PhD and Anxiety

Three weeks ago I opened up about how I was struggling with motivation, productivity anxiety and all that fun stuff (here). I came up with some solutions and to be fair, I have been using them and they have been helping to improve my productivity. However, over the past two weeks that unavoidable feeling of anxiety reared it’s ugly head again. This time, though, it was different and I couldn’t just blame it on my PhD workload. I contemplated not writing this because I didn’t want this to become a negative space but a few PhD students have told me that they identified with my last post so I thought it was worth talking about…

I’ve been feeling down, flat, unsatisfied, unfulfilled, whatever you want to call it…

Why you might ask? Well truth is…. I have no idea!!! And being upset for no particular reason infuriates me! I think it’s mostly a frustration at myself for having so many amazing opportunities at my fingertips yet still being unsatisfied with my life. I live in a beautiful city, I’m healthy, I have a good support network, I’m doing research that is worth doing… I’m so lucky! Hence why I was getting so frustrated with myself.anxietea

It all came to a head last week when I had a bit of an anxiety attack (I didn’t realise that’s what it was at the time, it’s only something I can say now, in hindsight). I finally sat at my desk at 4pm after avoiding work all day and I just cried. I couldn’t face it. I didn’t understand what was happening to me and I had hit this feeling of rock bottom. It was awful but I’m glad it happened. It gave me the kick I needed to make some changes in my mindset.

This week, my flatmates were away so I was home alone. It was the perfect opportunity for me to tackle my issues head-on. I’ve had a lot of time with myself the past week and I wanted to share how I’m trying to better manage this….phd030415s

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others– I feel like we don’t talk about jealously enough. It’s a horrible yet sometimes unavoidable emotion. I found that I was becoming jealous of people in my life e.g. all of my friend who aren’t doing a PhD, get to work a 9-5 job and can leave their work at work and of people online e.g. a health and fitness blogger who lives by the beach in Australia (but who wouldn’t be jealous of that?!). I don’t have much advice for you here but what I can say is that the grass is always greener on the other side. Always. We all have our own stresses and strains. It’s worth recognising the discomfort of feeling jealous. It’s okay to admit it. But the key is to acknowledge it, sit with the emotion for a while and then let it go. For me, it’s harder to let go if I’m in denial.
  2. Digital detox– take a break from social media and learn to be comfortable without technology, even if it’s just for a day or a week.  Social media is a double-edged sword. It’s an amazing world for connecting, sharing and collaborating but for those of us who love to procrastinate, it has a dark side. I was using it to escape reality. Being home alone and cutting down screen time allowed me to invest in a bit more self-care. I cooked, read, journaled, listened to podcasts (I couldn’t cut them out- I’m addicted…gimme a bit of slack)! I didn’t totally go cold turkey, I just tried to stop mindlessly scrolling and being a slave to my phone.
  3. Minimize your daily to-do list– Simple but effective. I’ve found that assigning myself less daily tasks and actually achieving everything by 5pm puts me in a much better headspace.
  4. Go to your friends for advice– if you only take one thing away from this post, then let it be this. I’m so lucky to have friends who I can talk to anything about at any time. Ultimately, they pulled me out of my rut by reassuring me and giving me the practical advice I needed to move forward (so credit to them for points 1-3… it was all their idea). I was listening to the podcast Happy Place where Kirsty Young said that the best advice she has ever recieved was when she interviewed Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize wining scientist-He said that when you have a problem, whatever it is, you should listen to your true friends because they are totally invested in your life and have your best interests at heart, and they also have the clarity of thought that distance brings.

How beautiful is that??? Now you know why I couldn’t give up the podcasts this week! When you find a good one they’re full of really insightful advice.

Implementing structure and routine helps me to find my groove but I recognise that we’re all different and what works for me, won’t necessarily work for everyone. As much as I am a creature of habit who loves routine, the key is not to panic if you break it! Sometimes you need that Wednesday lie in or you have to work on a deadline over the weekend. That’s the beauty of working independently- you get to be flexible! The past few weeks have reminded me that doing a PhD is going to be an emotional rollercoaster but it’s up to me to learn to enjoy it. Has anyone else experienced times like this? I’m sure we all have at some point and let me tell you, it’s pretty liberating to acknowledge it, own it and share it!

I’m looking forward to the next few months, I’m going to be super busy (which I thrive off of) and I couldn’t be more excited! Now it’s time to enjoy a well deserved weekend in the sunshine 🙂

6 thoughts on “PhD and Anxiety

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  1. This is EXACTLY how I feel. All the time. I have the best opportunities, the best life I could wish for and yet I am plagued by a completely unexplainable anxiety. One which I cant attribute to anything… but puts a complete stop to anything resembling productivity! Oh the PhD fun. Glad to see you found some things to help out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you can relate! We really are all in the same boat… it’s a feeling that is always going to ebb and flow and that’s why it’s important to talk about it!


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