I know you have read it or heard it many times so I am not saying anything new. It’s the reality of this world and no one has ever achieved anything without facing the setbacks. The nature and duration of struggles might differ but at the end of the day ‘struggles’ is the only constant in the lives of each and every human being. But this blog is not about repeating this ultimate truth about human life. It’s about the problem with the very statement “Everybody struggles”.
Do you know someone who is at a point in their life where they have no idea what is going on? It could be you as well. What do you tell them when they share their insecurities, doubts and confusions with you? Are you ‘really’ present in the moment and listen to what they are saying? Do you try to be understanding, kind and compassionate? or do you simply dismiss or cut short the conversations by saying “Everybody struggles in this world”?
You do not understand it but such statements are totally unhelpful. The person who is making the efforts to confide in you does not expect such feedbacks, trust me. They don’t want you to ‘generalise’ the conversation. Rather they want the whole conversation to be about them. Kind of like an ‘individualised treatment’ in medical science. People don’t want you to solve their problems for them. They do not want you to face their life’s struggles either. They just want you listen to them actively with full maturity and zero judgements. I have met so many people in my life and I can only think of a couple of people who are worthy enough to share my problems with. The best part of it is that I get so much inspiration from this that I try to do the same thing for others.
The conversations in our lives have become very casual- we listen from one ear and filter out ‘most’ of the incoming information from the other. Sadly, we do this even with our loved ones. What really happens then? We end up saying “Everybody struggles” as if that would do the magic.
Life is indeed complicated. It is not easy to understand it or even figure it out. No one can have all the answers and if anybody claims to be someone with all the answers, always be wary of such people.
I spend a decent amount of time in figuring out ‘what life is really about’ or ‘how do we measure life’ or ‘what does success mean’. Most of the time I don’t get any answers and when I do, I don’t like them. So I consciously try to bury these questions. This is not just me; it’s a human tendency to kick off the things that are uncomfortable. But then I think about how important it is to understand life because otherwise I will be chasing all the wrong things.
My outlook towards things has been shaped a lot by the works of Professor Yuval Noah Harari. His one of the ideas has made me realise that the most important thing in life is to be able to distinguish between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘a fictional story’. When I look at the things that are ‘objective realities’ such as birds, trees, and mountains, I immediately realise how insignificant my life’s problems are which may have been a product of my own imagination (this idea is again inspired by Prof Harari’s book SAPIENS). For instance, I have been observing birds a lot lately both when I am in my room or when I go outside. There is so much that I have learned about those birds from my mere observations on a daily basis. I get such a level of satisfaction that no gadget or technology can ever compete. I feel I am looking at things that ‘do exist’ in this world. Even when I look at the beautiful sky I sense vastness and everything in life- all the accomplishments, all the possessions seem little (I won’t say worthless because that would be extreme). We do spend a lot of time in our own imagination and hence, suffer. As Seneca would say, “WE SUFFER MORE IN IMAGINATION THAN IN REALITY”. Our brains create parallel realities that are not objective. I can suffer and feel miserable by thinking that I am a total failure because I did not get the job I was hoping to get. However, in reality that may be questionable. How do we understand what ‘failure’ is? Can we see it? Can we touch it? We can solely feel it but we can’t always trust our feelings.
Drawing a fine line between reality and non-reality is not a child’s play. Even philosophers and scientists are having a hard time decoding what ‘reality’ is. So, I am not going to pretend that I have figured it out. I am no expert. But there’s one thing I can say with confidence: the whole search for what is real is worth it.
You must be wondering that the title of this blog is ‘Measuring Your Life’ and I haven’t talked about it as such. Well that’s how you measure life- for me real success in life is about segregating what we usually call ‘mere illusions’ because majority of the time in life we suffer because of our distorted perceptions towards things. There are real stresses in life such as illness, death, unemployment among others. But it’s also true that sometimes we feel unhappy because we take ‘fictional realities’ for ‘real realities’. When we understand the difference we will have the headspace to think about other things that are actually matter (and possibly real) such as the importance of investing time and effort into relationships, loving people, and doing the work that is meaningful.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is simply an exploration. The author’s objective is to explore ideas and not arrive at a conclusion. So read it with a grain of salt. Happy reading!!
