Behind the scenes I am preparing for the next live sessions of the Stress-Free PhD Programme. This means I’ll be running the course with a live session at the beginning of the week, where you can ask questions (and I’ll answer them!) to get the most out of the programme. The programme is designed to help you write your PhD in fewer (and happier) hours a day. This can be done! But it takes a few steps, some of which are to do with a shift in mind-set/ the way you think about the PhD, some of which are practical steps to implement.
Today I want to talk about a fundamental component of the programme: ‘stress in academia’, which must be the absolute unsexiest topic on the planet! It is key, however, to writing a PhD with your self-confidence and joy intact. Today’s blog outlines how this might work. The course will help you implement these ideas, step by step, over the course of six weeks. In detail. It will get you out of the confidence slump you may be in right now. Sign up here.
Stress in academia: it’s not about you!
Let’s start with a depressing statistic (no pun intended!): studies are starting to show an alarming picture of PhDs’ mental health (see here, here, here and here). About a third up to half of PhD students might qualify as being ‘clinically depressed’. In some fields the figures are worse than in others, but across the board it looks like PhDs are a lot worse off mentally and emotionally compared with peer groups outside of academia. About two to three times worse…
Unfortunately many of us (including myself when I was working on my PhD) think we are the only ones grappling with feeling low and stressed. I don’t think my own struggles qualified as depression, but sometimes it was definitely depressing! Please know it isn’t a personal failure of any kind on your part. It is the result of how academia is set up (huge topic), yet these dynamics tend to go unacknowledged.
The first time I taught a workshop for PhDs one of the participants came up to me afterwards and said: “I am so glad to hear it is not just me.” It isn’t just you. It is almost everyone at some stage. It is just that it is often only afterwards, once the PhD is completed, that people will allow themselves to be vulnerable and talk about the more difficult stretches. In more competitive fields (where the problem is worse) this is all the more true.
What you can do
Handling PhD stress well, seen that stress is a given in this setting is essential. This is a massive topic, and for the purpose of the Stress-Free PhD programme I have chosen to take the pragmatic route: what are the practices that are proven (either scientifically, or anecdotally, as in n=1 tested by me) to have a positive effect on wellbeing and academic performance? Are there ways we can incorporate those practices into our days and weeks, to lower the burden of stress, and increase the odds of enjoying our academic work?
In the course we go into depth to find out what your personalised (that is enjoyable and doable in your circumstances) stress-busting routine might look like, and I will help you implement these practices step by step, over the course of six weeks. When we cannot fix the root of the problem in the short term (academia has problems in the stress department!!!) we have to work with what we’ve got, and be as supportive of ourselves as possible!
If I had to sum it up in three sentences:
– Academia currently is a really stressful environment, and up to half of PhDs develop stress-related (mental) health problems.
– This has nothing to do with your capability or suitability.
– Relaxation and other ways of stress-busting are essential, not only to look after yourself, but to ensure high academic productivity as well.