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Graduate school and mental health

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Hello,

I am in my second year of a two years masters program. School has been my life ever since I can remember; however, all the sudden I am questioning everything I have chosen for myself. I worry whether or not I will get into the PhD program I applied for or whether I will find a good job. I stress about the impression I make on others, particularly other academics. Although i previously was very confident in my work, I am now second guessing everything I have done. I keep double checking all my work- even from as far back as two years ago! I re-run all my analyses to make sure the numbers match up, and now I am taking it a step further by double checking all my references to make sure I did not misquote them or accidentally plagerize.

I am not sure what is going on but I feel helpless and desperate. The anxiety inside of me is making me sick. I don't want to do anything. I feel guilty of ... what I am not sure. I just feel like everything I have ever worked for is going to be taken away from me. I think about suicide often, though I would never do it. I just want to feel happy and secure with my decisions, and feel worthy of what I have earned instead of worried about mistakes I might have made or will make.

Just wondering if anyone has felt this way about grad school life? I try to talk to others about it, but it feels like no one really gets it.

Thanks.

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I think you should call your school's counselling office and set up an appointment ASAP. You need to talk to a professional to work out your anxiety and suicidal ideation. If you don't talk to someone who can help soon, it's only going to get worse. I'm sorry to paint it that bleak, but I'm very serious that you need to get some counselling. Call tomorrow morning.

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I second johndiligent.

It's incredibly helpful to find a good therapist. It's not that I have any real opinion on your mental health, but you seem incredibly anxious, and it's only hurting you. Plus I think EVERYONE should be in therapy. Provided you find the right person to help you, it can't do you any harm and can only do a world of good.

I really feel for you. You're going through a rough patch. Graduate school is scary and help and support is what you need to come out of this time better and stronger.

Best of luck.

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I am not sure what is going on but I feel helpless and desperate. The anxiety inside of me is making me sick. I don't want to do anything. I feel guilty of ... what I am not sure. I just feel like everything I have ever worked for is going to be taken away from me. I think about suicide often, though I would never do it. I just want to feel happy and secure with my decisions, and feel worthy of what I have earned instead of worried about mistakes I might have made or will make.

Even if you weren't feeling suicidal, you'd be depressed enough to warrant professional help.

I suffer from chronic depression. It sucks.

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Hello,

I am in my second year of a two years masters program. School has been my life ever since I can remember; however, all the sudden I am questioning everything I have chosen for myself. I worry whether or not I will get into the PhD program I applied for or whether I will find a good job. I stress about the impression I make on others, particularly other academics. Although i previously was very confident in my work, I am now second guessing everything I have done. I keep double checking all my work- even from as far back as two years ago! I re-run all my analyses to make sure the numbers match up, and now I am taking it a step further by double checking all my references to make sure I did not misquote them or accidentally plagerize.

I am not sure what is going on but I feel helpless and desperate. The anxiety inside of me is making me sick. I don't want to do anything. I feel guilty of ... what I am not sure. I just feel like everything I have ever worked for is going to be taken away from me. I think about suicide often, though I would never do it. I just want to feel happy and secure with my decisions, and feel worthy of what I have earned instead of worried about mistakes I might have made or will make.

Just wondering if anyone has felt this way about grad school life? I try to talk to others about it, but it feels like no one really gets it.

Thanks.

I just started grad school as a PhD student in the Fall--- before grad school I was super confident in myself. After a couple months in grad school, that all changed. I suddenly felt like I had no idea what I was doing, and felt ignorant about my science. Half a year later, I'm starting to feel better again. It sounds like you feel slightly different than I did... but are also at a different place in you grad career. It sounds like you are just not as confident in your work, and are being super meticulous about it so that you can feel confident in it again. You have to remember though, as much as it is your responsibility to produce quality products, you aren't alone in the endeavor. Your advisor and any collaborators are there to have your back to some extent. Plus tons of people have made errors in their science. Go wiki Einstein, I believe there is a list of the errors he made in publications.

