While it may seem that the term ‘mindfulness’ has surfaced out of nowhere, it actually dates back thousands of years, appearing in ancient Eastern philosophies, including both Hindu and Buddhist introspective traditions.
The earliest mention of mindfulness can be traced to an Indo-Aryan liturgical language called Pali; specifically, the Pali word ‘sati’, which in the Indian-Buddhist tradition implies awareness and attention cultivated by meditation. But it’s generally understood that the common definition of mindfulness today – and the way it’s understood and practised in the Western world – has been inspired by many components of Buddhism’s influence.
In its simplest terms, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present; to be aware of exactly where we are and exactly what we’re doing, without being overwhelmed by the circumstances that surround us. As such, it’s a kind of present-moment awareness that allows the practitioner to focus their mind without judgement, without getting carried away by peripheral happenings, and with a full acceptance of the here and now.
Over the last several years, the prevalence of mindfulness in Western culture correlates with the globalisation of society and a resultant merging of Eastern and Western philosophies – a syncretism driven by the internet and the widespread migration of different populations.
As the practice started displaying a certain level of success in coping with various psychological and health ailments, mindfulness has gained increasing traction in the public mindset. Today, it’s virtually impossible to read the news, turn on the television, or scroll through a social media feed without coming across the term or stumbling upon a pop culture icon who has adopted the practice. There are courses available to the general population, and YouTube TED Talks are readily accessible. There’s even an app which allows you to practise incorporating meditative techniques into your daily routine; this app has been downloaded more than 120 million times since its launch.
But perhaps, nowhere is the practice of mindfulness more vital than in the academic landscape – at least in how it relates to Western society. It’s specifically relevant to the pursuit of a PhD: although the ultimate educational achievement of attaining a doctorate degree is certainly one of individual reward and an exercise in resilience, the accomplishment is often realised against a backdrop of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety.
Earning a PhD is not an easy undertaking; expectations are great and the workload is even greater. A 2018 survey, which sampled more than 2,000 graduate students in 26 countries, revealed that PhD students around the world suffer from anxiety and depression at rates that far exceed the general population. This finding is reflected in another study: a 2019 survey of PhD students worldwide indicated that 76% worked more than 40 hours per week, and nearly 40% were unsatisfied with their work-life balance. Perhaps most alarming is the fact that 36% of respondents disclosed that they have sought help for anxiety or depression caused by their PhD studies.
With increasing demands for mental health support often exceeding the resources that universities are able to provide, it’s becoming more and more apparent that students must look elsewhere for coping strategies that will help them manage the constant demands of their programme.
One emerging strategy is the use of blogs which can allow PhD students to communicate about topics related to specific academic fields with the broader public. While blogs can of course serve as a forum for discussing new ideas with peers, these digital diaries can also function as a knowledge management tool and a stage on which to present academic work ready for the public; possibly even for peer review.
Tania Heap and Shailey Minocha contend that there is ‘a growing awareness of blogging as a writing or communicative genre in academia and research and as a new form of scholarship,’ and that ‘blogs can be effective to disseminate knowledge and may make an impact on the bloggers’ teaching and research.’
Blogging, as a form of academic publishing, produces both scholarship and the scholar. It provides an outlet for PhD students seeking to take their research to a wider audience as well as solicit dynamic feedback on their work. With advances in blogging platforms, including filtering tools and placing links to related research, academic bloggers can utilise the full scope of the internet to present their work to contemporaries more quickly and widely than ever before.
Research further suggests that for PhD students, who may have not yet published in peer-reviewed journals, blogging can potentially raise their profiles and rapidly disseminate information about their work without the long process of gaining research results or waiting for a long publication process. Blogging may be seen as a quick approach for early career researchers to get their work out into the public domain and publish in an informal way. Some PhD students believe that a research blog can even serve as a “publishing platform” offering an open record of their research interest.
The evidence is also clear that this new form of knowledge sharing can serve as both a means to practise one’s present-moment awareness while also serving the higher scholarly purpose of disseminating academic work for review and discussion. And it’s becoming more and more evident that blogging is increasingly regarded as a viable form of academic publishing. It’s therefore of no less value than any other form of publishing and ultimately provides PhD students with a way to feel more assured about their capacity to communicate succinctly and effectively with their academic peers and with the public.
And while it’s surely convenient to have a dynamic feedback loop for your work, ultimately blogging allows a PhD student to practise the art of mindfulness. It can let them stay focused on what’s happening and eventually retrain the brain. So, when confronted with an anxiety-inducing situation, they are able to dwell in the present moment, be calm and collected, and be completely in control. Blogging is, in effect, a practical exercise of mindfulness techniques.
While it’s clear that universities are finally recognising and responding to the growing problem of mental health, a PhD student doesn’t necessarily have to rely on an institution for support. A self-care toolkit that includes blogging therapy can help enhance your health and well-being and manage PhD students’ stress, by practising an ancient concept with relatively new technology.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.
Psychreg is mainly for information purposes only; materials on this website are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Don’t disregard professional advice or delay in seeking treatment because of what you have read on this website. Read our full disclaimer.