Because of an alarming rise in stress, anxiety, and other mental health cases among PhD students, it has become a major concern for educational and health authorities today. “One in two PhD students experiences psychological distress; one in three is at risk of a common psychiatric disorder” (Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879).
Moreover, it is found in the same research that, “the prevalence of mental health problems is higher in PhD students than in the highly educated general population, highly educated employees and higher education students”
But What Are Reasons For Stress Among Scholars?
There are many reasons for stressing out by researchers. Some of them include financial insecurity, tough competition, uncertain future, increased responsibilities, long working hours, continuous evaluations, or lack of support from their supervisors.
How Stress Affects Their PhD Journey?
Having stress and anxiety can be very harmful to scholars undergoing a research process that requires immense focus and determination. It not only causes them to lose motivation but can also affect their thesis negatively. Too much mental pressure can lead to deteriorating health and poor performance in their evaluation phases.
Frederik Anseel from the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at Ghent University says that “Mental health problems can develop into serious threats to one’s wellbeing and career, and can have detrimental consequences in the long-term”.
Some common symptoms of academic stress are feeling overwhelmed, guilty, loss of appetite, insomnia, emotional imbalance, migraine, and mood swings leading to depression. If you are suffering from any of these symptoms take the following measure below to tackle them.
Ways To Overcome Academic Stress
1. Support from Research Community:
One of the major reasons why most scholars feel anxious during their research is that they cut themselves off from the world and spend day and night on their thesis. This isolation can make them feel lonely and overwhelmed during this tough journey.
It is therefore recommended to at least join a research community where people are discussing their PhD journeys with others and give many valuable tips and tricks. Believe me when you join one such community you feel much supported seeing others going through the same things as you are. Nowadays finding a support group has become a lot easier because many of them exist online.
2. Share with Someone You Trust:
It is always better to divide a burden between two persons instead of one. When you are overburdened with work or have difficulty during your degree, sharing it with your friend or supervisor will always help you out. Instead of letting the pressure in your mind speaking it out can actually help you.
Most people are reluctant to do so and this is the main reason why so many of them are stressed out. “Reluctance to seek help is often caused by fear of stigma, retaliation or the expected negative impact on one’s future career” (OECD, 2015).
If you are not comfortable talking to them, you can always seek help from professional mental health experts to solve your problem.
3. Choose Supportive Mentors:
Your PhD supervisors play a key role during your doctorate. They guide you throughout your research and support you when faced any difficulty. Unfortunately, some supervisors are extremely busy with their work and allocate insufficient time for the scholars under them. As a result, those researchers are highly prone to stress and academic anxiety due to a lack of guidance and support.
It is always beneficial to ask about a particular supervisor from their previous under-trainees before finalizing them for your doctorate. This way you will not only have an idea beforehand what you are going into but can also consider someone else who is more suitable for your mentorship.
According to Teresa Evans, who is the director of the Office of Career Development within the Graduate School of Biomedical Science at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) suggests that:
“I encourage trainees to have multiple mentors. The mentor or counselor who fits you academically or scientifically might differ from the one that fits you for career development or personal growth. So talk to as many people as you can and build those relationships”.
4. Plan, Manage and Execute Accordingly:
Most scholars lose track of time because of their hectic work routine. Sometimes they spend long hours in labs working, and sometimes their weeks pass by without any productive activity. It is because they haven’t planned and managed their time, so they can’t utilize it properly.
Some many apps and websites can help you plan your day, manage time and execute them to get desired results. It not only makes you disciplined but also makes you stress-free.
5. Work On Your Mental Clarity:
Working continuously without any mental rest and peace can cause constant anxiety. Having a clear mind is very important to focus on your research and to discover new horizons. For this, you need to meditate, work out, increase your body’s physical activities and take care of yourself before your body starts suffering from academic burnout.
“Mindful meditation is effective in its ability to alter our relationship with what is happening at any given moment. We can enjoy life as it occurs, be fully engaged in activities, and better cope with challenging or difficult events".(UCLA's meditation resources)
6. Seek Proper Funding For Your Research:
A major factor contributing to stress among scholars is the financial burden. They are at the highest level of their academic career and have increased life responsibilities. When they are not sure of their financial stability, after somehow completing their doctorate feeling depressed about it is quite natural.
Moreover, conducting a PhD research can cost you a hefty amount due to numerous experiments, surveys, and tests conducted. It is therefore essential to carry out research aligned with your interests and financially funded by your university or sponsors from other organizations. If no one is sponsoring a specific interest you can always request one by sending an appropriate and convincing proposal for it. This greatly helps in reducing some stress during your degree.
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