Graduate programs rarely warn their students of the physical toll that dissertation writing can take. And it’s not something most students realize might be an issue. After all, dissertation writing is a largely sedentary job, not a form of manual labor. So how could it cause injury?
Well, it turns out that it can. By the time the students in my graduate cohort had all finished our dissertations, we’d all wound up with health problems directly related to dissertation writing. One of us had a bad back and another had carpal tunnel syndrome from too much sitting and writing. Another had a Vitamin D deficiency from spending too much time indoors at the computer and not getting enough sunlight. People don’t talk about the physical health tolls of dissertation writing, but they can be real and harmful, and can detract from your graduate education. Your mental health is also crucial, and that will be addressed in a separate post.
When your job is dissertation writing, researching, editing, and formatting, it can be easy to spend hours sitting at your desk. Try to break up this routine. Stand up and stretch every twenty minutes to relieve tension in your back. Try moving around to different work spaces so that you sit in different positions. Make sure you have a desk chair that feels good, or perhaps consider using a standing desk.
In addition to varying your posture while you work, take care of your body by getting exercise. It can be hard to make the time to exercise while you’re writing a dissertation. One trick that helped me was prepaying for an exercise class. That way, it was in my schedule. I’d sunk some money into it, so I felt like I had to attend and forced myself to make the time, whether I felt like it or not. I always felt better about returning to my dissertation research and writing after a workout. A less self-coercive strategy might be to choose a form of exercise that you really enjoy—swimming, yoga, badminton, whatever—and use it to reward yourself after a hard day of dissertation writing.
It’s very easy to skip meals or eat poorly while you’re dissertating. Figuring out what to eat can become just another task that distracts you from the important work of writing, editing, and formatting your dissertation. But eating well can help your dissertation. It can make you feel more alert, focused, and productive. One way to make sure that you eat well might be to have your kitchen stocked with healthy but convenient foods that are easy to prepare or require no preparation. Fruit requires little prep—it’s a ready to eat snack. Grocery stores like Trader Joe’s or Wegman’s often have prepackaged foods that are made specifically for health-conscious folks. When you go to the grocery store, choose foods that will be quick to prepare and will make you feel good.
Getting a good night’s sleep can mean the difference between a day of focused dissertation writing and a day of frustrated procrastination. But it can be hard to fall asleep if your dissertation is stressing you out. Try to spend at least the last hour before bedtime away from your dissertation doing something that helps you relax, whether it’s having a cup of herbal tea or reading a favorite piece of fiction. Gradhacker has some great tips on how to sleep better while in graduate school.
Take breaks! Visit friends! Get away from your dissertation, even if it’s only for a few hours! While dissertation writing may be your job right now, you’ll feel better if you remember that you also have a life beyond it.
Ask for Dissertation Help
Another way to feel good while writing your dissertation is by asking for help when you need it. Need someone to deal with the stress of dissertation editing or dissertation formatting on your behalf? Give us a call. Want some constructive feedback so that you feel good about your dissertation proposal or dissertation chapter? That’s what we’re here for. Want to talk to an expert PhD to who can help you come up with strategies to get your dissertation done quickly and efficiently? We’re here for you.