So, since hearing, yet again, that I am a weirdly calm PhD student, I've been wondering what it is I've inadvertently been doing 'right'. Here are a few of the things that, I think, have helped me stay calm and relatively happy thus far. They aren't necessarily for everyone, but they might provide some (possibly literal) food for thought.
1. Keeping a schedule. I'm fascinated and more than a little bemused by the concept of 'living your work'. I think it's certainly becoming more prevalent in society as a whole (as a close relation to the potentially-problematic 'do what you love' mantra), but I also think it's particularly common and engrained in academia. After all, universities were born out of bachelor institutions in which the work of study really was the life of their inmates. Wherever it came from, there certainly seems to be a perception that if you aren't working every hour you're sent, or aren't constantly thinking about your project, you just won't be as good at 'the life of the mind' as you can be. Yet on the other hand, research increasingly seems to be showing that limiting one's working hours actually increases productivity, to the point that Sweden are piloting 30-hour working weeks. I try to work an 'ordinary week' as much as is possible - so, 9-5pm with a break for lunch, and quite strictly keeping to the weekend. Heck, I even took a half-day off for Good Friday. That isn't to say I'm not thinking about my research outside of those times (indeed, I inevitably get my best ideas just as I'm about to fall asleep), and don't attend seminars or other academic events outwith those times, but I think in principle it's good to mentally divide the day into 'work time' and 'non-work time'.
2. Other people help. I'll admit, my personal circumstances do help me to achieve the balance cited above. By 'personal circumstances', I mainly mean a particularly lovely postdoctoral historian whom I managed to acquire as a spouse two years previously. We are both very good at both motivating one another to work but also, crucially, encouraging one another to stop working and relax. Time out with friends and post-work clubs or activities (we sing in a choir and are currently - somewhat unsuccessfully - trying to learn how to dance) can also be a great way to separate working time from relaxing time.
4. Food. This partially comes under number 3, but it's something that makes such a big difference for me that it deserves a category all of its own. What it comes down to is this: I love food. There are very few circumstances in which a decent meal will not significantly improve my mood. As far as I am concerned, cheese (my favourite food) was invented specifically to bring joy and variation into the daily life of human beings. I think, from the point of view of the issue at hand, that the benefits to my enduring love affair with food are two-fold. Firstly, eating well (in addition to cheese I very much appreciate fruit and vegetables and healthy cooking methods!) is of obvious benefit to one's body - and no matter how much the PhD is a labour of the mind, a healthy body is pretty vital too. Secondly, because I love food, I also love cooking. Because cooking takes time, and because I get pretty grouchy when I'm hungry, this once again provides motivation to wrap the working day up at a sensible hour. Plus, cooking can be meditative and relaxing in its own way, etc etc.
5. Exercise. More healthy body / healthy mind stuff. Aforementioned spouse and I have recently started doing the 'Seven Minute Workout' every morning as soon as we get up. I'm not entirely sure I believe its claims to being necessarily better than more prolonged exercise but it's a good place to start in the midst of a fairly busy life. We also try to go for runs and hikes with reasonable regularity, which leads me to...
5. The great outdoors. I will admit, as the above photo would suggest, that I am ridiculously lucky in this regard, as I live in what I personally deem to be a really very beautiful place. Anyway, having grown up in the countryside I'm a firm proponent of the benefits of 'fresh air', and I think there's nothing better to do on a sunny weekend morning than start tramping down the local coastal path. One of my other favourite outdoors activities, when I need to try to formulate some ideas, is to start walking barefoot down the 2-mile long West Sands in St Andrews, where a combination of the somewhat chilly sea-water and the lingering Chariots of Fire spirit never seems to fail to bring things (academic and otherwise) into sudden clarity.
6. 'Derp'. This is mine and my partner's code-word for any non-work, non-productive activity, perhaps more commonly known as 'wasting time'. Like (sadly) the consumption of cheese, or bacon, this is something that I firmly believe is absolutely fine, even beneficial, in a limited measure. As no 3 might suggest, I like doing things outside of work, but these things don't necessarily give your brain the break it needs. Right now, my go-to relaxing activities are playing Civilization V and catching up with detective shows such as Castle and Elementary.