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Maybe I'm alone in feeling this way but doing a PhD has destroyed my self worth...can anyone relate?


harrisonfjord
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You aren't alone. The rate of anxiety and depression among grad students is astonishing. You need to prioritize your mental wellness and learn your own "self care" plan. This can be anything from making a point not to sacrifice sleep, exercising, eating healthier, counseling, to do lists, positive affirmations/grateful lists, journaling, seting aside "you time" for a favorite activity, talking to advisors about types of feedback you need, etc.

If you're at a loss how to even start, counseling is a great first step. Remember that anything you do or change isn't you being lazy, immature, or whatever other negative thoughts you may have about yourself. It is about making sure you are healthy so you can give more to you work.

Take care!

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You are most definitely not alone. This is all too common among graduate students. @_kita offered some great advice on what to do. Talking to someone is a good first step; most schools have a counseling service which can help you get started. At some point in my grad student career, I would actually explicitly schedule sleep and time off in my calendar. Seeing the times blocked off really helped me say "no, I'm not available for X at time Y, I already have something in my calendar." No one ever asked what, and I could keep my plans to actually have some form of a life and sleep enough. I had to be very explicit about my priorities and about accepting that there is always more work than there is time, and I just need to learn to let go and accept less than perfect results and some things actually not getting done. The important step was to learn not to be bothered by it. Now I try to be thoughtful about the things I say "yes" to, and to say "no" more often -- which is hard but necessary! I also learned to recalibrate my expectations and redefine what I consider "good enough". 

There are parts of the grad student experience that are incredibly stressful. Exams, going on the job market, the uncertainty of it all -- that can be hard and it can take years to resolve. Talking to others might help. You are not alone in this, even if no one else is admitting to difficulty. I don't know a single person who wasn't anxious about these things. 

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3 hours ago, harrisonfjord said:

I used to be calm and collected but I feel like a ball of stress and anxiety 99% of the time. Ive fallen into a depression where I barely recognize myself anymore. 

Has anyone else gone through this? What did you do to cope and get your life back? 

Most campuses have a center where you can sign up for counseling. It is amazing (not in a good way) how overwhelmed these centers are with students who need help. I'm only in my first semester of a PhD, but my department strongly emphasizes taking two academic classes per semester and no more, as we also have a 2/2 teaching load. It will take slightly longer to finish the classes, but I don't feel the stress strongly either. This is a far cry from my MA program, where I had to be on campus for 20 hours per week as a TA, and take 9 academic hours a semester to keep my contract in force. The last semester of my MA, I took 6 hours thesis, worked 20 hours and had to take one academic class to keep contract in place. I thought I was losing my mind. I am a non-traditional student and had a career for 20 years as a paralegal prior to going back to school. Because law is fast-paced and has a high burnout rate, grad school (MA and now PhD) is not quite as stressful for me as for some others. I do have stress, but have learned to manage it better than most, because of that career as a paralegal.

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Thank you all for your responses! They are very kind and helpful. I have been taking medication to cope under the guidance of a doctor and I have tried therapy with very little results. So my go-to is yoga and reading instead.

I guess my struggle is not really with time management (I work 20 hours as a research assistant and 20 hours at an internship. Ive finished my coursework and I'm starting the dissertation process now). Its more so the constant criticism and rejection from peers, professors, journals, conferences, etc. I have unfortunately not encountered anyone supportive apart from my advisor and I do not have a cohort. 

So my question is more so how do you build up a resilient self esteem in the face of constant competition and rejection? 

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You're not the only one feeling this way. I was reading an article the other day saying that graduate students are at high risk for depression and anxiety. I'm so sorry you have to go through this. I am assuming there are counselling/therapy services at your uni. 

I live with a mental illness, but even if I am in recovery for many years, I still do a couple of things to make sure I don't fall back into depression/anxiety.