A master’s degree can be overwhelming especially for international students like me. Leaving your home country where you’ve been living all your life, adjusting to an education system you are not accustomed to, and coming to a land full of strangers is enough to make you lose your sanity. Sometimes days get so bad that you feel like giving up on everything; literally everything. In those moments all that you wish for is maintaining your sanity. But you don’t know how. Too many commitments start taking a toll on your mental health because you feel like you’re always juggling. Don’t get me wrong. There are good days too. There are days full of positive experiences and they make you realise that things in life aren’t that bad. But when you are surrounded by negative feelings and experiences it’s often hard to figure out how to navigate your life. In this blog, I want to tell you how you can take care of your mental well-being while pursuing master’s degree in university. These are the things that helped me and I hope they might help you too.
(also check out my video below where I talked about my ‘Master’s degree experience at a UK university‘)
1. Get organised
Even though I managed to be topper of my class during undergraduate degree, I struggled because I lacked time management skills. It was like I was always studying but things never seemed to end for me. So the first thing I did before coming to Edinburgh was develop my time management skills and get organised. This was really helpful. Having a system that’s not cumbersome but easy and convenient is the most important thing one can do while in university. This is because university life demands commitments such as exams, essay deadlines, tutorials, extra-curricular, etc. To begin with, you can use a digital calendar like google calendar or even a notebook- whatever works for you. You can even use both of them like me. Make sure you check them everyday so that you are aware of what’s going on in your course.
2. Stay Consistent
Consistency is so important that I can’t say that enough. I am a believer of doing (at least) something each day rather than doing everything all at once. When you put little efforts each day into your studies, you make progress each day. You prevent yourself from becoming super anxious close to essay deadlines or upcoming exams. A lot of students under-estimate how much time things are going to take and put things off for later. Personally, this is not a good approach because it is an invitation to burnout. I am not saying you should never take a day off of studying. Frequent breaks are important and I encourage them. But when you know your essay is due next month, it is better to stay consistent in your level of efforts rather than leaving everything for the last moment.
3. Make time for the things you love
This is something I am trying to learn. I have a tendency to get super focused on my work or studies that I forget to make time for the things that give me pleasure. Like watching a movie or an episode of a comedy show, reading a book, writing, traveling, etc. Always make sure you take some time out each day and do something that you love. It can be anything. Think of it as an investment because university life can be very overwhelming and you need activities on a regular basis in order to rejuvenate your brain.
4. The bigger picture
It’s true that challenges are very discomforting. But what’s also true is that challenges are temporary. University life is indeed stressful but it’s all a part of process. Remember why you are in university, why you are studying in the first place- it’s because you love your subject and you want to do something meaningful with the knowledge you will attain. By reminding yourself of the bigger picture, you gain a refreshing perspective.
5. Make friends
Never under-estimate the importance of making friends in university. This is something I have learned recently. I am an introvert and a shy person so it’s not easy for me to make friends easily. I am also socially anxious which make things even harder. Regardless, it is crucial that you make friends for the sake of your mental wellbeing. Talking to people is a good way to stay sane. You can meet people whichever way suits you. For introverts, meeting in big groups can be a bit too much. What they can do is meet with people in smaller groups- maybe a group of 2-3 people.
6. Ask for help
Everyone struggles in university. But no one should have to go through the challenges alone. Universities now have such strong mental health support for students and staff members. And the services are all free provided by the professionals. It’s always helpful when you share your feelings and emotions with someone. It can be professionals or it can be your closed and loved ones like family members or maybe friends you trust with your problems.
DISCLAIMER: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are struggling with mental health issues, you must seek professional help immediately.
“Academia has become very toxic now. The pay is not good, there’s exploitation, there’s expectation of unlimited free labor, and you should definitely go somewhere else.”