One thing that helped me that might be applicable for your state of mind would be to just go through a list of alternate scenarios for your work, personal life, and career, immerse yourself in them briefly, and check yourself to see which scenarios put you at ease. Sometimes it is most unsettling when you simply don't know what is bothering you. To figure out what is bothering you, figure out what would make you happy. For me, I realized that I had gotten the impression that none of my fellow students/ colleagues had any academic respect for me. In undergrad my intellect was respected by those who knew me--- those in my fraternity, my other friends, family, co-workers, professors-- everyone. But I realized that this situation wasn't created overnight, and that it took me years to establish this reputation. I realized what was bothering me by briefly pretending that all the knew people I met in grad school thought highly of me... and then I felt really good, and realized that was the issue. Now I am taking action to try and fix it (just working hard and trying to do a "good job"), while still realizing that I am a new grad student surrounded by intelligent people more experienced than I am.

Perhaps if you imagine yourself producing a thesis that people viewed as a solid piece of science, and thought you skilled enough to be an asset to the scientific community and should continue onto your PhD, maybe you would feel better. Or maybe you think you are upset about your work, but it could be another issue. Whenever you figure out what is bothering you, do what you can to fix it. Know that all that anyone can ever ask of you is to do your best, and find peace in that. If you do your best, and there is a mistake in your work... you need not feel guilty. Take pride in your efforts, and the portions of your work that were mistake-free. Sometimes hard work is more revered than a quality product, and you certainly seem to be a hard worker. Take pride in your strengths. If you aren't sure if you are a hard worker, and that is the problem, take a closer look at the case you made for yourself at the beginning of the post. There aren't perfect workers, just hard workers. Don't confuse the two. Hard work is still reasonable and moderate-- we are people, not machines.

With the suicide thing, I actually kinda know how you feel. Whenever I go to the doctor for a physical/ checkup he has always asked me if I had thoughts of suicide. Even though I often do, I always answer "no" because I know I would never act on them. It's just something that comes to mind when I am stressed out and/or depressed. This might sound weird, but sometimes when I feel like that, I feel like I have the opportunity to do something impressive by chugging through it and coming out of the slump stronger. Like if I am super depressed and stressed, yet I continue to work hard and do well (in school mostly), then I feel like "Wow, even though I was going through such a hard time, I didn't let it get to me." What's weird is that often I don't even know why I feel so upset, which sucks... but I do know that I feel far less upset if I can produce any tangible success. Getting an A on a test. Getting good at a video/computer game. Having a good time with friends and having people want to hang out with me (combating my social insecurities). Cleaning my apartment. Organizing my desk. Something, anything, to feel good about helps.

Don't worry about your work. You have worked hard, so you need-not feel guilty of the outcome isn't perfect. And also don't worry that you haven't worked hard... you have more than convinced me. Believe in the argument that you crafted for us readers! Don't worry about outcomes being exactly what you wanted. You can't predict all the twists in life, so all you can do is try your best to direct fate where you will through your own efforts, but we all fall short of our own expectations sometimes, so it's OK. Just keep doing your best, know that you really are working hard (trust me, you are!), and feel good about that. I hope this can somehow help. Even if people don't seem to get what you feel, it is good to keep talking to people and trying to help them understand. Eventually someone will understand, or you will understand your own situation in a new light through your attempts to explain to others, and maybe your new understanding will help you.

Best of luck :)

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chaos, definitely seek out the counseling office on your campus. They usually have people equipped to deal with this kind of thing. I also had certain m.h. issues which I took care of just before beginning my undergraduate work. You should definitely see a professional that can determine whether or not therapy, medication, or both can help you. There is nothing to be ashamed about. Just do it.

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Hey. I feel for you. Many people say it's depression, anxiety, etc, but those are so general. I'm not an expert, but I see hints of OCD rearing its ugly head. Your obsession seems to be your academic reputation, and your compulsion is the constant checking that you're doing. OCD is an anxiety disorder (the obsession creates anxiety and the checking provides reassurance, helping ease the anxiety TEMPORARILY). Not a fun thing to have. There is something called purely obsessional OCD, where there isn't so much compulsion, but you have obsessive thoughts. Either way, the treatment for it is exposure and response prevention. Do NOT reassure yourself. Live with the uncertainty of possibly having plagiarized or published incorrect results. As anxious as that makes you feel, tell yourself that you will not check yourself and that you'll just have to live with that anxiety. Maybe you DID plagiarize and maybe your research is complete nonsense. Oh well, you'll just have to live with that. It's easier said than done, but the anxiety will eventually subside once you kind of ignore it for long enough (trick is not to focus on it, asking if it's gone yet...just let it be there and observe it...kind of like a meditation technique).