I do yoga on campus. I always go to bed at 10pm no matter what I have left to do. I always allow myself to have that time to rest.  And I take 3 meals a day and do not allow myself to be checking emails or anything else while I am doing that. I listen to a lot of music also and take a lot of walks just to be thinking about other things. I go shopping every once in a while and reserve time to watch funny tv shows with my family. I also have a good agenda and whenever I get up in the morning, I give myself goals of things that I need to do in that day so that I don't end up feeling overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. And I try to always do things in advance and prioritize tasks. I'm a highly anxious person and that's how I've managed to feel less anxious.

Whenever I start anxiety coming in, I sit down, and I just write down everything that needs to be done and prioritize and the fact that I see it on paper and divided into small chunks helps me a LOT.  

I know this comes across as simple, but for me, it has been incredibly helpful because I have a very heavy schedule. 

Edited by Adelaide9216
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I've also learned to say no to things or opportunities in order to get through my MSW. I get a lot of requests for different kinds of projects and I say no to most of them because my degree is my priority for the moment and I want to succeed. 

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2 hours ago, harrisonfjord said:

So my question is more so how do you build up a resilient self esteem in the face of constant competition and rejection? 

A few things to read: 

https://nickhop.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/my-wall-of-rejection-and-why-it-matters/

http://www.chronicle.com/article/MeMy-Shadow-CV/233801

https://nickhop.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/my-shadow-cv/

https://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/articles/10.1038/nj7322-467a

The short answer: it's hard. You say to yourself that it isn't personal. You put the criticism away (if it's something you can do anything with, like a paper review) and you come back to it later when you're less emotional. You remind yourself that it's extremely common, even if no one talks about it. You try to find people who do talk about it to support you. You learn to absolutely NOT compare yourself to others -- this one is a source of an incredible amount of potential pain, and is 100% unhelpful. The shadow CVs are one reason why: you never know what led to a success, and what else is going on in a person's life -- just the same as you know that someone's pretty pictures on Instragram or awesomely curated Facebook wall don't actually reflect the full reality of their lives. 

I also have a feel-good folder where I keep "happy" emails to come back to. That nice acceptance email, the thank you from a student at the end of the semester, etc. 

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I'm feeling you! I nearly had a burnout a few months back - have been sturggling with anxiety for a bit now. Am now trying to transit from a non-US Master to a North-American PhD.. Had a couple of full blown panic attacks in the last month, starting to lose hair, and don't sleep well.... 

Things that has worked for me:
1) Learn how to say NO. I don't need to take every project, learn everything at once, and so on. Even if I have joined a project - I just say this month I'll try my best to take care of it - but no promises. I need my time for other times. Prioritize and prioritize yoursel fmost of all. 
2) Surround myself by positive people. It rubs off. I have many friends who are not in academics. Social support is just so important. I'm actively trying to meet new people.
3) Find friends who go through the same thing - I feel less alone and realize I'm not crazy. Imposter syndrom is real. 
4) Combine 2 + 3 in a support network. I have a bunch of friends in and outside of academics who are willing to listen and cheer me up. I have a good friendship with my former supervisor who is always rooting for me and probably beliefs more in me than I do myself and I love running into him. I have friends who know nothing about academics and I am happy to chat with them about other things. My partner is amazing in getting me grounded and telling me to shut off my laptop, stop working, and watch a movie with him. He will let me know when its too much or when I'm being too work-a-holic. 
5) Do not pressure yourself to do everything and all at once. You do NOT need to learn everything NOW and join all projects. Quality over Quantity and the same goes for quality of life. 
6) Do not compare yourself to others. This was probably my biggest step. Yeah some may have certain skills I don't have. Yet I have my own cool skills and traits too. Do not overstretch yourself trying to catch up or compete. Focus on your strengths, play them out well, try to identify some things you want to learn. I tend to make a couple of long-term goals, and a few short-term. And then I ahve a list of things I want to do - but I will not do them now - I do not have the time. Besides, the job market is just so.. well.. you can have most skills and most publications and maybe they still like someone else better for whatever reason. One of the profs in my department disclosed to me that he was almost not hired as he had a gap in his publications (somewhere mid grad school) and apparently the head of the department was against him for that reason. Now he's a fucking rockstar here and doing far better than that same guy. Then I know this other prof who barely published anything nor did any teaching but then his interests PERFECTLY aligned with the department he wanted to work for and he is a lot of fun - he got the job at a top 10 school. And prof 3 I know just got hired as she started dating one of our staff members during her PhD and he's a big shot here so they hired her because he threatened to elave otherwise. Don't make urself any illusions that you can influence the job market too much and just try to be the best version of you you can be - and recognize the limits of this. 
7) Develop some non-academic hobbies. Potentially join some clubs in this so you need to take a brake from academics. I'm doing photography, cooking, pilates and yoga, learning a new language, learning about movies. Clubs also have helped me to make friends.
8) A regular 'rhythm' in life. I try to sleep more or less the same time eveyr day. I try to balance my diet in that it is healthy (worked beautifully - bye chocolate). 
9) Never take criticism personally an drealize it can be supersubjective. I've had the same paper being teared apart by person 1 and praised by person 2. Plus people can be assholes. 
10) professional counselling - Just go for it when you feel the need. Mental health still has stigma's and prejudices. But it exists for a reason. 