This is what I see on Twitter; not all the time but quite often, frankly. It makes me disappointed in the working culture of academia. I feel sad and angry at the same time. Sometimes the words are so negative that I feel like dropping the idea of pursuing a PHD. It also feels like good examples are not being set up for young people (like me) who want to become a good scientist. Maybe something is wrong and it needs to be fixed?
I don’t completely understand why but in spite of all the negativity, I have this voice that always tells me to choose academics over everything else. Whenever I imagine my professional life, this is the one and only thing that comes to my mind. I once did a one month internship in a corporate company right after my undergraduate degree. It was one of the worst experiences of my life because I was deprived of intellectual ideas & people, and my intellectual growth had stopped. I am not saying this is the case with corporate sector in general; I am only talking about my first hand experience in a corporate company in India. I missed not been able to nurture my intellectual curiosity and that made me hate the work I was doing. I didn’t feel like going to the office (although I had to). There is a different kind of satisfaction some people get when they discover something (no matter small or big) using rigorous and scientific means and it’s hard to let anything else compensate for that kind of satisfaction. When you’re trying so hard to connect the dots and your head starts to hurt but then you eventually get the answer, you feel on top of the world. This is something some people wish to live for, including me. Knowing deep down that you’re working hard to find answers to some of the most pressing questions is very rewarding and degrees like PHDs prepare you for that kind of work. You don’t simply work for others but you work for yourself too. Sometimes you can be your own boss and that kind of independence brings out the best in you. Also, you get a chance to shape the upcoming generations with your knowledge and wisdom. Personally, I believe it’s a privilege.
Yes, academia isn’t perfect. But last time I checked nothing is perfect in this world. Life is all about trade offs and what matters is what you want at the end of the day. You should always go after something that makes you happy. Although sometimes reality can be different than what we imagine but taking a shot is totally worth it. So that we are not left with any regrets. Academia isn’t the only place where you find an intellectually stimulating environment. But as I said before, this is something what I want and I don’t want any regrets. If it doesn’t work out, I am sure I’ll be fine.
Switching fields is not a big deal these days. It has become relatively common now which is a good thing because people don’t have to stick to the fields they don’t like or enjoy working in.
Just like a coin has two sides, switching fields isn’t always a smooth journey. There are hurdles and it gets quite frustrating sometimes. Why am I saying all this? Do I know of someone who had switched fields in the past? Actually I am talking about me. I am the one who did it. I pursued Economics in my undergrad. After completing my undergraduate degree, I started losing interest in Economics (why this happened is kind of a long story and will write a whole new blog on this in the future). One day I decided I wanted to pursue Psychology and make a career in this field. Right now, this is going well because currently I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Psychology from The University of Edinburgh.
If you had told me 5 years ago that one day I’d be sitting in Edinburgh writing this blog, I would have said a big ‘NO!’ because getting acceptances from universities felt like a dream. What happened in those 5 years is something people don’t know about because we all have a tendency to see only a ‘tip of an iceberg’. Getting an acceptance from The University of Edinburgh didn’t come easy and I could not have done it without the support of my family- my parents and my siblings.
1. You’re Behind in Life
This is a very common feeling in people who decide to switch fields or careers. But it can be quite pervasive. You may start feeling like your friends and everyone else around you is moving forward while you’re stuck. Stuck badly. You start feeling as if you’re behind in life; behind everybody. People around you are finishing their degrees while you’re not.
People around you are getting jobs while you’re not.
People around you are getting promoted in their workplaces while you’re not.
Even though these are mere thoughts, they hit you hard. And it becomes an everyday chore to fight against these thoughts.
2. Starting from Scratch
This one is related to the previous challenge I just mentioned. Making a move to start afresh in a field that’s completely new to you can be taxing. This is for the obvious reason: you have to start from the scratch now. It’s like you’re born again and you have to create everything from the beginning. It eventually makes you feel you’re behind in life. You don’t build upon what you had already built in your life so far rather you have to build new things from the surface. I am not saying your previous knowledge or experiences stop mattering. They do matter. But since you’re a novice in a new field you have to be willing to take baby steps and it slows you down in your career which affects you for sure.
