The benefit of residential writing retreats on the wellbeing of Postgraduate Researchers

Clear your head, set your goals and walk the talk…

We asked one of our recent postgraduate cohorts to reflect on the benefits of participating in one of the Writing Retreats at Chaplegarth. Annika Coughlin, a sociologist studying for her PhD at UCL Institute of Education, gave us her thoughts. She is our guest blogger this month.

When you suffer from anxiety it can sometimes be difficult to think clearly, make plans and stick to them. It can be difficult to go to bed, or to get up, as you lie there paralysed by the work you have to do. It can be difficult to plan your (nutritious) meals for the day/week, let alone go shopping and cook. The day seems to whizz by so quickly that it feels wrong to factor in rest, exercise, fresh air and social time. Every second needs to be spent working – especially if you have achieved nothing all day – that’s what evenings and the early hours of the morning are for aren’t they?

After reading this you probably can feel a tightness in your chest and want to shout: ‘Stop! This isn’t good for you!’ And of course, those of us who worry a lot are already fully aware that this pattern of behaviour is damaging to our bodies and our minds – let alone to the state of our PhD thesis.

So how can a residential writing retreat help combat some of these negative behaviours and help with student success? Well, first of all, at a retreat other people are taking away some of the daily burdens. Someone is cooking for you, someone creates a timetable, someone schedules in the break-times and most importantly enforces them. Secondly, there are other people there for whom you can share goals and mutually motivate and spur on. When I attended the residential writing retreat at Chapelgarth Estate in May 2019, I deliberately chose to tackle the part of my chapter I have been avoiding for weeks. It is easier to do these scary or more demanding tasks in the company of others because you are not alone with your mind that is always screaming negative comments at you. It shuts up for a bit and lets you focus.

Sometimes you have to experience something to fully understand the benefits, but I would say the retreats make you realise at the time, as well as when the retreat is over, that you can achieve a lot during a working day when you follow the structure. A structure that others have thought out for you, tested and refined (another thing you don’t have to worry about!).

In conclusion, I would highly recommend the residential writing retreat at Chapelgarth Estate because it gave me the boost I needed at a time when I was particularly struggling with my anxiety. My anxiety will never go away, but by attending retreats, and then following the structure alone or with my PhD colleagues, I know that I can manage my time better and not let my anxiety get in the way of my thesis.

To find out more about our Writing Retreats please see

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