As I’ve said in this column sev- eral times before, Ph.D.s are hard. There’s no end to the deadlines or work, and the
student is never sure if the work they
are doing will lead them to a satisfying
career. The uncertainty leads to a lot of
stress, which can lead to burnout. My
last semester was particularly challenging, and I didn’t do a good job of
managing the stress. By sharing my experience, hopefully no one else makes
the same mistakes. Here are some
stress management strategies that
helped me make it through.
STEP 1: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
The first thing is to recognize when
you’re getting overwhelmed. I’ve written before about not taking on too
much, and how important allies are.
Although I had allies during my major
projects, they were also taking on a lot
of their own work. We weren’t able to
support each other the way we normally would. In addition, we both failed to
tell the other about the issues we were
facing, and it snowballed. We made it
through the project, but it was much
more of a struggle than it needed to be.
The big lesson here is to be open about
getting help, and to be honest about
what you’re going through.
Also, work to recognize when your
allies are struggling as well. My project
co-lead and I both noticed changes in
our mood and work ethic, but failed
to reach out to each other about our
issues. Watch out for this happening
to people around you, and ask if they
need help. A lot of people might not realize the changes that are happening,
but it’s clearer to other people. Don’t
be afraid to mention it to someone,
preferably in private, and be sensitive
about it. Stress is something everyone
deals with, but many people slip into
chronic stress, anxiety, or depression
without realizing how bad the problem
has gotten. There’s still a stigma about
mental issues in our society, and some
people might be resistant to admitting
they are having a problem. They falsely
assume it is something they should be
able to get over easily without help.
STEP 2: DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE
And that leads to the next point: Get
help when you need it. Mental health
issues are really common among
graduate students. Therapy can be a
great option. Most universities should
have support available for students;
my school has counseling resources
for students. Just talking to someone
neutral who can dig into your issues
and help you recognize what is causing your stress can be a major help.
Basic things like getting more exercise, yoga, or meditation can also
How can you be sure when you need
help? My advice is: Don’t suffer endlessly, hoping you’ll just get better.
Start working on yourself as soon as
you notice you’re having problems. Be
honest with your friends about your
mood, and ask them if they’ve noticed anything different. Letting little
things go on for too long can build up
and turn into something more serious.
STEP 3: ACTUALLY LEARN
HOW TO REST
Learn how to take a break. In grad
school, where deadlines stack up and
weekends and evenings tend to evaporate, the natural breaks just aren’t
there. Over time, you tend to forget
what it feels like to not be working.
Sprinting for short periods of time
isn’t a problem. You can put your head
down, focus on the work, and get out
in a year or two during a master’s degree. But with a Ph.D., you might be at
it for 4–6 years without real breaks during that timeframe. It might become
harder and harder to take a break.
How to Deal with Stress
as a Ph.D. Student
Sesame Credit is a social game
developed in China to encourage
people to share their credit score.