3. Closed Doors
It’s such a bad feeling when you’re curious about something and you aren’t given an opportunity to utilise your abilities. Personally, I had limited options for my further education because of non psychology background. I just wanted ‘a single’ opportunity let alone ‘too many’. But there weren’t many (almost next to nothing). It literally felt like all the doors were getting closed.
4. Mental Well-being is Suffered
Mental wellbeing is suffered when you’re surrounded by hurdles. This happened with me and I am sure it happens to people who are in the situation I was in a few years ago. Your brain starts playing tricks with you because it doesn’t want you to focus on the solutions. Why? It’s too overwhelming for it. So it makes you think about the trivial stuff like you’re not good enough and you don’t deserve what you’re striving for. In those moments, a strong social support is very crucial. This is life saving. As mentioned earlier, I was fortunate enough to have full support of my family and that helped me persevere.
But I don’t want to make you all gloomy because there’s always more than one side to everything. If switching field from Economics to Psychology had challenges, there are good things too that (eventually) happened. At least now I am doing and studying something that I love and enjoy. I have nothing against Economics. It’s a really interesting subject. But it wasn’t for me. I feel more satisfied and happier working with psychology. I know well enough that switching careers isn’t pragmatic for everyone and because of that I am grateful for the support I had from my family.
There are plenty of quotes I am pretty sure you have heard many times: ‘I will sleep when I am dead’, ‘There will be plenty of time to sleep when I am dead’. I am not sure who said all this but what I am sure of is that they were totally wrong and they are very bad advices to follow because by not sleeping enough we will definitely die a lot earlier.
We look at sleep not as a necessity but as a luxury and whenever we feel overwhelmed or overburdened due to some work load, number one thing we sacrifice is SLEEP. It is true that sometimes we are bounded by extraordinary circumstances like something unexpectedly has come up at the eleventh hour and demands our attention or couples having a newborn. I am not talking about those circumstances. But in general when things are relatively normal people don’t prioritise their sleep. Maybe it’s because people don’t understand well enough the significance of sleep.
Before I begin with how to get a goodnight sleep I think it is equally important to have a look at the consequences of getting an insufficient sleep.
Consequences of Getting Insufficient Sleep
Mental- more prone to depression and anxiety
Respiratory- more likely to catch a cold
Cardiovascular- boost in blood pressure and higher likelihood of a heart attack
Metabolic-propensity for packing on pounds, increases risk of diabetes
Note: The above information has been taken from Harvard Health and researchers have come across many health hazards associated with insufficient sleep.
Now coming on how to get a goodnight sleep so that we feel more energetic, concentrated and productive throughout the day.
7 Tips for a Goodnight’s Sleep
1. Consistency: Number one reason why I never and I literally mean never have trouble with my sleep is because I have a consistency. No matter it’s Monday or Friday or Sunday I sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time. That kind of consistency doesn’t allow my circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle to get disrupted.
2. Sleeping for the adequate number of hours: While consistency is important it is not enough because it doesn’t matter if we are sleeping and waking up at the same time if we are not sleeping for the adequate number of hours. On an average, an adult human body needs at least 7 hours of sleep but for some people it can be +, – 1. I have been sleeping for 7 hours every day for the past two years but recently I have come to realise that I function relatively better if I am sleeping for 8 hours. So do your little experiments and find out if you need 7 hours or 8 hours or 9 hours of sleep. The idea is not to under sleep or over sleep but to sleep for the adequate number of hours that your body needs.
3. Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol later in the day: Alcohol comes under the category of drugs that we call ‘sedatives’ and by the very word sedative we think it will induce sleep. However, that’s not true. Alcohol consumption later in the day affects our REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep and REM sleep is quite significant when it comes to our emotional and mental health. Caffeine is a stimulant and coffee which contains caffeine is good when we are drinking it during the day but not so good when we are drinking in the afternoon or at night. It takes about 4-6 hours for caffeine to get metabolised in our body which means if we drink coffee at 4 pm then only half of caffeine has been processed through by 10 pm. Half is still there. And that obviously affects our sleep significantly. There are some people who face no problem when they drink coffee later in the day but for majority of the population that’s not the case. So watch out for your body is trying to tell you.
