…by Sinéad / from Ireland / PhD Psychiatry / 4th Year
Do you watch The Great British Bake Off? Well you know how they start off the challenge all calm and collected, ingredients meticulously organised with a well thought out check list at their side? Then, as the hosts announce there’s only a half an hour left, everything descends into chaos with icing sugar being flung about like lives depended on it? That’s how I feel. Yes. I am just over the halfway point of my PhD and I know my stress is a bit early. But I’ve always been that way, and tend to feel the most stressed half way through a project, ending it with more intense focus than panicked stress. My panicked stress comes at the halfway point. So hello!
I think the route of my stress is due a lot to the fact that the end of this wonderful three year journey is now in sight, with no concrete plans for what comes next. I’m a planner. I like plans. So this lack of plans fills me with the same sense of dread as one of the bakers when they’ve realised they used salt instead of sugar.
But this post is not meant to be an explanation of why I’m stressed, but more a list of all the ways I’m going to attempt to combat my stress as it inevitably increases as I approach the submission, the viva, the corrections, and the next step that I haven’t quite figured out yet…
- Try not to think about it
Yes. Yes I am advocating for denial. I’m certainly not saying that you should completely bury your head in the sand, but sometimes thinking about the big picture is very overwhelming and not at all helpful. For me thinking about the next year and the year beyond that makes me feel like I’m falling off a cliff. So instead of taking one giant leap I choose to take some baby steps. You don’t write your whole thesis in one sitting so why approach your stress that way. Instead I plan on breaking it down and focusing on small bits at a time. Trade the “What am I doing with my future” head spin to a “Let’s spend the next hour looking up sources of post doc funding and then the next hour updating my academic CV”.
2. Look after yourself
Currently I still have plenty of time in my PhD and the only reason I’m stressed is because I’m a natural planner and my neurotic nature likes to stress months before it needs to. But soon I will be in that actual stressful period and inevitably things will get even more tense. In an attempt to combat the “end of PhD stress” I’m trying to set up habits now that will hopefully lend themselves well to a peaceful next half.
It’s nothing crazy, just the basics:
- Eat well (with lots of green things and cake-because balance is important)
- Sleep on a regular schedule (I really do think that this makes a massive difference, the importance of which is grossly underestimated)
- Move around (for me this is doing yoga every day which keeps me sane and stops my back from hurting)
- Do fun things (Taking inspiration from my friend Lorna, who keeps weeknights free for fun things, like pottery and dancing, I am trying to cultivate hobbies. So far I’m halfway through felting a llama. Stay tuned).
- Be social (even when you don’t necessarily feel like it) but also…
- Carve out time to be alone (It’s a fine and very personal balance between the two but some mix of both seems ideal)
3. Get your house in order
As they say, a cluttered space equals a cluttered mind. Although household chores may be the last thing you want to do after a long day of wrestling with your thesis, there’s something very therapeutic about a clean space. I’m a big fan of “procrasticleaning” when I’m working from home so sometimes this happens naturally, but having a clean space to work in, come home to, relax in, makes a world of a difference. Even just folding the pile of blankets that I inevitably bury myself in throughout the day feels like I’m doing future me a favour.
4. Get outside
Sometimes it can be very easy to get self absorbed in our own worlds and it can be difficult to remember that there’s a world beyond yourself and beyond your project. So go outside! A long walk, a quick walk, whatever it may be, getting outside into some fresh air is not only good for you physically but it does wonders for your mental health. It gives you a chance to breathe, to clear your head, to gain perspective and to get some much needed oxygen after being in a potentially really stuffy office all day.
5. Remember you are not alone
Yes, doing a PhD can be a very isolating experience and the writing up phase has even more potential for being lonesome. But that doesn’t mean you’re alone! Those cups of tea breaks with colleagues, the phone calls to family, the dinners with friends, those are important and, regardless of how busy you are, you have time for them. You must make time for them. You are not alone in this experience and there are support networks available, either personally through your own family and friends, or through University wide support groups, writing groups and more. Feel free to reach out here if you’d like! We know the trials and tribulations of being a PhD student and we’re here for you.
Just take a deep breath. You’ve got this.