5 (simple?) ways to combat stress in a PhD
If the stress has already gotten to you, please do visit a therapist. I’m not kidding. There’s absolutely no stigma in visiting a therapist.
Especially if you’re a stressed out PhD.
A simple Google search would show you the kind of mental health issues PhD students have to deal with across different parts of the world.
Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia. PhD students do take a massive mental pounding through their academic journeys.
Let’s not get into the triggers for now. That’s not really the objective of this post.
Just the way you wouldn’t think twice to consult your General Practitioner or physicial when your body falls ill, you absolutely must consult a therapist when your mind falls ill.
There’s nothing wrong in getting your mental health treated just the way you’d visit a regular physician when your fever wouldn’t subside even on the third day.
A lot my friends were on anti-depressants or different stages of therapy for the better part of their PhD’s and I actually did notice a common pattern among all of them. They had a terrible work-life balance, and this usually stems from a lack of discipline.
There are ways in which you can avoid reaching this stage and it requires a lot of determination and focus. It’s very easy to say that you need to find yourself a hobby, you need to travel, cook, go out with friends, whatever!
Who are we kidding! What hobby? What friends? We’re frikkin’ PhD scholars!
Honestly, all this is possible.
For me, a lot stress busting happened towards the end of my PhD. You suddenly realize that now that you’ve submitted your thesis, you have some time to spare and the government’s Science Engineering and Research Board is more than happy to sponsor your conference trip to France!
C’est la vie!
Anyway, in a nutshell, here’s how I survived 5 years of PhD.
- My home was my private temple. You’d never find research articles, academic textbooks, notes, or any of my research related stuff at home. Whatever pending work I had, I’d make sure I’d finish it at my lab so that I could head home, however late, warm my food (or cook), pour myself a glass of Old Monk, watch a few episodes of Dexter, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad,or whatever, and call it a night. I cannot stress how important it is NOT to bring work home. I’ll talk about this in detail in my next post.
- A healthy body creates a healthy mind. Exercise, cook at home, run, gym, whatever, find a way to stay healthy physically. When you’re physically healthy, you’re mentally healthy as well. I understand as you progress in your PhD, managing your time becomes challenging, especially if you start spending long hours in the lab. This is where you need to be disciplined. Have the discipline to wake up at 5 a.m., or take an hour’s break around 6 p.m. to hit the gym or the swimming pool or the jogging track.
- Don’t take failures personally. Experiments can fail. That’s the whole purpose of research. Don’t take every failure to heart. Sometimes, you might have made an error yourself, which is also fine. We’re all human, we all make mistakes. Just make sure you don’t repeat them. My thesis advisor could write a 200 page thesis on the blunders that I used to make during my PhD, but you’d never see them repeat. Shit happens, move on!
- Acceptance. Understand you’re a PhD student and accept what you’ve signed up for. There’s nothing bigger than acceptance. Your lab can get very lonely road for the better part of 4 years. You may not have a social or family life; you see your childhood friends getting married and slowly drift away from you; you miss important family functions and slowly people stop inviting you to weddings, birthdays, and other events; once in two years, you beg your department on your knees to let you go home for a few days and they still make a big deal out of it. Well, you knew what you were getting into before you joined. So, deal with it, accept it, and keep at it.
- Build a close circle of friends: That’s your support system right there. You’re going to need to vent; to rant; to release all that pent up pressure that’s been bubbling and boiling inside you and there’s no better place than your closest friends. Could be your family too, depending on how you are with them. Your friends and family are like your unofficial therapists. They’ll help keep you calm.
If you still find this difficult to handle, please, it’s never too late to visit a therapist. I can never stress enough the importance of treating your mental health the same way you’d treat your physical health.