4. Comfortable environment: Our environment matters a lot when it comes to sleep. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable enough. Ideally it should be quite, dark and cool. Temperature of the room shouldn’t be too cold or too hot.
5. Unwind or in simple terms have a sleep ritual: Having a sleep ritual is very important in this world full of distractions. It helps give signals to our brain that our bed time is near and it’s time to prepare for bed. Some people prefer keeping away their phones an hour or two before bed. Some prefer reading or taking a hot bath. Whatever works out for you.
6. Don’t exercise too late: Exercise is very important but exercising too late during the day can be stimulating. Instead go for a walk or maybe do some light stretching but intensive workouts should be avoided because it will affect your sleep quality.
7. Beds are for sleep not work: Beds should be reserved for sleep because when we do our daily activities in our bed we kind of confuse our brain. It gets confused whether bed is for sleeping or its for work. Make sure you work space is different from your sleeping space. Bed should be a stimulus for sleeping.
Disclaimer: This blog is about some general tips for sleep that are science based. If you or your loved ones are having some sleep problems which can’t be fixed by these tips then you should immediately talk to your doctor.
The blog is based on a video I made ‘7 Tips for a Goodnight Sleep- Backed by Science’. Don’t forget to check that out. It would mean a lot if you can like the video and subscribe to the channel ‘A Psyched Mind’. Your support will help ensure that science based information reaches more and more people.
Before I begin, I want to warn you that this blog post is not a motivational one. There are tens of thousands of blogs on the internet to motivate you. I don’t want to give you something that is already available.
Humans are social animals and they crave for social interactions. There is nothing wrong with meeting people because research in psychology supports the importance of relationships in mental well-being. While it’s good to follow what scientific literature says, sometimes we are left alone with our own devices. Learning how to enjoy one’s own company is one of the most daunting tasks one can ever undertake. We want to avoid it as much as possible. However, things can be a bit different for the introverts because after a point of time they simply want to be left alone.
Enjoy your Own Company
We can cultivate our ability to enjoy our own company even if it for the occasions totally uncalled for. All we need is a diary, a pen and an openness to new experiences.
1. A Diary and a Pen- Execution is prioritised over ideas and it makes sense because without implementation ideas are next to nothing. But ideas matter too because without ideas there is nothing to put into action. A single idea has tremendous power to change the course of basic narratives we are accustomed with. And that single idea can take birth when in one’s own company. In such circumstances, a diary and a pen can serve as two best friends. When in solitude, it is likely that we will be bombarded with many thoughts. Thoughts. Thoughts. And some more thoughts. Letting those thoughts simply pass by is not a wise decision (at least that’s what I think). Grab a diary or a piece of paper and a pen and write them down. Pay attention to your thoughts. Read them over and over again. Try to make sense of them. You will find how much you can offer to this world. With time, you will start craving for your company more and more because in the midst of all the chaos you are prioritising yourself, you are prioritising your ideas and that’s a bold move. All you need is a diary and a pen.
(*Thinking can be one of the flow activities or put simply an optimal experience. Great thinkers in the past used to love ‘thinking’ as it gave them a lot of joy and happiness. Democritus, a Greek philosopher, was one of them. If interested in the concept of optimal experiences and how they can be a source of happiness, I’d recommend Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi*).
2. Openness to new experiences- Sometimes a simple effort to be more open to new experiences in life can initiate enjoying one’s own company. We think we can only see the world in the company of other people. While it is true in many ways, there are moments in life when we are left alone with our own devices (as mentioned before). Should we stop exploring the world ? No. We can take a small step to go against our thoughts that are trying to compel us to stay inside. We can take a small step to become more open to new experiences even if those experiences aren’t shared with anyone but us. Pretty soon you will start seeing a cyclical pattern.
(*This article is based on author’s personal experiences and generalisability of ways to enjoy one’s own company isn’t guaranteed. There are many people living in extraordinary circumstances and the content might not be practical. Moreover, everyone is different in their own ways and prefer living their lives as they please. So pick and choose what seems to work for you)*.