My interpretation could be incorrect, but it's something to talk about with a good therapist. Many of them don't think of OCD when confronted with these types of problems. Definitely see a professional ASAP. These things only get worse the longer you have them. Good luck.

Oh, and regarding suicide - don't do it. We need smart people like you in this world. You wouldn't believe how many people out there are complete morons.

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I hope you're able to talk to someone at your school's counseling center, OP.

I have the opposite problem: I've struggled with serious depression for years, since I was an UG in the 1990s. I have good/stable years for 2-3 years, the occasional great year, and the inevitable crash that leads to constant suicidality and even hospitalization. (My last hospitalization was 5 years ago.) After being in the workforce for all these years, I'm going back to school full time. I'm taking on an MA at first, but my eventual goal is a PhD to teach at the college level. One of the reasons I'm going the MA+PhD route is to insure that I have a completed grad degree in case my depression comes back around to knock me on my ass again.

I would love to hear from any other posters with a history of depression on how they're managing/planning to manage grad school stresses and triggers. I'm getting my plans together now for my line of defense come August!!

Again, good luck to the OP. Depression and the self-cannibalism of the mind and soul is absolute hell. The only reason I'm still alive today is that I do not want to inflict heartbreak on my family (parents and siblings, since I don't have kids). But there is help and medications can go a long way to relieve the crippling anxiety.

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I'm really glad to see a thread about mental health on this forum, as it's something that I'm fairly concerned about. I too have a history of anxiety and depression that started in high school but became a serious problem in college. I've been off meds for about a year and a half now, which was great, until I started having panic attacks again right around the time that I finished submitting my grad apps this year. At first I thought they were the result of being afraid of not getting accepted, but after two acceptances and one wait list and no negative feedback yet I am still struggling with the anxiety. I think panic disorder is especially hard to deal with because the anxiety can come seemingly out of nowhere, with no clear triggers. So I'm thinking it's time to go back on meds and stay on them through my first semester while continuing with therapy.

To add to the stress, if I accept either offer I'll also be moving to a new city without my fiance for the time being, who has been my main support for the past few years, and leaving behind a great circle of friends. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid of having a breakdown during the first semester. I'm particularly nervous about teaching, and possibly having a panic attack while teaching...

If anyone else struggles with panic attacks and generalized anxiety and has any tips for getting through the first semester, they would be much appreciated!

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I'm really glad to see a thread about mental health on this forum, as it's something that I'm fairly concerned about. I too have a history of anxiety and depression that started in high school but became a serious problem in college. I've been off meds for about a year and a half now, which was great, until I started having panic attacks again right around the time that I finished submitting my grad apps this year. At first I thought they were the result of being afraid of not getting accepted, but after two acceptances and one wait list and no negative feedback yet I am still struggling with the anxiety. I think panic disorder is especially hard to deal with because the anxiety can come seemingly out of nowhere, with no clear triggers. So I'm thinking it's time to go back on meds and stay on them through my first semester while continuing with therapy.

To add to the stress, if I accept either offer I'll also be moving to a new city without my fiance for the time being, who has been my main support for the past few years, and leaving behind a great circle of friends. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid of having a breakdown during the first semester. I'm particularly nervous about teaching, and possibly having a panic attack while teaching...

If anyone else struggles with panic attacks and generalized anxiety and has any tips for getting through the first semester, they would be much appreciated!

For the first semester (and all subsequent ones), you should make sure that no matter what, you are getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods. Regular exercise is also incredibly beneficial. Mental problems often come on or get worse when your body is not getting proper care. The other thing is course load. Try not to take on more than you can chew. First semester is rough because you're taking in much more than just your courses and research.

I'm not sure you should be on meds regularly if you get random panic attacks. I have known people who take anti-anxiety meds as needed and it works out fine for them. One non-addictive natural anti-panic attack remedy is something called Kavinace. Supposedly it's safe even for children. It's a GABA support, which is different from many other meds that affect seratonin levels. Another one is valerian root. My family swears by it and often take it when they're having anxiety problems. Never did much for me, though. I'd talk with a doctor before taking anything into your system, however, even if it's a dinky supplement.