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1 hour ago, harrisonfjord said:

Thank you all for your responses! They are very kind and helpful. I have been taking medication to cope under the guidance of a doctor and I have tried therapy with very little results. So my go-to is yoga and reading instead.

I'm glad to hear this. As a mental health counselor, I can tell you that not all of us are the same caliber, nor are we interchangeable. If you've tried 1 therapist, it's like trying 1 burger and saying they're all the same. You may want to consider why it failed (what did or didn't the counselor do that you needed from the therapeutic relationship).

 

1 hour ago, harrisonfjord said:

So my question is more so how do you build up a resilient self esteem in the face of constant competition and rejection? 

You've had a lot of really good advice thus far speaking to this. To rebuild self-esteem you need both external and internal process switches. So, you need a positive support network around you - to help bolster what you're trying to change internally.

Internal Methods:

  • Identifying 3 accomplishments you did for the day. This can be as simple as "I read that chapter, I finished that paper, I spoke to a friend I haven't in a while, I washed my hair today, etc." Give your self credit where credit is due. Write this in a journal, or just say it out loud on repeat.
  •  Reminders about what you've done thus far. I like pictures for this. Placing pictures around your work or home from moments when you feel accomplished, connected, or just memories that make you happy.
  • Setting small, achievable, daily goals for yourself. Often times we only set the large goals, and forget to set and praise ourselves for the little stuff
  • Remember "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent." If someone makes you feel small, work on not letting that be personal. Maybe write down the comment, and write down ways which they might have meant it that wasn't personal. Work on desensitizing yourself to those words.

External Methods:

  • You're doing the biggest one right now! Reaching out, talking to others who are supportive. If your support is either 1) not supportive 2) not supportive in the way you need, either communicate and get that worked on... or find new supports
  • Keeping yourself physically healthy and mentally challenged while working on the mental wellness!
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I just finished three weeks or so of pretty high adrenaline and good feelings.  New peer groups, everyone delighted to be here for whatever reason, saying "cool" when I tell them my project, etc.  Now the sun sets earlier, the undergrads are starting to realize what scary work loads are like, and the postgrads (at least the researchers) are starting to figure out where that wall of anxiety is.  ("There's the library.  See you in three years.")

I've been rehearsing and performing a lot of music, which helps re-orient the brain even if it sometimes over-fills it with new material just before bedtime.  Also, I live  far enough from my usual academic destinations-- 1km to 1 mile, mostly-- that I can walk between 45 and 90 minutes a day.  None of my commitments are close enough together in time that I need a bike yet.  If I were better organized or had different priorities, I might revisit playing squash, which I used to do a few decades ago.  Pure geometry that pushes the cardiovascular system.   

I did get an intense indoor light -- a Litebook that is about the size of an iPhone and which kicks out astounding amounts of bright light. I have forgotten to use that for a few days, which might or might not be related to my slight dip.  And I am still on a few medications that were helpful before in normal life for a variety of reasons.   

