Doctoral Writing Center

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  8.  | To Begin: Wellness and Balance

Maintaining Wellness and Balance

Writing the dissertation is both daunting and exciting. You are making progress toward your future but also may feel intense stress. Remember that your priority is your own mental and emotional health! There are several things you can do to maintain wellness and balance while writing your dissertation.

Manage Your Time

Manage your Time

Perhaps most critical to maintaining balance is managing your time. Doing so will not only allow you to feel less overwhelmed but will also give you time to engage in activities that are critical to your mental and emotional health. Importantly, managing your time involves planning ahead so you can prioritize your tasks.


Complete three important tasks every day

Think of what you’d like to accomplish over a given week and break it up into three important tasks per day. Accomplishing these three tasks will give you a sense of accomplishment and allow you to take time to relax each day (without the guilt that you should be doing more work). More information about this can be found here.

Set small, SMART goals

SMART goals provide concrete, actionable steps to follow so you can stay motivated to reach your goals and track your progress (Doran, 1981). SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound

Specific: “What exactly needs to be accomplished?”
Measurable: “What will you see when the goal has been met? How will you know that you’ve accomplished what you need to?”
Achievable: “Is this attainable? Given the timeframe, is this realistic?”
Relevant: “Is this in line with what you need?”
Time-bound: “Is there a clear deadline or schedule?”
     For example, rather than saying, “I’m going to work on my methods section today”
     say…. “By the end of today, I’m going to finish writing about the participants and measures of my study.”
More information about setting SMART goals can be found here.

Take Care of Your Body

Take Care of Your Body

A large component of maintaining your mental health is maintaining your physical health.


Make time to exercise every day

Exercise releases endorphins which have a calming effect on your body and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Exercise also helps promote good sleep, which is critical to well-being (see point b!). More information about the positive effects of exercise can be found here.

Adopt good sleep hygiene so that you are well-rested

This includes powering off your devices (and therefore stopping any work!) a few hours before bed, maintaining a consistent sleep routine, and eliminating noises that can disrupt sleep. More information about good sleep hygiene can be found here.

Go outside!

Though it’s tempting to stay indoors and work, the vitamin D you get from the sun is associated with improved mood and energy. More information about the effects of vitamin D can be found here.

Talk to Your Advisor

Ask for Help

Do not go through this alone.


Acknowledge that your emotions are real

Do not be ashamed of or apologize for whatever it is you are feeling.

Reach out to friends and colleagues and spend time with them

Social support has been found to increase ability to cope with stressful situations and relieve distress. Make sure to take a break to do something social each week. More information about the benefits of social support can be found here.

Talk to your advisor

They are here to help you and not only can answer questions about the dissertation itself but also can provide tips about how to manage your writing. Remember that your advisor has gone through this before!

Meet with a doctoral writing specialist

Set an appointment with the Doctoral Writing Center. We are not only here to help you with your writing but also to listen to anything you want to talk about regarding your dissertation. Let us be there for you – reach out anytime!

Keep Perspective and Gratitude

Try to Keep Perspective

Your dissertation understandably feels all-consuming, but it is important to maintain perspective so that you do not feel so overwhelmed that you are paralyzed and unable to continue work.

Take time every day for gratitude

Acknowledge what you are grateful for and be mindful of the positive things in your life. More information about gratitude can be found here.

Remember that your dissertation does not define you as a person or as a scholar!

This is not the last thing you will ever write and does not need to contain every thought you have about your field.