Don't worry about having panic attacks while you're teaching. You might get a research assistantship in one case. In the case of a teaching assistantship, you're not always actually teaching. Some TAs are just graders and some hold office hours in case students come in to get help. If you are in a classroom full of students and have a panic attack, just excuse yourself for a few minutes when you feel it coming on, go outside, and get some air. The students won't mind the break and you'll get a chance to calm down. The key is to not fight it. If you're anxious about it not going away or about it coming on, that just fuels it. You kind of have to just accept the fact that you're having one and know that it will go away just like the others went away. Many panic attacks don't have clear triggers so it's tough to avoid them. You just have to learn to deal with them when they come and not get scared (easier said than done).

As for moving to a new city without your support systems - that is rough. I think everyone is nervous about that. Try your best. You're never really without support - there's always the phone, the internet and webcams. It might help to have a car so you don't feel trapped where ever it is you go. Good luck!

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For the first semester (and all subsequent ones), you should make sure that no matter what, you are getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods. Regular exercise is also incredibly beneficial. Mental problems often come on or get worse when your body is not getting proper care. The other thing is course load. Try not to take on more than you can chew. First semester is rough because you're taking in much more than just your courses and research.

I'm not sure you should be on meds regularly if you get random panic attacks. I have known people who take anti-anxiety meds as needed and it works out fine for them. One non-addictive natural anti-panic attack remedy is something called Kavinace. Supposedly it's safe even for children. It's a GABA support, which is different from many other meds that affect seratonin levels. Another one is valerian root. My family swears by it and often take it when they're having anxiety problems. Never did much for me, though. I'd talk with a doctor before taking anything into your system, however, even if it's a dinky supplement.

Don't worry about having panic attacks while you're teaching. You might get a research assistantship in one case. In the case of a teaching assistantship, you're not always actually teaching. Some TAs are just graders and some hold office hours in case students come in to get help. If you are in a classroom full of students and have a panic attack, just excuse yourself for a few minutes when you feel it coming on, go outside, and get some air. The students won't mind the break and you'll get a chance to calm down. The key is to not fight it. If you're anxious about it not going away or about it coming on, that just fuels it. You kind of have to just accept the fact that you're having one and know that it will go away just like the others went away. Many panic attacks don't have clear triggers so it's tough to avoid them. You just have to learn to deal with them when they come and not get scared (easier said than done).

As for moving to a new city without your support systems - that is rough. I think everyone is nervous about that. Try your best. You're never really without support - there's always the phone, the internet and webcams. It might help to have a car so you don't feel trapped where ever it is you go. Good luck!

Thanks, I really appreciate your taking the time to give me advice! As for meds, with anxiety it's considered better by the majority of doctors to take an anti-depressant rather than regular anxiety meds, as almost all of them are in the benzodiazepine family and are highly addictive (xanax, klonopin, etc.) I do take klonopin regularly right now which has been a huge help, by my doc said it's not a long term option as the effectiveness will eventually wear out and it might make the anxiety worse in the long run. However, when I was on Effexor (anti-depressant) I rarely ever had panic attacks. The only reason I stopped taking it is because it's a new drug and the long term effects really aren't known (that and I was in good place and able to deal with the occasional anxiety). I haven't heard of Kavinace, I'll have to look into that and the valerian root.

I know I need to eat better and exercise more, but at the moment I'm flat broke and don't really have the resources to do either. I'm starting a temp job soon so I should be able to buy healthier food and join the YMCA once that gets going. In the meantime I go for walks, though that's hard sometimes with the bad weather in Chicago.

My teaching assistantship at the school that's currently my top choice would definitely involve real teaching, specifically a freshman comp class with a max of 24 students. They also make you take a pedagogy class simultaneously that's supposed to offer support, plus a week-long orientation before the semester starts, so I guess I won't be totally unprepared. I would be teaching one class a semester and taking 3 courses. That doesn't seem too bad compared to some other offers I've heard about. But that's if I choose to attend that school, I haven't gotten the details on my other offer yet.

I know the best thing I can do *if* I do start to panic in class is exactly what you said, but I know I need to stop thinking about it. I'm psyching myself out.

As for the LDR thing, I will have access to skype/web cam and I will have a car. My fiance is still within driving distance so we will probably be able to visit each other twice a month. I'm just hoping that grad school will keep me busy enough not to think about the separation or the anxiety too much!