Now I just need to structure my day a little better.  At the moment, I have a proposal that brought in at least one offer but no idea if there's anything legitimate to write on it.  So I'm trying to get smart about teeing up a reading list to study or at least skim for relevance between now and the end of the year.  In 5 months or so, I'll need to submit a chapter, and a lit review is one of the most practical options.  Just this afternoon, I saved links to 330 newspaper articles that may give me a place to start.  Annotating and organizing that list could soak up quite a few 1.5 hour sessions over the next weeks.

One big stress-reducer that I'd love to do is sailing, of which there is actually a fair bit going on here even through winter.  Nothing to do with high living and rum drinks -- I just like the prospect of focusing on nothing but quasi-random sensory input and problem-solving unrelated to anything else in my life.  It's like a meditation chamber with lots of white noise.  Unfortunately, making the time for that would mean killing something else and creating additional stress around scheduling.  There is a college rowing club, which might provide some of the same benefits, with other people doing more of the thinking.

In the meantime, I have a few people in my program that I know a little now.  It is a nice group. The musicians around here also seem to have a very different and interesting list of things to talk about.  So no disaster yet.

Edited by Concordia
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43 minutes ago, Concordia said:

I just finished three weeks or so of pretty high adrenaline and good feelings.  New peer groups, everyone delighted to be here for whatever reason, saying "cool" when I tell them my project, etc.  It is like that episode of Northern Exposure when the new guy in an Alaska town decides he doesn't need to sleep in the summer.  Now the sun sets earlier, the undergrads are starting to realize what scary work loads are like, and the postgrads (at least the researchers) are starting to figure out where that wall of anxiety is.  ("There's the library.  See you in three years.")

I've been rehearsing and performing a lot of music, which helps re-orient the brain even if it sometimes over-fills it with new material just before bedtime.  Also, I live  far enough from my usual academic destinations-- 1km to 1 mile, mostly-- that I can walk between 45 and 90 minutes a day.  None of my commitments are close enough together in time that I need a bike yet.  If I were better organized or had different priorities, I might revisit playing squash, which I used to do a few decades ago.  Pure geometry that pushes the cardiovascular system.   

I did get an intense indoor light -- a Litebook that is about the size of an iPhone and which kicks out astounding amounts of bright light. I have forgotten to use that for a few days, which might or might not be related to my slight dip.  And I am still on a few medications that were helpful before in normal life for a variety of reasons.   

Now I just need to structure my day a little better.  At the moment, I have a proposal that brought in at least one offer but no idea if there's anything legitimate to write on it.  So I'm trying to get smart about teeing up a reading list to study or at least skim for relevance between now and the end of the year.  In 5 months or so, I'll need to submit a chapter, and a lit review is one of the most practical options.  Just this afternoon, I saved links to 330 newspaper articles from my period that may give me a place to start.  Annotating and organizing that list could soak up quite a few 1.5 hour sessions over the next weeks.

One big stress-reducer that I'd love to do is sailing, of which there is actually a fair bit going on here even through winter.  Nothing to do with high living and rum drinks -- I just like the prospect of focusing on nothing but quasi-random sensory input and problem-solving unrelated to anything else in my life.  It's like a meditation chamber with lots of white noise.  Unfortunately, making the time for that would mean killing something else and creating additional stress around scheduling.  There is a college rowing club, which might provide some of the same benefits, with other people doing more of the thinking.

In the meantime, I have a few people in my program that I know a little now.  It is a nice group. The musicians around here also seem to have a very different and interesting list of things to talk about.  So no disaster yet.

 

Edited by Concordia
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On 10/25/2017 at 9:22 PM, harrisonfjord said:

I used to be calm and collected but I feel like a ball of stress and anxiety 99% of the time. Ive fallen into a depression where I barely recognize myself anymore. 

Has anyone else gone through this? What did you do to cope and get your life back? 

I totally feel your pain, except I am an anxious person to start with (friends describe me as "paranoid")! The stress of getting my PhD is making my anxiety the worst it is ever. The overwhelming stress kicked in towards the end of my PhD. I am about to finish (hopefully), but I haven't been feeling well for the past year. I had a couple bouts of anxiety during my course of studies, but these were nowhere near what I have been going through the past year. Feel free to look at my other threads if you are interested. 

