top of page

What Real ABD Self-Care Looks Like | Issue 300

Summary: Enjoy a pedicure or spa day--and also make time for the self-care you need for sustained focus and energy using these tips.

Estimated read time: Five minutes...preferably while relaxing with a cup of tea or your favorite beverage.


By Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., P.C.C.

"If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves." ~ Emily Dickinson 

Your dissertation marathon requires your best energy, strength, and self to propel you to the finish line. Yet along the way, it is easy to get sidetracked by life's demands or confused by the flood of escapist self-care hype. 

Good intentional self-care is vital for remaining creative, resourceful, and whole. It underlies all your successful goal striving--especially your goal of earning your doctorate. Given that graduate school already demands so much from you, is it worth it to invest any of your precious energy in developing good self-care habits? Do they really make a difference?

1. Take Care of Your Body.

Physical self-care matters. Nutrition affects how we function all day, while exercise energizes us. And sleep appears to be the most important ingredient of all, particularly when learning is involved. If you are feeling less than zestful, aim to take exquisite care of yourself when it comes to diet, exercise, and sleep. This alone can make a world of difference. 

2. Be Kind to Your Mind.

Thoughts also affect motivation and energy. When stressed or tired, inner critic voices and negative self-talk intrude more easily. Consider developing and maintaining positive practices that inspire self-empowerment and enthusiasm, e.g., meditation, gratitude journaling, and celebrating daily wins. You will easily recoup the time spent on these positive practices in enhanced productivity. 

3. Cultivate Support, Both Personally and Professionally.

Failing to capitalize on interpersonal resources puts you at greater risk for burnout according to research. Benefit from good company as you travel the dissertation highway. Even marathon runners rely on a support team. 

Whether bouncing ideas off one another or just talking to someone who understands, social support can relieve stress and keep burnout at bay. Your program peers can be a wonderful support system now and become part of your lifelong career network. 

Where else might you find someone who cares about your progress and well-being? Tapping into the support that a good coach can offer is a special kind of self-care that can be transformative. 

4. Maintain Healthy Boundaries. 

Maintaining boundaries in both personal and professional lives can be vital to our happiness and productivity. You may already be managing boundaries around worktimes, spaces, and personal relationships. Stay aware, however, so you don't slip into giving away your time and energy to avoid any temporary feelings of guilt or discomfort with saying "no." 

It can be helpful to conduct regular personal check-ins to assess what boundaries you need to protect your well-being and productivity. Then be sure to safeguard that time and energy. 

5. Take Breaks--And Make the Most of Them.

"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, even you," observed author Anne Lamott. And as weightlifters can testify, workout fatigue morphs into exhaustion without revitalizing short breaks. For dissertation writers, sitting and studying for hours on end leads to physical, emotional, and mental fatigue. 

Taking breaks can improve your performance and health--but only if you use them wisely. Take time to relax and refresh rather than check email or laundry. 

Give yourself permission to invest in your personal well-being. When you keep your cup full, you will be and feel your best. You will find it the best path for finishing your dissertation and enjoying your life. 

Recommended Resources

The Calm App can help you meditate anytime, whether you have five minutes or 30. 

These Ted Talks on self-care cover various aspects of self-care including gratitude, mindfulness, attitude shifts, and more. 

Mental Health Resources from Kaiser Permanente offers excellent resources for better sleep, stress, and more. 



An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resources

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



Subscribe to our other free e-mail Newsletter: The Coaching Toward Happiness News.



bottom of page