.

But of course, work doesn’t stop during these big life transitions. At the same time I was wrapping up a teaching term, trying to write a book chapter, in the midst of the Omicron variant, all while being 8 months pregnant. It was a busy month, but aren’t they all? In these busy times it is easy to forget about what “works” for you – what I am referring to here are your regular coping mechanisms that are more easy to fit in when your day to day life is more mundane. I found that I quickly forgot these habits and so, in today’s blog post I wanted to share some reminders that helped me manage my PhD and my mental health during this life transition.

Reminder One: Don’t forget to pause

Trying to get everything I wanted to do in a day easily had me in an energizer bunny state. I would move from one thing to the next, with new tasks poping up in between, without taking a second to step back and breathe. Sure, I was able to get a lot done but by the end of the day I had those moments of “what just happened” and “how did that day go by so fast”. Of course this is a busy time and there is a lot to get done, but it was important for me to remember to pause. Taking “mini” moments out ofmy day, whether it is with my coffee in the morning, or ordering in our favourite meal for dinner. Pause and taking a minute (off my phone) to reflect and really take in this big transition in of life brought me some peace and joy.

Reminder Two: Wind down

Similar to reminder one, it was especially important for me to “pause” at night, or else I could see myself going back to my scary burn out phase. If we don’t leave this time to wind down, sleep is not going to come easily. You might think it will be helpful to squeeze in one or two more hours of your to do list before bed, but what will be more helpful is setting up a proper wind down routine. Again, I found the most helpful practice is to get off my phone or any devices. At the end of a long day all I want to do is put my feet up and watch a show where I don’t have to use any brain cells. And of course I allowed myself to do this sometimes. But I found when I turned off the devices at least an hour before bed, took a bath, meditated, or read a book I felt much more rested.

Reminder Three: Stay on top of e-mails (if possible)

Now you might not have time for this, depending on the type of transition in your life and other variables. However, deep in our move and having let 4 days pass without me checking my e-mail, I felt very overwhelmed. The e-mails were piling up, but I also felt very disconnected from my work. It is not like I was on vacation where the main purpose would be for me to disconnect from my work. So, after these 4 days passed I found it helpful for me to start my day with 1-3 hours of work at my desk. This included e-mails and admin work mostly but also a bit of writing to help me feel connected to my work again. This work shouldn’t be the expectation however, if you can’t get to it one day that is fine too. But any day I fit it in, helped me in the long run.

Reminder Four: When all else fails, practice gratitude

And some days, there is just no time for any of these strategies! And that is okay too. Something really easy that I found I always had time for and was an instant mood changer was gratitude. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, getting into a negative mindset can happen quickly. A few things go wrong that day (which they always do) and at the end of the day, I am questioning all my life decisions. Waking up in the morning and having the first thing I think of as something I am grateful for, and similarly listing my gratitude list when falling asleep, helped me feel like I was surrounding myself in a warm blanket of love. The more I practiced, the easier it became and the faster I was able to get into a more positive mindset.

Of course, these are the habits that helped me and they will look differently for everyone. I hope that when I go through other big life transitions that I can revisit these gentle reminders. What strategies do you find help you during a big life transition?

Until next time,

Christine xo

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One response to “Managing a PhD during big life transitions”

  1. […] My final trimester was probably my “easiest”.  But the extra weight sure put a strain on my sleep and general movement throughout my days. I napped a lot. I continued my analysis and prepared as much as I could for my maternity leave and eagerly awaited my labour and delivery. We also decide to move during my last trimester… so that was fun… you can read more about that here. […]

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