Farmer, musician, athlete, and more – Stress relieving activities of our lab workers

Our daily lives are full of pipetting, operating complex machines, reading scientific literature, preparing talks, posters, and manuscripts. As recently pointed out, this makes many of us “stressed like a PhD student, a group of individuals, who are among the most stressed occupational group. So, it’s pretty obvious that PhD students come up with certain techniques to combat the constant pressure. In order to find out what people within the Cluster and also from other labs do, I just went out and talked to them to get some inspiration. I was so impressed that I really like sharing this experience.

First of all, I found that there are two different ways of approaching stress. On the one hand, the obvious solution: Look for well-known strategies for stress reduction and try whether it works for you. I personally tried progressive muscle relaxation during my A levels (German example here, there are many more courses you can find online and you can get CDs from your health insurance). This technique was developed in the 1920s and relies on alternating tension and relaxation of different muscle groups from head to toe. I always found it very helpful and it is great to do before you go to bed – just plug your ear buds in and forget the world around you. Other people, on the other hand, are way more creative – here are five great ways to deal with stress:


  1. The Guru

Just breathe… (image from

Dhruv Chauhan, who belongs to the Hornung lab, has Indian roots and a friend invited him to a course taught by the spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The “Yesplus” programme teaches a special breathing technique. Dhruv says, it enables him to let his mind flow and his thoughts just pass, which is perfect before going to sleep. It also works when you don’t follow all the rules but just do whatever feels good while concentrating on breathing. For him, listening to some music works equally well. Seriously, rarely have I spoken to a person who seemed so relaxed, it has to be an amazing technique.



  1. The Pianist

Christina has been playing the piano since she was a child (by C. Metzger)

Music also plays a pivotal role for Christina Metzger, who is a technical assistant in the Virology Institute. She learned to play the piano as a child (mainly pop music) but the real boost came six years ago. Now she practices up to six hours at the weekend and 1-2 hours on a working day, focussing on classical music. She is a solo performer on stage and also plays as part of a chamber ensemble. However, it is not to earn money or a profession. “Playing music is really important to me. When I couldn’t play for some weeks I really felt miserable,” she told me. For her, it is the perfect compensation and a great way to see achievements. Where does all the motivation come from? She admits, that it’s hard to explain but for her it’s “the desire for beauty” which drives her and there is just something that wants to get out.

  1. The Urban Farmer

Are you ready to harvest? (image from

This brings us to another, slightly more unusual way to spend your free time. Elisabeth Mettke (now responsible in the Cluster Coordination Office for public relation) tried urban farming during her PhD. Admittedly, it sounded quite “Hipster” and “This-really-can-only-be-done-in-Berlin” to me at first, but I was put right by her very fast. How does it work? For one gardening season, you obtain a piece of organic field in the desired size. For her and three friends it meant: family garden, 90 m2 for 369 EUR. The plants were seeded by the farmer and included a huge range from kohlrabi, broccoli, spinach, beetroot, potatoes, carrots to courgette and tomatoes. From April to November you have to water the plants and clear of weeds, and – most importantly – also bring in your harvest. Explaining why it was so great totally made sense to me: You get to ride your bike to the field, which is the first opportunity to free your head. You are proud because it really works and you are successful. And last but not least, the best beetroot ever gave her inspiration for new dishes she had never thought of before. Interested? Go to and reserve your spot.


  1. The Sportswoman

It’s pretty muddy here… (photo by M. Hamann)

Maren Hamann was my direct colleague and I witnessed her transformation form an averagely sportive person to a superwoman, and I am not kidding here. It all started with the “Strongman Run” in May 2014. For those of you, who are not into Obstacle Course Races, let me explain briefly: You run a very long distance (10-30 km) but because that would be too boring, there are many obstacles on your way. These range from easy-peasy jumping above straw bales, overcoming walls, climbing up hand over hand, crawling beneath electrified wire to running through ice-cold streams at -3 °C ambient temperature. No way, I would torture myself like that but Maren is absolutely enthusiastic. It is an instantaneous stress relief and also way more exhausting than just running. During the race, there are no other problems but the race itself and you make many new friends from completely different fields. More importantly, you can be really proud of yourself. It conveys the feeling “If I can manage this, I can manage everything!” and is a great preparation for subsequent challenges of a different kind in life. Maren thinks, it is especially suited for people who tend to underestimate themselves: “You achieve so much more than you can imagine!”


  1. The Sportsman and Party Expert

… and here, too. (photo: F. Tolksdorf)

Also for our next candidate, sport is extremely important. Felix Tolksdorf (Kolanus Lab), does sports up to six times a week: He plays basketball, goes to the gym and is also involved in crossfit. Crossfit is functional training and you get the motivation for that very easily: The training is done in small groups of 6-8 people and you often compete against another person or group, which makes you deliver those extra 10 percent. After basketball – Felix has played for the Telekom Baskets in the past – or crossfit, he likes to be completely exhausted and covered in sweat. It just frees his mind. Apart from sports, also something else helped him to get things off his mind: Old-fashioned partying, mainly in Cologne and Bonn. He was a real expert at the beginning of his studies and went out almost every weekend and until up to 10 am (!) the next morning, mainly dancing to beating electronic music. Why don’t you try Tante Rike, Bootshaus, Bogen or Elektroküche?!


One thing is clear to me now: There is no such thing like “the one solution to stress”, people develop very personal strategies to cope with certain situations and it is worth getting some inspiration from others. Apart from the classical stress relief strategies, a uniting feature is to achieve something great in a foreign field which leads to satisfaction in life.


featured image:

Author: Christian Sieg