Feb 11, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

It’s all about balance.

You’re glued to your computer, writing your thesis. Trying to write your thesis. Sometimes, not writing your thesis. You’ve promised yourself that you’ll get back to normal when it’s all over, but there’s no end in sight. You forget what normal is.

Having trouble staying focused as you finish your PhD? You’re not alone. It’s not

Really, this post is about how to stay healthy in general. But staying healthy while you’re doing something big, like finishing a PhD has its own set of challenges.

The problem? It’s easy to get wrapped up in your work and lose focus on taking care of yourself. You know this.

How can you finish that PhD and stay healthy? Let’s take a closer look at five strategies to stay healthy during—and after—your PhD.

1. Food: eating “clean” doesn’t take more time

Food is a basic need. Think of it as fuel and you’re the vehicle. If you want to run on junk, you’re not going to get too far.

Start small. There’s no need to make dramatic changes to your diet right off the bat. It means that you should drink more water, limit your intake of processed foods, and up your intake of whole grains, organic fruits and vegetables, and sustainably produced meats.

The trick? Make healthy eating work with your schedule. Can’t commit to all these changes all at once? Try a few times a week—or at a minimum, change your snack regimen.

2. Physical activity: schedule small active breaks

Make exercise a non-negotiable part of your daily routine, even if it’s only for a small amount of time.

You sit around a lot when you get a PhD—ostensibly because you’re reading and writing a lot.

Here’s a trick: set a timer to ring every two hours and take a small movement break—10-15 minutes—every time the timer goes off.

Another trick: find something you like to do and commit to doing it for one hour three or four times per week.

If that doesn’t appeal to you, take more frequent, shorter breaks, and do quick physical activities: jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, a walk or jog around the building.

Know yourself—and make time to move.

3. Mental: take breaks

Just as you make time to move, make time to take a mental break. As a PhD student, your primary job is to think and to write.

You need to turn your brain off. If it’s physical activity you need, add more (see #2). Listen to a song you like, call a friend or loved one, meditate.

The key is to disconnect for at least a short time everyday to center your mind and your thoughts.

You’ll be surprised—you’ll relax your approach to work by relaxing your brain—and your end product will reap the rewards.

4. Illness: avoid it

Easier said than done, right? Sometimes. But if you cue your body with healthier choices, staying healthy will be easier to maintain.

A few simple things you can do to avoid illness: eat right (see #1) exercise (see#2), get enough sleep, wash your hands, take your vitamins, and get vaccinated—even if you’re a generally healthy adult with no risk factors.

5. Routine: establish one

Creating these healthy habits now won’t just see you through to the end of your thesis—they’ll ensure that you live a long, healthy life.

If you can maintain physical, mental, and spiritual health while finishing up your PhD, you can do it for the rest of your life.

Remember what it’s all about? Balance. Go forth and finish. And live your life.

Learn more about earning a PhD    

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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