This blog post is probably one of the most important I have written because speaking from experience, PhD students always struggle to switch off and relax. But in actual fact, it’s as important as writing the thesis. One of the first ways I help my mind, as well as my body, is through a type of cognitive therapy called “mindfulness” (and I probably don’t do this as much as I should, but it’s highly effective).
One of the consultants, where I work part-time, shared this technique with me and I am incredibly grateful to them as it helped my stress levels. The technique has been developed by Professor Mark Williams and is used as a preventative treatment to teach people skills to stay well – something which could be used before depression threatens. The idea behind mindfulness is to get critical thoughts into perspective so they no longer dominate and to anchor people in the present. There are Youtube videos where people can practice this type of therapy and the one mentioned is the ‘three-minute breathing space’ exercise (which is the one I do – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTCXcxLjNcA). It’s very straight-forward and doesn’t take long to do. For those three minutes you become focused on nothing else but what you are currently doing. Although it’s important to suggest that it is a challenge and not a panacea and there are times when I find it difficult to focus, difficult to drag my thoughts back because the brain isn’t used to be still, but it is a case of practicing the technique. But stick with it where possible.
Along with this I also advocate a regime of Pilates which I do twice a week. Pilates for those who don’t know is a form of exercise which focuses on core strength and stability to improve fitness and wellbeing. It can be done by anyone, of any age and any level of fitness – we have people well into their late 70’s do the class so there is no excuse not to try it at least once! It is a good all-round exercise, helping with both physical and mental health. It has helped me to sleep better and improve my energy levels. For an introduction to the benefits of Pilates see http://www.mentalhealthy.co.uk/health/features/pilates-total-mind-and-body-workout.html
Both of these techniques are designed as an introduction to a low-intensity form of relaxation and do not involve intense physical workouts, which also have health benefits. They can also be done in the comfort of your own home without having to pay to go to a class. There are plenty of introductory videos on Youtube if you wanted to have a go.
Dr Andrew Rowe
Image: Creative Commons