You are my best friend. Together, we go to far away galaxies. I see beyond my eyes can ever permit, I feel the whole universe in me. But sometimes you are not so loyal. You make me go through misery. You take me places I don’t want to go, In the name of ‘Infinite Possibilities’.
So I was sitting on a bench. Weather was a bit gloomy. It was cold. Not too cold to shiver or anything. Surrounding was clean- actually very clean. I was breathing fresh air. Everything around me felt fresh and pure. Buildings were distant but I was simply appreciating their beauty. Then I turned my attention to ‘people’ walking around. Or should I say ‘different stories’ walking around.
Observation can be quite interesting. My simple observation made me think I wasn’t only looking at people rather I was looking at “unique stories”. Every person who was walking by me or was walking a little faraway from me is a story. Different backgrounds, different languages, different opinions, different educational degrees, different experiences facilitated the birth of different stories. You don’t know what is going on in their minds. You don’t know what they are thinking in that exact moment. For you they are simply people. But when you think about it they are all stories. Stories we are completely unaware of yet leave no opportunity in passing judgements.
Everyone is trying to make a dent in this huge complex world. Everyone wants to feel like they belong in this world which makes sense because no one should have to feel otherwise. Be kind to each other. Be humble. Be simply a good human being. You just might help re-write someone’s story for good.
I do not know what generalisations prevail in other countries regarding medical doctors’ income but I can surely speak for my country. In India, it is a common held belief that ‘doctors are a big time money making machines’ They charge hefty fee and are very rich people. There is a certain amount of truth to that. Why? Because in every country there are certain professions that allow one to earn pretty decent amount of money. People belonging to certain professions never seem to go out of business. Medicine is one such profession. That’s how things are. And we cannot change them.
Ever since I have grown up enough to make sense of the world I have come to realise that every medical doctor in India is labelled as a “money making machine”. Consultation fee are all time high. Unnecessary tests are advised. Commissions are set. Big houses at different places. Multiple bank accounts in different banks. And the list goes on….It is true that medical doctors are ‘becoming’ businessmen. To them patients are not a priority. They don’t care much if their patient is going to get well after seeking the treatment. Such doctors do no justice to their profession. They act against their oath. And it is pretty sad.
However, generalisation is bad especially in this case. Generalisation is one of the cognitive distortions humans are pre-wired with. So it is natural to say that ‘every medical doctor is like a robber: snatching away people’s hard earned money’.We look at someone and then go on generalising. I think it’s time we take a moment and debunk this generalisation. Why? Because there are so many doctors out there not just in India but all over the world who care a great deal about their patients. They have a duty to cure people and they do it full honesty. Money is important to them as no life can sustain without money. They want their spouses, children, parents, relatives and friends to have a good life. But never at the cost of going against their oath. It is okay for such doctors to have no social life but totally unacceptable to see their patients suffer at 11 PM. They don’t want their patients to suffer because of the money and so they charge what even the poorest can afford. It is okay for them to not upgrade an old car. A car or other material stuff stands nowhere near the satisfaction a doctor gets after seeing his/her patients get all well. Imagine how bad it feels to these saint doctors when they are also labelled as ‘scavengers’. They spend their whole lives living to a bare minimum and yet they are perceived as the richest people on the planet.
People feel absolutely no guilt spending 2000 rupees in fancy restaurants eating foods that are killing their bodies or even getting a Netflix and Spotify subscription. But come about complaining when a doctor charges 500 rupees as a consultation fee. What is wrong with asking what one deserves? Doctors spend so many good years of their lives studying so they are skilled enough to cure people. Why can’t people just see all the hard work they have put in for years and years? But all eyes are on “CONSULTATION FEE: Rs 500”. I am not saying you should cancel your Netflix subscription or stop eating food in restaurants. It is your money and you can do whatever will make you happy. But attacking doctors all the time on the grounds of fee and other things does not reflect one’s goodness.
The world has changed a lot. Money is taking over people’s love for each other. People are forgetting about their duties and responsibilities. In the midst of all this darkness, there are many people who are keeping the light on. And that light is a sign that humanity is still alive.