January has historically been a month that takes a toll on me. Having just passed the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year — the days remain long, cold and harsh. Sometimes the long hours spent in the lab make it difficult to take in any sunshine at all.
With goals and experimental plans for the new semester, life can become overwhelming. This, juxtaposed with recent time spent with family and friends throughout the holidays, can make time spent alone in the lab feel isolating. Maintaining my normally positive disposition can become challenging when this is coupled with those curveballs that life can throw at us at any time.
While ringing in the new year, I asked myself what I could do to try to remain happier throughout the darkest days of the year. There are many different ways to focus on wellness, but how best does this fit with the hectic schedule of a graduate trainee?
I sat down with Jessica Blom, the wellness representative for the Graduate Students Council, to brainstorm some ways we could all beat the winter blues.
It’s all about perspective, and what you do in the morning can start a cascade of positive subconscious events. Whether you take a power stance and place your fists on your hips like Superman does, or recite some positive messages to yourself, it will help make you feel happier and more powerful — something you will carry with you for the rest of the day.
Andrew Watson, PhD, associate dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, wrote a column about work-life balance in the November issue of Current Affairs. In the winter, it helps to make sure you spend time outside of the lab and see your friends. Going for a pint at the Grad Club or taking part in an extracurricular activity at the end of a long day can really take the edge off, and can make you feel connected with others who are experiencing the same stresses as you.
Try to eat healthy
It goes without saying that eating fruits and vegetables and eating a well-balanced meal can do wonders for you and your health. Taking the time to cook by yourself or with a friend can be rejuvenating, and can satisfy you more than eating processed foods like ramen noodles. Keep healthy snacks available for the longer days when you become hungry such as granola bars, nuts or dried fruit.
Use an activity tracker to stay active
When things get busy with work, it is easy to go weeks or months without getting active or going to the gym. At the end of these inactive periods, it is normal to feel bloated, sluggish and tired. Purchasing an activity tracker can help you keep active and will remind you when you’re not dedicating enough time to physical activity.
Set a few easy goals
It’s easy to feel like you’re stuck in a rut when you have failed experiments, your last manuscript has been rejected, and people keep asking you what you plan on doing when you finish your degree. Setting a few goals that you can accomplish in a day or a week will keep you motivated for when you need more energy to complete long-term goals. These small goals can include anything from reading a pile of papers to getting all of your dishes clean.
Even though this list of ideas seems manageable and straightforward, they won’t happen on their own. Set aside the time to be with other people, take part in hobbies, prepare healthy meals and snacks and stay active. It’s easy to push some of these things to the back burner when life gets busy and stressful, but it is worth it to make the time for them.
Figure out what makes you feel great and don’t let those things go. You do you.
PhD Candidate, Department of Neuroscience
Chair, Graduate Students Council, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry