The final stretch fatigue

Can you believe we are in the last quarter? We are on the verge of saying goodbye to 2019 and welcoming 2020. This is it, the final stretch, but many people (including myself) are dragging themselves toward the finish line. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, fatigue is a noun defined as ‘weariness or exhaustion from labour, exertion, or stress’ does this sound like you? There is a phenomenon known as ‘end-of-year-fatigue’ where many people have described a feeling of lethargy and a lack of focus as the year comes to a close.

downloadEarlier this year I wrote a blog post on mental health, “We need a break, it’s both of us (but more you than me)”, and I revisited it when writing this post because exhaustion does not suddenly happen, it is usually a slow build-up, a tower of anxieties built on a foundation of stress before your mind and your body tell you ‘enough is enough’. I thought that I was suffering alone until, in typical Kim style, I took to Twitter to share a few funny gifs about my lack of energy and to my surprise, many other academics and students related. Fatigue can be especially tricky as a postgraduate student as we often work throughout the year with little to no breaks, we do not have set semesters or holidays and often work over weekends and during the evening. So, although many people feel this ‘end-of-year-fatigue’ toward November, mine kicked in toward the end of August.

There are many articles which outline how to deal with this fatigue and survive the final push, here are a few of the top tips!

Focus on how far you’ve come

Sometimes in the rush to achieve all our goals, we tend to forget how much we have already accomplished. Everything that has been marked off a checklist is a small victory! Take stock of your year and all you have achieved, you may be surprised at how productive you truly were. This is a good reminder of your progress and helps to motivate you to continue crossing items off your ‘To do’ list

Create a schedule and manage your time

download (1)If you are anything like me, you start the year off as the most organized person and then slowly but surely that turns to chaos somewhere around the middle of the year. This is a good time to fix that, create a schedule and make use of your calendar, set aside time for your work and include breaks as well. Time management is crucial to your success as a postgraduate student and can often help avoid burning out. There are many great apps that can help with this as well, my personal favourite is Trello which helps me keep tabs on what I have done, what I’m currently doing and what I still have to do.

Revisit your goals and set targets for the last push

At the start of the year, we are often ambitious but as I have discovered, life happens and many unexpected obstacles arise. This may have thrown off your initial set of goals and targets, some may have been put on the back burner and some may have been discarded. This is a great time to reassess your goals and targets, be mindful of your time and what you would still like to achieve for the year, there is no shame in shifting things around! We tend to think we are superhuman and that we have to do it all before the clock strikes midnight on 31 December, this often creates even more anxiety.

Take care of your health

Exercising and eating well can sometimes go out the window when you are tired and have UberEats. I am guilty of this too, I am often tired and do not want to cook a healthy meal, instead, I want to eat several chocolates and lay in my bed. This can contribute to your feelings of lethargy, get up and move about, even if it is a short walk or a 30-minute yoga session, it will help you clear your mind and often makes you feel energized.

Create healthy habits

Do you check your emails at midnight? Do you work every weekend? These are all unhealthy habits that contribute to that feeling of being consistently busy and in the end, result in fatigue. Be firm with your time. I will repeat that. Be firm with your time. We all love what we are doing but your time is precious, you cannot and should not devote every waking hour to working! It takes a long time but start breaking these bad habits and replace them with healthier ones. Stick to your working hours, no matter what they are.

Allocate ‘me’ time

This does not need much of an explanation, self-maintenance is important! Take some time to do something for yourself, this could be a day of Netflix in bed or a laptop free day. Allocate time, put it in your calendar so that you do not feel bad because it is a scheduled appointment but with yourself!


Visualise your break!

My wonderful editor added this one in and I am so glad she did! Plan and schedule when your holidays will begin and every now and then look at photos, or make some plans. This might give you something to look forward to and boost your spirits to get you through the last stretch. Please, leave your laptop at home when the day finally comes- do not feel guilted into working on your break!

Seek help if it is needed

If your fatigue is overwhelming and you feel like you are drowning and struggling to come up for air, please seek help. There are many services offered by universities to support student mental health. There is a list of health care providers on the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) that is particularly useful!  

almostthereIt is okay to be tired after a long and productive year, you are not alone and you are not lazy. Sometimes that’s all you need to hear to make the finish line seem just a little closer. You can do it, we will do it together.


 

How having a hobby can help with postgrad life

I know what you are thinking – ‘I don’t have time for a hobby!”. And that might be true, which might be exactly the reason why you will benefit from a hobby. I have a few hobbies and I thought I would share why they help me, why they are especially important if you are a postgrad student and some ideas for low-cost and easy hobbies. I am going to concentrate on my love of reading fiction and running a blog about my reading – which I have been doing throughout my Honours year and I am still continuing even during my Masters!

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Postgrad is stressful

Deadlines, failed experiments, computers that somehow do exactly what you tell them to do and not what you actually want them to do, supervisors, admin, funding…there is no end to the stress that comes with being a postgrad student. Severe stress for long periods of time can make your life feel absolutely miserable. A hobby is something that can provide some relief from all that stress. It gives your mind something to focus on that isn’t all of your academic woes and bring you lots of joy.

It uses different parts of your brain

Academic work requires very specific types of thinking. When you’re wrapped up in solving equations, pipetting (that’s something that biologists do…right?), or coding all week, it can become mentally exhausting. Picking up a soccer ball, a paintbrush or – my personal favourite – a good novel in your off time can activate the other parts of your brain that haven’t gotten much use lately. Your research-academic brain has a chance to switch off and have a rest for once. This might even stimulate some new ideas for your research!

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You can learn new skills that benefit you both inside and outside the lab

These might be tangible skills – like writing for the public and search engine optimization through blogging – or less obvious skills like persistence and discipline from learning how to do something new without having deadlines to motivate you. Having a lot of practice at writing blog posts has helped improve my confidence in writing – which translates into more confidence in my academic writing.

It can turn into a side-hustle

While I think you should have one hobby that is purely for your own personal enjoyment and has nothing to do with your overall productivity, you might be able to monetize your hobby to stretch your tiny postgrad budget a little further. I recently got to enjoy a box-full of free books in exchange for advertising an upcoming book sale because I regularly post pretty pictures of books on Instagram. This has helped me free up a bit of extra cash since I would have purchased many of those books on my own anyway. If you have got a creative or crafty hobby, there may be easy ways for you to make some money off of it.

It gives you a place to succeed and fail in ways not directly linked to your academic progress

This is something that I think is especially important if you’re someone who takes failure and rejection really badly. I don’t handle those things well, but having hobbies where small failures show quite quickly that I’m making progress. For example, if I a blog post of mine isn’t as widely-read as I would have liked, I can look at it and figure out ways to write a better post the next time. All I have lost is the small amount of time I spent working on the post – and it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad blogger. Similarly, if something goes wrong in my academic work, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad scientist. Failure is an important part of the scientific process and every academic career, and hobbies are a way to make failure less intimidating.

It helps you with your time management

This sounds a bit odd, I know. While there are exceptions during really busy periods, but if you have less time to finish something – you’ll finish it in less time. For example, if you have two days to finish an assignment, then it might take you all of those two days to finish it. But if you only have two hours, you’ll get that same assignment done in those two hours. Similarly, if you’re finding something is dragging on, but you’re looking forward to meeting your friends at 7 p.m. for a soccer game, then you’ll get that work done in time so you can join them. Academic culture often requires our entire lives to be wrapped up in our research and having hobbies and activities outside of academia helps you break out of that unhealthy culture.

Some ideas for hobbies

I would like to emphasise that a hobby is a highly personal thing. If your hobby is binge-watching Game of Thrones and being totally immersed in it – that is awesome because it works for you and helps you de-stress. While reading might be my favourite thing to do, you might not enjoy it at all.  I would suggest trying to have at least one, even if it’s something you’re already doing (like cooking, for example). I have put together a list of ideas for you to try if you are looking for a new hobby. These are just suggestions and are generally affordable or doable with items you already own or could purchase very easily. Most universities also have societies or clubs for various hobbies and activities that you can easily join and gain access to equipment and experts

  • Cooking (putting a bit of effort into it instead of just eating 2-minute noodles…which I am guilty of).
  • Photography (if you have a smartphone, it probably already has an excellent camera that you can use)WhatsApp Image 2019-04-23 at 13.27.45(1)
  • Soccer/Rugby/Cricket/Running/ etc. (either sign up for a class or a club to make it social and even more fun)
  • Sketching (all you need is a pen/pencil and some paper)
  • Hiking (there are hundreds of hiking trails around the country!)
  • Journaling/writing
  • Yoga (I started with free, online classes by Yoga With Adriene)
  • Blogging (get started on WordPress for free!)
  • DIY/crafts like sewing, knitting, making cool things with your hands (this will probably require you to borrow equipment from someone)
  • Reading (you can get books for free from your university library or your nearest public library. You can also get cheap books from second-hand book stores).

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I hope this post has inspired you to try out a new hobby! Let me know what your current hobbies are!