Again, thanks for the advice!

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Valium comes from valerian. It's a slightly different form, I think. May as well stick with the benzos if you're taking valerian all the time... Especially if the real meds are covered by your graduate insurance.

St. John's Wort, the other big herbal treatment for depression/anxiety, can REALLY REALLY screw with your head if you take it with other (antidepressant) drugs. My dad had hallucinations. YMMV.

Me, I want to start seeing a psychoanalyst, and renew my Xanax prescription.

Since undergrad I figured out that a lot of my panic attacks were due to allergic reactions to foods. I was having several reactions a day. Eating something I'm allergic to makes my heart beat faster and makes me dizzy and twitchy and gives me a slight stomach ache. It's a perfect recipe for triggering a panic attack! I would encourage everyone to explore that possibility. See an immunologist, though. Allergists might not do the right kind of tests to detect everything.

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Valium comes from valerian. It's a slightly different form, I think. May as well stick with the benzos if you're taking valerian all the time... Especially if the real meds are covered by your graduate insurance.

I don't think that's true. Valerian is plant-derived. Valium is a benzo. From a quick google search, I found that they are not related, although they affect the same chemicals in your brain. Valerian isn't addictive. The reason I mentioned Kavinace and Valerian is because they are not addictive. I know the benzos are highly addictive and shouldn't be used for any extended period of time, especially if a person may be prone to addiction. For depression, St. John's Wart and 5-HTP are common, although I don't know how effective they are. As I've mentioned, you should always talk to your doctor about taking any type of meds, herbal or synthetic, because as red_crayons said, mixes can lead to very bad things.

As exercise and food - you don't have to pay a lot to eat healthy, and you certainly can use the gym at the college you go to. They're generally either very cheap or free with your student tuition. What I mean by eating healthy is possibly cooking, not eating junkfood, eating lean meats and appropriate portion sizes. It's actually cheaper to eat healthy. If you choose to go out to eat, I think Subway is an awesome alternative. Again, you have to watch what you take, though. I was also told that liquid is vital for brain function. You have to drink a lot. At least 8 glasses a day (yes, I'm sure you've heard this).

Putting pressure on yourself not to think about will produce the opposite effect. You just have to learn to live with it and react to it like you would to a headache. It's difficult, but you desensitize yourself to it that way. Good luck :)

Edited by dianina5

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I don't think that's true. Valerian is plant-derived. Valium is a benzo. From a quick google search, I found that they are not related, although they affect the same chemicals in your brain. Valerian isn't addictive. The reason I mentioned Kavinace and Valerian is because they are not addictive. I know the benzos are highly addictive and shouldn't be used for any extended period of time, especially if a person may be prone to addiction. For depression, St. John's Wart and 5-HTP are common, although I don't know how effective they are. As I've mentioned, you should always talk to your doctor about taking any type of meds, herbal or synthetic, because as red_crayons said, mixes can lead to very bad things.

Fair enough. I guess I'm just a little bitter since my hippie parents gave me all sorts of homemade herbal supplements growing up, when it turns out that there was a real, easily dealt with medical issue at the root of everything. So of course, the herbs did nothing - except maybe make certain things worse, since I react to lots of plants. All I really wanted to say was, don't rule out links to medical issues that may trigger/exacerbate panic attacks!

I second your point about treating it like a headache.

Another good thing is to have a person you can call/email/text/talk to when you feel the panic coming on. My dad works from home, so I can call him at any time and he helps talk me down from the rising anxiety cycle. We've become closer as I've explored my mental and physical health issues, and it's really, really great to know he's (almost) always there to talk to.

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Just wondering if anyone has felt this way about grad school life? I try to talk to others about it, but it feels like no one really gets it.

Thanks.

First of all, go directly to the counselor's office. They see this thing all the time. At one of the graduate schools I visited last fall, a student there was telling me all about the mental health problems of grad students, how the school had a great counselor's office, how the counselor told her it was very common to have feelings of inadequacy or not belonging. I think after speaking to someone you will be reassured that you are not alone in this.

