I have been asked to talk about the way I deal with anxiety in grad school. Since this is a problem affecting many students, I think it’s worth sharing my experience and help others who struggle during their PhD.
Constant deadlines, oral presentations, journal clubs, poster presentation, financial difficulties, teaching, demonstrating in the undergrad labs, keeping up with the literature, doing experiments, analysing data, annual reports and assessments, supervising undergrad students in the lab and help me counting all the additional activities we are asked to commit to when accepting a PhD scholarship. The PhD training is tough and many students don’t cope with the stress and anxiety.
A recent review published in theInternational Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being analysed the state of wellbeing of Doctoral students. They found out that students suffer from a poor lifestyle and struggle to manage their work-life balance. What a surprise.
The WHO defines wellbeing as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and no merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
According to the paper, “academic growth at the expense of emotional and personal development will lead to a lack of wholeness and centeredness“. Additionally “Several studies also reported high frequencies of doctoral students considering interrupting their studies. In one study, 56% considered dropping out at some point during the PhD process, and that decision was influenced by experiences of stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and lack of interest.”
Another study “found that doctoral students used coping strategies to overcome oppression and to help them persevere academically. An identified coping strategy involved using an academic mask; yet, instead of maintaining well-being and fostering optimal, healthy coping, this strategy was categorized as survival-oriented, and using it led to feelings of incompleteness, disconnectedness, and exhaustion”
This is a serious problem because grad students are supposed to be the new generation of scientists and academics. Building up the bad habit of poor self-care at an early stage will put you in a mindset of success in academia = struggle.
What can you do to help yourself and getting a more positive approach to graduate school?
1. LEARN THE TECHNIQUE OF THE BOX BREATHING. I have been doing this for a while and it’s amazing. It seriously works. Basically, you breathe in slowly and count 4, then you breathe out slowly again and count 4. When you get more experienced, you can prolong the breathing and count 6, 7,8, 11. It works immediately.
2. MEDITATE. Again this is another habit you should implement in your lifestyle right now. Sit in a quiet place and relax your mind, focus on your breathing for 5/10 minutes. Try to do it for 5 min at the start then you can do a bit longer. Don’t lie down because it’s easy to fall asleep. It is better to do it in the morning but you can do it any time during the day.
3. SLEEP. Many students deprive themselves from sleeping to cope with the commitments. Then they use caffeine and other stimulants to stay awake. There is no surprise that many students burn out quickly. Sleeping is so important, and depriving your body of sleeping consistently will lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and it shortens your life expectancy. A good sleep hygiene means: going to bed at 10pm and get at least 6 hours of sleeping every night, remove electronic devices from your room, TV, smartphone laptop and don’t use them up to one hour before going to bed.
4. MAKE HEALTHY HABITS A LIFESTYLE. We are what we eat. If you eat good, you feel good, if you eat crap, you feel crap. Dedicate half an hour of your time to the preparation of your meal. if you can’t be bothered do batch-cooking and cook on the weekend for the whole week. Exercise regularly, there is no need to do heavy exercise, yoga or thai-chi are the best activities to help with relaxation. If you don’t have the money to buy a gym membership, do it at home. There are tons of YouTube videos to watch.
5. SET UP REALISTIC GOALS AND DO WHAT YOU CAN. At the end of the day, we’re still humans. You can’t work non-stop like a machine. This isn’t realistic. Many psychologists identify the reason for frustration and unhappiness in the lack of setting realistic goals. You plan to do 30 experiments in one day and you can do only 10? It’s okay. You planned to read 5 papers and you managed to do only one. It’s okay. You were supposed to prepare the buffers and you didn’t, it’s okay. There is no need to torture yourself and call you an impostor or telling yourself that your best skill is procrastination. This is useless and self-destructive.
Phd is a training to become a scientist and the best skill of a scientist is creativity. You applied for higher education, if you wanted to be a technician, what was the point of applying for gradschool? MY OPINION.
Please, feel free to leave a comment and share your opinion below.