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Personal wellbeing and mental health

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Everybody needs time off. A normal working week is 37 hours; with two days off for the weekend, evening rest, public holidays and so on. In the field you may get almost none of these, and you may be in a situation where you have very little privacy and personal space. This can be very stressful. It is also difficult to be in another culture and leave behind all your usual patterns of life. To counteract this you need to plan down time; time without work, time away from the field site and you need to plan small breaks while on site.

There will be difficult times; times when you feel down, lonely, missing home, missing the comforts of a 'normal' life, missing your loved ones; times when work isn’t going as well as you think and you feel bad about it; times when you may get depressed. This is natural, and very common. And it passes.

There are a lot of things you may be able to do to make the situation less difficult but they will vary depending on your field situation. However, if the difficulties do get too much, if you simply do not like your field site and the community you are working in, and cannot live there happily, you are allowed to leave and make other arrangements for doing research. But make sure you have given yourself, and the community, a fair chance first. You may be surprised at how things can turn around. Or not.

Questions you need to know the answers to:

  • What plans have I made for down time and relaxation (in the field site as well as away from it)?
  • Do I have enough novels / CDs and other distractions for my personal entertainment/relaxation?
  • How will I manage the logistics and expenses involved in getting time away?
  • Am I keeping in contact enough with my loved ones and friends?
  • Am I getting enough time away from the field site?

I like to read personal accounts of other fieldworkers while in the village. Life in the field was so different at first that I suffered from culture shock and thought the whole village was crazy. Reading how other researchers work in similar environments and cope with it changed my perception of my own situation. I had been like a soccer player on a rugby field, complaining that the locals constantly broke the rules; but they simply had different rules. I had to discover and accept that my behavioural norms were not applicable in their society.

-- Gerd Jendraschek