Second, on a more personal note, the stress you feel since being in this masters program is the same way I felt in law school. It was absolutely awful. I was a great student my entire academic life, but it turns out that everyone who was in law school had straight As in college-- it was a whole new ball game. Everything was graded on a B curve, with only the top 6-10% of students receiving an A or A- . . . needless to say it was very very hard. I studied my arse off, all day long, and only came out of the first year in the top 30% or so-- I was mortified. Did not make law review, did not make moot court, I felt like a moron. What had happened to me? All I did was study, what was happening? And it was _so_boring_. I had had mild mental health issues in the past, but law school was really a horrific mental health experience.

I don't regret going to law school per se, but it was not the right place for me to be. After it was all said and done, and I had taken the Bar and was a practicing attorney, the pieces started falling together why I did it in the first place-- family pressures; childhood misconceptions that I had held on to too long.

Just, aside from going to the counselor, consider if it is even the right route for you. I decided that I cannot go on being an attorney, it is not the type of professional life or personal lifestyle that I want. This is, indeed, why I am going to grad school next year.

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I'm really glad to see a thread about mental health on this forum, as it's something that I'm fairly concerned about. I too have a history of anxiety and depression that started in high school but became a serious problem in college. I've been off meds for about a year and a half now, which was great, until I started having panic attacks again right around the time that I finished submitting my grad apps this year. At first I thought they were the result of being afraid of not getting accepted, but after two acceptances and one wait list and no negative feedback yet I am still struggling with the anxiety. I think panic disorder is especially hard to deal with because the anxiety can come seemingly out of nowhere, with no clear triggers. So I'm thinking it's time to go back on meds and stay on them through my first semester while continuing with therapy.

To add to the stress, if I accept either offer I'll also be moving to a new city without my fiance for the time being, who has been my main support for the past few years, and leaving behind a great circle of friends. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid of having a breakdown during the first semester. I'm particularly nervous about teaching, and possibly having a panic attack while teaching...

If anyone else struggles with panic attacks and generalized anxiety and has any tips for getting through the first semester, they would be much appreciated!

I have major panic attacks too. Dianina5's advice is very good. I would also add, try to figure out your triggers. A huge source of panic for me was that I didn't know what caused them. After going to therapy for a few months, I learned what set them off. Now I can say to myself when I'm in class, Ok, the fluorescent lights are giving me a headache and hurting my eyes, and then I don't panic. Before I went to therapy, it was, Oh my god, my eyes feel funny, the room looks weird, I'm dizzy, and then a full-fledged panic attack ensues. Being able to identify the situation you're in will help you a lot. I tried meds but just couldn't do it; I didn't want to just cover up the problem, I wanted to be able to find a real solution. Things are not perfect right now but I've been able to begin going to the mall and grocery store again with little problem. Trust me, the whole teaching thing scares the hell out of me too. I myself have worried about panicking during it. All I can say is, maybe try to practice by speaking more in class and getting used to having a lot of people looking at you. One tip my therapist gave me is to imagine yourself as a train or car. When you feel yourself panicking, imagine yourself going off track, and then firmly tell yourself No, and imagine yourself steering your way back onto the straight track. It sounds dumb but it helps me a lot in those awkward situations. I think you'll be ok in grad school. I'm continually amazed at human resilience. I freak out in front of classrooms too, and the other day my philosophy professor, in the middle of lecture, randomly put his dry-erase marker in front of me and told me to get up in front of the room and explain Kantian ethics to everyone. And I did it, no panic. So all things are possible! Just take care of yourself, exercise regularly, get fresh air, relax when you can, and have confidence in your knowledge and abilities. Continue with therapy and try to expose yourself little by little to tough situations so you can accustom yourself to them. Good luck and I hope you conquer this!

