My mental health crisis

I remember that a few years ago a colleague from my research group presented a paper about the mental health crisis in graduate students. By that time I was in the middle of my master’s degree and I didn’t feel like I was in that state to suffer stress and anxiety because of my studies or my job. Now I can say that this phenomenon is currently taking place in my life as a PhD student. I have anxiety, stress and a lot of tension in my body, in particular in my cervicals and my back.

I started my PhD working in this very challenging project in which I always have faced different frustrating and exhausting problems along the whole process of research. I was feeling anxious and stressed whenever I accepted participants that I shouldn’t have, I made errors in the code of the MATLAB script to create the experimental protocol or to analyze the data, I had a blocking phase with the black page when I had to start writing the paper, I had to re-do over and over different exploratory analysis and reality checks, I had the re-check and re-write thousand times the paper… I got such saturated of all of these that really got into my mental health.

After summer, I left the project aside and I could tell that I recovered my motivation to do science by starting another project, retake again the willing to write here, and teach at the university, among other things. I learnt a lot of things from my first project that really helped me not to do the same mistake again with this second project, and I got released of the saturation that I had.

However, two/three weeks ago I had again the paper of the first project again on my desk and with it a heavy mental health crisis. I had severe cervical and back pain together with painful headaches and low-energy levels. I feel the block that I have with the paper/project in my body, in particular in my cervicals and back. It’s exhausting and frustrating. I feel stuck one more time. Surprisingly, we are at the very end of the road and we just want to submit the paper to a journal. I “just” have to check the whole paper that it’s already written and re-do some figures to make them nicer. But I cannot make any movement. I feel blocked, and the more blocked I feel the more back pain I have. I just want to scape and don’t look back.

Sources

Feature image from Pexels – CC0.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Gavin says:

    Sorry to hear that your struggling, Irene.
    Your PhD experience with getting dragged down by a difficult and unending project sound very familiar to me. Although academia encourages researchers to form their identity around their work, I’ve found that it’s usually best not to. Otherwise, all the successes and failures of my research translated to how I viewed myself, which is dangerous as good research should probably have more failures than success!
    Given what you’re written, my suggestion would be to pass-on as much of the remaining work on this publication to others: co-authors, colleagues, even out-source some of it if possible. I hope that you can overcome this last hurdle and move onto research you enjoy more!

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    1. Hey Gavin, thank you for writing and encouraging me with your kind words. I’m prone to usually do some introspection, and I could see a pattern on how do I handle research in academia. I take it personally, and I don’t share with my colleagues and co-authors how do I feel or the problems that came across into my path. I’m more on the side of keeping it to myself, and now I’ve seen that this is the worst than I can do, and it’s what leads me to anxiety and stress. So, by far, what has worked well for me is telling them how do I feel and why. Fortunately, my research group is plenty of people whom you can talk to, and it’s has been almost a pleasure and huge relief to share with them my struggling. Happy for me, the “block” that I had with the paper is gone!
      To sum up, I learnt one of my patterns of dealing with research and I would like to change the way I face it. I want to have fun while pursuing my PhD and not ending up with tons of anxiety and stress. Once again, thank you, Gavin! I will keep in mind your quote “good research should probably have more failures than success”. I wish you all the best!

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