Everyone knows that to undertake a PhD is stressful. Long hours of work, results, and data that don’t meet your expectations, deadlines and more deadlines, the pressure to publish with impact and among all that, lack of recognition. Lately, thankfully, the subject of mental health in academia is more widely discussed, and slowly we are ending the stigma and know we are not alone. I have talked about it myself, about how my mental health was affected during my PhD.
I entered my PhD in the middle of 2012 after finishing a very stressful and nerve wrecking master’s degree (In Brazil, after you earn your bachelor degree, you can apply to master’s degree that lasts 2 years and then to apply to PhD). So, I had finished my master’s and was starting my PhD, taking the necessary classes and starting the theoretical readings for my project. I was stressed and depressed. Instagram was starting to be quite a popular app and photography slowly entered my life. In November 2012, I bought a semi-professional camera, with a desire to learn more about photography. I had friends who had photography as a hobby and I followed a few photographer blogs whose work I was completely passionate about. I wanted to learn how to create the same amazing photos as them.
In the beginning of 2013, I moved to another city to start my research experiments which meant starting over in a new city, in a new lab with new lab mates that were all gone during weekends to their family homes. I was often alone. I wanted to make friends or simply do something that would bring me joy, just for the fact that it would bring me joy. No other reason than that, just like Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book Eat Pray Love when she said that she wanted to learn Italian for no higher purpose than that it pleased her ears to hear it.
It is not that difficult to find doctoral students that have a hobby and are serious about them in a mindful way. It is healthy to have one. I have a friend that has a passion to bake and started bakery classes whilst studying for her masters.
I think any hobby that someone chooses to bring relief to the daily stress that doing a PhD brings, be it photography, baking, drawing or running, it is an important outlet to have. Personally, photography has helped with:
- New perspectives: because I changed the way I saw life around me, it helped me see everything differently, including my problems and helped shape my routine. When I have too much inside my head, I photograph every light I see, everything that catches my eyes and by the end of the day, I am able to shift that unsettling feeling.
- Confidence: it has helped me see myself properly for – in my opinion – the first time in my life. My confidence in myself has improved and consequently my personal life and my life as a researcher has improved too. After all, everything is connected. When you love yourself, you trust yourself, you know you are valuable.
- Sparking my creativity: Photography is art. I was always a creative person but to practice and look for it every day and produce creative and different images also brought creativity to my work in the lab, it let me see a situation that had no solution with a new creative spark and then, move around to change it.
- Stress release: This was the most important thing photography brought to my life. When I take photographs, I relax, I am somewhere else than inside my head, stuck with my problems. My only concern is the light and how it will create an amazing photo. Photography is, essentially, light, and all puns intended, it brought light to my life.
- Mindfulness: I have anxiety and depression, and when I say photography brought light to my life, that was exactly it: It eases my anxiety when I am taking photographs. Maybe because I am not the focus of attention, maybe because while holding my camera I have something to do with my hands, maybe because I am not focusing on my surroundings or my problems, but on the subject in front of me, concentrating on my camera settings and how that image appears inside my head.
I believe any activity can bring you the same outcome. When you bake or when you run, you change your mind to another focus, releasing the anxiety, opening new ways to see life or a problem differently. If you paint or you dance, you stimulate your creative side, shifting your way to see life, improving your confidence in yourself. Work is important in one’s life, but quality of life is essential.
What about you? Do you have any hobby or outlet you use to relieve your stress? Tell me about it in the comments or tweet us your experience!