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Five Ways to Wellbeing

Taking good care of yourself is paramount - not only to the success of your PhD project - but to be able to enjoy life. Self-care is not selfish, because colleagues, friends and family profit from you being well! But how can you take care of your mental health? The National Health Service in the UK recommends 5 steps to mental wellbeing. And we at BYRD have some suggestions on how to take these steps if you are a PhD candidate in Bremen.

Connect with other people

Feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world. It’s clear that social relationships are crucial for promoting wellbeing.  Pursuing a PhD, however, can sometimes be a lonely endeavor. If you feel like that, it could be worth to put some effort into meeting up with others!

Some ideas:

  • if possible, take time each day to be with your family, for example, try arranging a fixed time to eat dinner together
  • arrange a day out with friends you have not seen for a while
  • have lunch with a colleague or dinner with a flat mate
  • visit a friend or family member who needs support or company
  • make the most of technology to stay in touch with friends and family. Video-chat apps are useful, especially if you live far apart
  • have a look at our BYRD workshop offers to exchange experiences with other PhD candidates in Bremen or join us at our next International PhD Students' Meeting
  • register with the Welcome Center for one of their events for international scientists
Frau schnürt Laufschuhe

Be physically active

Writing a dissertation requires long hours of sitting at your desk. Make sure to be active nonetheless. Being active is not only great for your physical health, but it can also improve your mental wellbeing by raising your self-esteem, helping you to set goals and achieve them, and by causing chemical changes in your brain which can help to positively change your mood.

Some ideas:

  • find activities you can fit into your daily routine, such as cycling to the campus or taking a walk after lunch
  • pick a course from the varied program offered by Hochschulsport and discover a physical activity you enjoy. The courses are inexpensive for students and employees of Bremen University and often right on campus!
  • be active during work: take the stairs not the lift or walk to someone's desk instead of sending an email
Farbeimer vor Wand

Keep learning

Good news! Learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by boosting self-confidence and by helping you to build a sense of purpose. And you do learn A LOT during a PhD. Try not to feel overwhelmed by all the methods, approaches, data and theories you still want to explore, but take a few minutes once in a while to think about what you've already learnt!

If you wish to get away from your PhD topic (which you definitely should do on a regular basis!), you could 

  • try learning to cook something new.
  • try taking on a new responsibility at work, such as mentoring students
  • work on a Do-it-yourself-project, such as painting your kitchen or fixing a broken bike. There are lots of free video tutorials online.
  • consider signing up for a course at BYRD!
  • try new hobbies that challenge you, such as writing a blog, taking up a new sport or learning to paint

Do not feel you have to learn new qualifications if this does not interest you. It's best to find activities you enjoy and make them a part of your life!

Woman holding pine cone in her hands

Give to others

Participation in social and community life and other acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing by creating positive feelings and a sense of reward. It not only helps you connect with others, but giving enhances a feeling of purpose and self-worth. If you feel your PhD life does not allow time to volunteer in your local community, you could offer small acts of kindness towards other people - on your way to work or in the lab.

Some examples of the things you could try include:

  • saying thank you to someone for something they have done for you
  • asking friends, family or colleagues how they are and really listening to their answer
  • spending time with friends or relatives who need support or company
  • offering to help a colleague on a work project
Schreibblock auf Tisch

Take notice

Reminding yourself to ‘take notice’ can strengthen and broaden awareness. Being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your well-being and savouring ‘the moment’ can help you to reaffirm your life priorities. Heightened awareness - or "mindfullness" - also enhances your self-understanding and allows you to make positive choices based on your own values and motivations. So interrupt the 'autopilot' mode once in a while and try to notice the everyday.

Some ideas to practice mindfulness:

  • get a plant for your workspace
  • have a ‘clear the clutter’ day
  • take notice of how your colleagues are feeling or acting
  • visit a new place for lunch
  • keep it regular. Pick a routine – a walk after work or a concert at lunchtime – during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you.
  • try naming your thoughts and feelings to develop an awareness of them
Updated by: BYRD