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I have been working on my PhD for fourteen months now. I had a break only for four days before my PhD. I was busy with my master's thesis before that. During the PhD, I have had breaks for 3 weeks scattered during the last fourteen months. I didn't have a break in the summer, because I was worried about my research proposal and one-year review.

Although the research is not very mature yet in terms of solution strategies, I found good scientific questions. I passed the one-year review.

People asked me to take a break and relax before going further. I can't go back home or to a different destination because I am worried about COVID for multiple reasons and I don't want to risk it even though I am vaccinated.

I am on a break now for a week and this is my second week of break. I like the stress-free period now. However, I wanted some advice if this is an ideal break because I see people do a lot of activities during their break to recharge themselves and I am here just relaxing.

My usual activities during this break.

  1. Watching movies - 60%
  2. Visiting museums - 10%
  3. Trying to cook a lot of food because I like cooking - 20%
  4. Social media - 5%
  5. As drawing with charcoal was my hobby in 2017/2018, I am thinking about buying essentials for painting to learn how to use colours. - 5 %

Like point number 5, I have ideas to do something else, but I feel lazy all of a sudden and I just do things from point 1 to 4. Is this healthy? I feel like my brain needed some serious rest after working for a year continuously (I took weekends off of course). I may even plan one more week of a break after the two weeks break I have planned.

What are your opinions? I know this is not exactly an academic question, but this is essential for my research in the long term.

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    Personally, I would stop all social media activity during the break. But then, social media didn't exist during my formative years. My advise would be less movies and more physical activity. Do some sport, biking, hiking, ...
    – Roland
    Nov 22 at 11:32
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    Spend some time now and again as a volunteer with the homeless or elderly. The time spent connecting and outside of yourself is good for the soul, and it’ll be appreciated. Nov 23 at 3:19
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    We really need more information about what you enjoy, and what options are available to you. This time of year, I would spend time hiking or cross-country skiing (depending on snow), but if you live in an urban area in a warm climate, those aren't options for you.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 23 at 3:51
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    Don’t forget sleep, it’s one of the most neglected and underappreciated activities for keeping mentally and physically healthy.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 23 at 4:09
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    @CfourPiO a bit of a silly idea at this time of year, very specific, and I don't know if it's possible where you are, but riding to somewhere you can camp (in the woods or on a campsite) for a couple of nights gets you a change of scenery, exercise, outdoor time etc. I've even done an odd night midweek. If you're worried about covid exposure, you barely have to go indoors doing this so it's a good way to get a break that actually feels like a break (away from home) but not exposed
    – Chris H
    Nov 23 at 9:44
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I see two things that seem to be missing.

The first is personal contact with people and having meaningful, even if not "life-changing" discussions, both personal and broadly professional. Social media could imply that or not, but for many people it doesn't. The other things seem too isolating to be good for mental health. You can do this even in COVID times if you do it with care. It doesn't always need to be face to face and can be done in safe environments, such as outdoors.

The second item is a lack of physical activities, especially aerobics of some sort - even if mild. Biking is better than walking, but walking may be enough. You want to get your heart beating a bit (or a lot) faster as it supplies blood to the brain, which actually enhances your professional work. Biking in a group can also be a bit social. Swimming may be safe or not. Running almost certainly is. You don't need to spend a lot of time with it, but an hour's break for a 20 mile ride (pretty fast, actually) can rejuvenate you.

You might be able to organize some activities among your peer students (and some faculty) for short, periodic breaks. Saturday softball, say. Both active and social.

Generally, not just when taking formal breaks, get enough sleep.

Note that your brain doesn't shut down during such activities, even sleeping. Sometimes you find the crux of a vexing problem immediately upon finishing some activity, even on waking up. The mind is a wonderful thing, but it needs rest and some variety.