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I have major panic attacks too. Dianina5's advice is very good. I would also add, try to figure out your triggers. A huge source of panic for me was that I didn't know what caused them. After going to therapy for a few months, I learned what set them off. Now I can say to myself when I'm in class, Ok, the fluorescent lights are giving me a headache and hurting my eyes, and then I don't panic. Before I went to therapy, it was, Oh my god, my eyes feel funny, the room looks weird, I'm dizzy, and then a full-fledged panic attack ensues. Being able to identify the situation you're in will help you a lot. I tried meds but just couldn't do it; I didn't want to just cover up the problem, I wanted to be able to find a real solution. Things are not perfect right now but I've been able to begin going to the mall and grocery store again with little problem. Trust me, the whole teaching thing scares the hell out of me too. I myself have worried about panicking during it. All I can say is, maybe try to practice by speaking more in class and getting used to having a lot of people looking at you. One tip my therapist gave me is to imagine yourself as a train or car. When you feel yourself panicking, imagine yourself going off track, and then firmly tell yourself No, and imagine yourself steering your way back onto the straight track. It sounds dumb but it helps me a lot in those awkward situations. I think you'll be ok in grad school. I'm continually amazed at human resilience. I freak out in front of classrooms too, and the other day my philosophy professor, in the middle of lecture, randomly put his dry-erase marker in front of me and told me to get up in front of the room and explain Kantian ethics to everyone. And I did it, no panic. So all things are possible! Just take care of yourself, exercise regularly, get fresh air, relax when you can, and have confidence in your knowledge and abilities. Continue with therapy and try to expose yourself little by little to tough situations so you can accustom yourself to them. Good luck and I hope you conquer this!

It's really a relief to see that so many grad students struggle with panic attacks. Not that it's particularly surprising!

But it's great to hear about others thriving in grad school despite the hurdles of having a mental illness. Makes me feel much more confident that I'll be ok. Anxiousapplicant (love the name btw), I can totally relate to the triggers you described. I know for sure that one trigger for me is experiencing leg cramps or aches, because I always start to think that I have a blood clot and I'm going to die from a pulmonary embolism. Crazy, I know, especially since there's no history of clots in my family and I'm not a smoker, but terrifying nonetheless.

I really wish I could conquer my anxiety without meds, but in my case I think my disorder truly is bioloically/genetically based. I've had these issues in one form or another almost since the day I was born. I've tried all sorts of coping methods, but nothing seems to help as much as the medication does. I hope to one day be able to deal with it entirely on my own, but I've also come to accept that I may need meds my whole life, and that's ok. It's like any other illness, and there's nothing to be ashamed of. And I think at this point the best thing I can do for myself is take the meds during what I know will be a very stressful time of transition in my life.

I have gotten much better at public speaking, which used to absolutely terrify me. I'm no longer in school, but when I was I participated regularly in class and even presented at the school-wide academic conference. Last November I presented again at a regional undergraduate conference, and did even better. Though I'm sure my first day will be pretty nerve-wracking, I'm fairly confident that teaching in front of a classroom will get much easier over time. I'll probably pop a klonopin the first couple of times to ensure that I don't break down, but after that, I'm sure I'll be fine. I will also keep that train exercise in mind, it sounds like a very good way to visualize and conquer the anxiety.

Thank you for the kind words of encouragement!

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I agree with seeking professional help. I think that most people who attend graduate school and have aspirations for a PhD are more prone to depression than the traditional population. I don't know your history. However, have you done something besides school for an extended period? You might find that you like the real world more. If there is a chemical imbalance, they can help correct that with medicaton. However, try finding a therapist that is good with CBT. That should help you with the fears that you are dealing with. The third leg of the wheel is excercising. This changes the brain chemistry when done through extended periods.

Have a hobby besides school. We all love what we study, but we need something to induce some variation in our lives. Find something that relaxes you.

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*Everyone* should be in therapy? I won't deny that people with serious anxiety or depression should seek professional help, but *everyone*?

I don't think that every niggling bit of anxiety and unease is worth pathologizing by seeing a shrink. At least, that seems like the therapeutic approach, from what experience I've had with them..

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*Everyone* should be in therapy? I won't deny that people with serious anxiety or depression should seek professional help, but *everyone*?

I don't think that every niggling bit of anxiety and unease is worth pathologizing by seeing a shrink. At least, that seems like the therapeutic approach, from what experience I've had with them..

Certainly will depend on the type and inclination of the professional you go see, each one will have a different approach. However I think the spirit in which the "everyone" comment is made is not about freaking out about every negative thought and calling it mental illness or getting meds. There are plenty of mental health professionals that will immediately jump on this and write you a Rx on your first visit...I would be cautious about any such doctor.

Instead, the comment is I think simply acknowledging that having a neutral, non-judgmental person that you can share questions and thoughts with and use as a sounding board, with near total confidentiality can't really be a bad thing, since we all need that sort of thing. For those who don't have very close and trusted friends (moving to a new city for example) it can work wonders.

