Dealing with stress and feeling overwhelmed during a PhD

I’ve been extremely quiet on the blog post front recently. Frankly, I’ve just been so busy and overwhelmed that writing a blog post stayed at the bottom of my to do list. It’s been an extremely busy summer both for my PhD and in my personal life. When doing a PhD it becomes a huge skill to fit it around home life, or rather it becomes fitting home life around the PhD. Honestly, doing a PhD is hard! It’s also different for every PhD student as every topic is unique and everyone has different styles of managing and coping. But no one really shares the failures or difficult parts. Well, you’re not alone! This blog post is to share about how I have been dealing with stress, especially over the last few weeks.

Posters, presentations, data collection, analysis and writing… There’s always plenty of things to be done coupled with a personal life events over the summer I just didn’t know how to manage it all! During my MSc I was diagnosed with Vestibular Migraine. A huge trigger for me is stress and a couple of weeks ago I had my first migraine in a long time showing me just how much the stress had been creeping in.

So, some of the things I attempted and sometimes helped me to manage my stress:

1. Prioritisation and time management

The past few weeks I have had a to do list the size of my arm. I have lost count of the amount of times I have rewritten it with the hope that it will get shorter by itself. My previous post on time management just kind of went out the window a little bit. Don’t get me wrong I do love a good to do list but rewriting it every day was not helping me! I planned out my days REALISTICALLY with the priorities and just did it.

2. Mindfulness for stress

Earlier this year I did a mindfulness for stress course. It was hugely beneficial and helped me to learn more about stress and how to deal with it (another blog post maybe). Since completing the course I try to take time every day to meditate and be mindful of my thoughts and feelings. It’s difficult sometimes to just sit or lie down and do nothing, but just like we take the time to brush our teeth or shower – being mindful is so important for our health. During stressful periods when it seems like I can barely spare one minute let alone 10 to meditate, is when I need it the most. It really helps to put things in perspective and acknowledge that it’s going to be fine.

3. Getting over the guilt and finding acceptance

It’s OK to have a bad day. Or a couple of days, my migraine last month lasted three days. I spent two of those in bed. Every time I thought it was getting better I tried to get up and do something, but I would just need to lay back down again. I felt so guilty that I couldn’t do anything but as soon as I accepted that it was just not happening for a while, put my to do list away and actually got some rest, I recovered in no time.

Don’t get me wrong, its hard accepting that you’re not going to be able to do anything for a day, two days, maybe three or four days. I never know how long my migraines will last but I am learning that its just my body’s way of telling me to take a break and the best thing I can do is accept it.

4. Relax!

I know, it’s easier said than done but as work has started to creep into my weekends to meet some upcoming deadlines I found that it has become even more important to drag myself away and enjoy the weekend. Whether it’s just watching a movie in my PJs or going for Sunday dinner at my mums, I still always try to make some time to do something fun and get out the office.

I love coming back to work on a Monday morning with fresh eyes and a relaxed mind, so I really do try to have my weekends work free. Just because I am doing a PhD doesn’t mean I can’t spend time with my family and have a social life, it just means I need to organise it and manage it a bit better around busy periods and deadlines. Doing fun things, seeing friends and going on adventures helps to keep me productive in the week and keep my work flowing nicely.


So next time you’re having a hard time and things are falling behind, know that its not just you. Every PhD student has bad days, but I think its about recognising that, accepting it, and getting to the next day.

Thank you for reading. Please do get in touch if you have any questions.


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7 thoughts on “Dealing with stress and feeling overwhelmed during a PhD”

  1. I hear you. Thank you so much for this blog post. I have abandoned mine because I’ve felt so overwhelmed with PhD life…and everything else. This post is inspiring and the kick up the arse that I need. Thank you x

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment! Struggles and stress are defineitly a huge part of the PhD process and I think it’s useful for us to recognise that it’s perfectly normal and OK! Laura 🙂

  2. I can relate to much of this, but honestly struggle to encorporate my ‘self-care’ into my already crammed life. Looking after 2 toddlers, holding down an academic job and my final PhD year writing up has all definitely taken its toll. It would be great to see advice and even training offered to new PhD students about how to build in and protect these important activities early. I’m very sceptical of the accepted and expected levels of personal sacrifice most students are compelled to give. You’re blog is a great reminder that we can and should look after your own well-being more. thank you x

    1. Thank you for your comment Esme! I am so glad it was a good reminder for you. I completely agree it is so easy to be led down the rabbit hole of a PhD. So much more needs to be done for students in terms learning how to manage PhD life and the toll it takes on mental health. I hope things you find ways that work for you to as you come to the final chapter of PhD. Laura 🙂

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