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    Thank you for this excellent advice. I do try to interact with peers or friends in general these days, but not very often. Thanks for pointing it out. I'll do this more often. Second, the physical activities; yes, now I do see the severity. I did want to do that also, but I was just lazy and my brain wanted more and more rest I don't know why. I did take your advice and in fact just now I did cycling in the country side for around fifty minutes. I did this after a few months. Glad to know that even an hour of such workout can be relaxing. I will do it everyday for the rest of my vacations.
    – CfourPiO
    Nov 22 at 14:33
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    Actually, you should do the aerobic exercise even when you are in "work mode". Short breaks can help prevent burnout.
    – Buffy
    Nov 22 at 14:37
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    During my doctoral student days, a few of us would take mid-day breaks. This is easy in mathematics, but less so in some fields. If you have control over when you work you can adjust the balance better.
    – Buffy
    Nov 22 at 14:52
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    Exercise before the midday meal, perhaps. Break earlier that 16h30 and work an hour in the evening. It might actually increase efficiency, assuming your work isn't in a lab, with needed equipment.
    – Buffy
    Nov 22 at 15:00
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    Being mentally and physically tired helps with sleep quality, and ideas can pop up while riding/running if you're stuck. Seeing the outdoor world go by seems beneficial to me, compared to static/indoor exercise. But a stroll in the park with friends (take a hot drink in winter perhaps) would also be a good idea. You could arrange this with work friends and you'd all benefit. During my PhD we went hiking together occasionally, even as an official research group activity, but also took turns to make cake for the group each Friday - that might not work so well during covid (but outdoors?)
    – Chris H
    Nov 23 at 9:54
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I see nothing that is missing.

If I read you well, it is your fourth week of vacation after more than a year. By what should be healthy standards, this isn't much and you seem tired.

And when you're tired it is normal to rest ; spending one week home if that is what you feel like doing is in no way unhealthy. If your everyday life has the required equilibriums but this week you don't feel the need to go hiking, biking or meeting people, then you should listen to yourself.

While those activities are healthy and generally improve your mood, they can be draining as well. It is perfectly normal to watch a movie over going on a hike and, I insist on this point, not something that you should label as lazyness but rather as a personal choice -- or even a need as you observe yourself.

You should try to view or practice those activities with as much distance as possible with the peer pressure that comes with it. Some people may see some activities that you may do in your break as more worthwhile than other, but in the end you are the one doing those activities and enjoying them or not.

From there it is clear that an "ideal break" is really time and person-dependent and that while asking for suggestions is a good idea, you should really allow yourself to do exactly what you want to do in your vacations.

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So when I did my PhD way back in '93 to '95 I took up triathlon. I was reasonably fit at the time. Riding to my campus every day spurred me on to start swimming and running. By second year I was training twice a day, once at lunchtime and then in the evening. I was lucky that I could do all of this and still carry out my research and everything else. By doing this on a continual basis I felt much fresher mentally. There is a life outside of your work. Find something you enjoy and set time aside on a regular basis to do it. If I'm honest, sport is the best as it gets you out with no distractions and away from where you study and work.

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    Good answer, but '95 isn't so far back. ;-) And keeping fit helps you age gracefully also. That is worth a lot in itself.
    – Buffy
    Nov 23 at 14:48
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    Thank you for your answer. I see clearly the need to work out. I have enough scope for cycling here. I don't do it everyday (I do, but for my daily activities like buying groceries) . However, now I feel the need for it and I'll try to do it everyday.
    – CfourPiO
    Nov 23 at 14:55
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    @CfourPiO I swam, rode and ran so I couldn't be distracted by just dipping into a journal or a textbook or actually work. It was my time away from the lab. The fitness was a bonus. Plus I could eat as much as I liked and slept like a baby at night.
    – mbprouser
    Nov 23 at 14:58
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    @mbprouser I hope I also will do some of the activities that you did and change my lifestyle a little bit. I've different hobbies but to really recharge and to have some blood flow to my brain, I need the activities people mentioned in the answers and comments. Thank you!
    – CfourPiO
    Nov 23 at 15:05
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    @CfourPiO Don't force yourself though, you don't have to ride a bike every day, but doing it a few times in a week is probably very good. If you like drawing/painting, do that too. You should spend the time with things you enjoy and drawing is much more interactive than watching TV. (still sometimes this is exactly what you need)
    – Kami Kaze
    yesterday

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