A Blog Post Inspired by Someone Else's Blog Post

How To Stay Emotionally Healthy While Doing A PhD.

This has been a pretty popular blog post going around - 500 hits in 3 days according to the author.  Unsurprising really - it’s a nice little post with simple advice for stressed PhDs, and this time of year, when it’s gloomy and supervisory boards are on the horizon, is right when we need it. 

I’m pleased that I’m already doing some of the emotionally healthy things recommended - I go to the gym most days, I see friends, I take weekends off, I took a break after being slain by a particularly boring monograph. 

But I am guilty of feeling, er, guilty when I don’t think I’ve done enough work.  Even though there’s no use trying to work if I’ve got a splitting headache, can’t keep my eyes open or (as happened yesterday) I can’t read and take notes and blow my nose all at the same time.  I’m still banging my head against a brick wall somewhat with my attempt at a journal article - cutting a few words out of it and starting to work on another section of it was a minor victory today. 

It’s another victory that I’ve learnt to cut my work into manageable bits.  With the journal article, I’m just going to work on it a bit at a time when I can bring myself to, and eventually it’ll be done.  When I get a piece of writing back and there are loads of corrections I feel overwhelmed and sometimes paralysed at first, but I’ve learnt to separate it into ‘minor things that can be corrected now’, ‘things that need a bit of work but I already have the research done’ and ‘things I need to read x for, y for, z for’.  Makes it a lot less scary.

Whilst not feeling like I’m competing with my fellow PhDs, I do sometimes worry I’m doing less work than everyone else - then I remind myself that I’m on track with deadlines and my supervisor isn’t lamenting that my bibliography is too small - so I’m clearly doing something right.  Besides which, next month I start transcribing a whole load of oral histories at the BL - I don’t think I’ll feel I’m not working hard enough then!

Anyway, I’m not sure how possible it would even be to be researching solidly.  In a more ‘normal’ job, some tasks become fairly automatic after a while, freeing up your brain a bit, whereas with research you need to be fairly ‘on’ all the time, which takes a lot of energy.  I can read documents for a few hours and feel more tired than I did after 8 hours working in a supermarket.

While people say doing a PhD can be dangerous to your mental health, I’ve been at the other end of the scale - in jobs so dull I was despairing from the boredom and lack of prospects.  I’m not much of a risk-taker, but this is one risk I’m happy I’m taking.  I’d rather be stimulated and depressed than bored and depressed.

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About Alice Violett

Reader of books, editor of web content, haver of PhD

Colchester, UK https://www.draliceviolett.com