I'd start there, and worry about medication and herbal stuff later, as that is hit and miss, and can actually make things worse before they are better. Eating right (less fried/super sweet), mild exercise (going for walks even), getting proper sleep, and not drinking alcohol will go a very long way towards re-balancing those chemicals.

I might as well pitch my go-to placebo vector though. Fish Oil (omega-3s) is said to have a lot of good effects on nerve/brain function, including for ADD and bipolar/unipolar depression. Like my doctor said "if you think it helps, keep taking it." :)

Also, my understanding of St. John's Wort is that it mimics old style MAOI anti-depressants, which aren't prescribed often today because of numerous interactions with other drugs and random foods, so be careful. The only thing different between herbal medicine and the stuff a doctor prescribes is that the herbal stuff isn't well regulated.

I also just noticed the OP seems to be in a Clinical Psych program...so probably knows a lot about this stuff already. But just because you study it doesn't mean you can't take advantage of it, though I can see where it might make it harder to make the decision. A lot of people have the impression that seeking help somehow makes you weak, or flawed or something. When you get the flu and go to your local MD though, people are much more accustomed to it.

Edited by washndry

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*Everyone* should be in therapy? I won't deny that people with serious anxiety or depression should seek professional help, but *everyone*?

I don't think that every niggling bit of anxiety and unease is worth pathologizing by seeing a shrink. At least, that seems like the therapeutic approach, from what experience I've had with them..

Everyone needs therapy. I didn't think I did.. I handle pressure well and finish at the top of my class if I work real hard (and i do that only for courses which I really care about and it has worked just fine so far). However, this quarter has been hell. There is this other person in my lab who keeps complaining about everything under the sun: how the adviser thinks he/she;s dumb and how the adviser put in his/her name last in the email list (!!), how the TAs were being unfair to him/her (one of the homeworks where I did bad, got a score exactly like his/hers and I showed my homework to him/her and he/she had no comeback), how a visiting prospective student was overweight and how that disgusted him/her as he/she was hosting her, etc). All this on chat and I tried to play shrink for a while(BIG mistake..all those hours of endless typing now makes my forefinger shiver and the wrist hurts.. I read online that these are symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and being an aspiring pianist, this is the worst mistake i could have made!). After all, I should be supportive of someone who needs my support. However, I lost it recently when we were grouped together to do a class project. I was the only one who chose the problem to work on, did all of the coding, etc..all I asked these people to do was run a few codes because of time limitations. This person then began giving me lectures on what was an efficient way of going about writing the term paper, etc (the agenda all the time being to get me to do all the work, even his/her share of making a presentation (I'd asked him/her to do just 3-4 introductory slides and even for that he/she told me it was my responsibility to sit with him/her and explain all that I'd done for him/her to be able to make intro slides!). This person was the source of all my stress this quarter. I had very challenging courses (including this one where a group of 4 of us had to do a good challenging modeling problem which I ended up doing myself) but I believe I'm at the top of the class and that's because I worked hard. Courses never give me enough stress.. but human beings like this person do. I wish he/she would go to a real shrink soon so that the rest of us in the lab get to live life stress free (she has made allegations of mistreatment against the postdoc who works here too). Man! Done ranting for now.. got an exam on Monday and loads of grading.

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I echo other posters here: go see your school's counseling service. They can do wonders. Also, your own physician may be able to prescribe you a mild anti depressant, of the kind that does what it supposed to do without disrupting your life or changing your personality.

As for anxiety - many suffer from it, on different levels. I fainted at my own birthday party a few months ago, in front of my supervisor and another prof (yes, I invited them!). Embaressing, but also a clear warning sign.

You're not alone in this, so don't be ashamed to ask for help.

Hope you feel better and regain confidence in your abilities.

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So, to revive a dormant topic...for those of you who're plowing through grad school while suffering from PTSD, any advice for someone going into an intense program this fall?

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This is a good thread. I have some pretty nasty anxiety issues that have hurt my grades this year, but things are looking up.

Lots of people in academia have anxiety issues. It's what we do! Who else would take all this time and little pay to figure out STUFF. We find problems, worry about them, stress over them, and then eventually figure something out. Isn't that what research is?

There are so many topics about this in the chronicle, so I suggest a search of the forum. Here's one to at least take you there.

http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,81867.0.html

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