I had the options of going to medical school vs graduate school. I am actually very into becoming a physician, but due to circumstances, I ended up in graduate school. I enjoy doing research, but I feel that doing something that is not what I wish the most somehow impair my performance a bit. Maybe it's just imposter syndrome playing up. Anyway, I generated exciting data and my advisors all think that I could aim for very top journals. I was selected for a small oral presentation when I only asked for a poster presentation at a conference. However, my writing is just hopeless and my advisors were somehow shocked that I could not 100% understand and remember their published work (which leads on to this project). At first they kindly asked me to look at how published papers/dissertations were written. I did, and I tried, but I just could not write like them. My advisors initially thought their advice was fallen on deaf ears, but then they realised that I simply could not get to the standard without extra help. They finally stepped in and pointed me to the right direction, e.g. you should consider this and that. In general, my advisors are very helpful and supportive. They understand my struggles (after I finally got the courage to tell them that I cannot take it more) and agree that I should get my dissertation done before working on experiments for the big manuscript. Even though they all cheer me up by saying that "you will get there", I somehow wonder what's the point going through this agony when that is not what I wish the most in the first place. 

I could not offer very great advice here, as I am going through that myself at the moment. I wish to let you know that you are not alone. I heard many postdocs saying that "life will get back to normal after PhD", so let's hang in there and see. 

Good luck! 

Edited by Hope.for.the.best
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  • 2 weeks later...

I get what you mean and yeah you are not alone. I did breaks during my education because it was too much stress and all that. So, either way you should feel good about your accomplishment because not many people can finish their education despite get any degree even. Just say it is done and look for happier things.

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  • 2 months later...

I realize this is an old post, but I hope this helps.

 

I have experienced the exact same issue, but at work, not in school.  I'm a few years past the situation, but here's what I experienced:

- Certain coworkers (I'm looking at you, Tim <_< ) continually belitting my ideas and gaslighting me

- Other coworkers seeming to want to help...only to take over a project and get the credit for it

- Subordinates, picking up on the lack of respect, discounting me and outright being rude and unprofessional

- Daily crying fits

- Being unable to speak up in meetings for fear of rejection

 

It was awful.  My solution, as it were, was therapy, antidepressants, and - eventually - getting fired and spending two years mentally recovering.

Based on what you said, it sounds like you don't necessarily have a single "Tim" in your life, that it's more of a conglomeration of microaggressions, rejection, etc.  Therefore, here are some suggestions:

- Find your tribe.  I realize this is easier said than done.  It seems like there are outgoing people who can do this easily; I'm not one of them.  But when I try to "find my tribe," I volunteer, join student groups, go to local fun classes (like, how to make French onion soup!), and so forth.  You never know where your tribe will be.

- Work remotely.  It sounds like you're done with most of your classes, so work from coffee shoppes, rent a table in a coworking space, go to the student center and hang out, etc.  Work someplace that isn't your desk, and isn't your department area.

- Find a different therapist.  If your current therapist isn't doing anything for you, it's okay to find a replacement.  Not every therapist will be right for every person, and they have clinically different approaches.  "Interview" some therapists first.

- Get a part time job.  You seem to be doing well on your time management, so spend 10 hours a week working some menial bullshit job, just so you have to get out of your own head.  If you're bookish, go get a job at a book store.  Stylish?  Kohls!  So on and so forth.  It doesn't have to go on your resume or CV; it's just the thing you're doing to get out of your own brain.

 

When I was dealing with my Tim (and that job), I went to a therapist who practiced Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and recommended this book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0054M063A/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

It might be worth skimming through a copy and seeing if any of the exercises can help you, as the title suggests, get out of your head and into your life.


Good luck.  I know it sucks.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Now that I'm halfway through second term, I'm up to my neck with imposter syndrome, as my "transfer" documents have to be in by 4 weeks and I get overwhelmed when I look at the secondary literature.  So much written, so much I haven't read, having been out of the academy for decades, and the uneasy feeling that everyone has either answered my question or proved that it doesn't deserve an answer.

Luckily, my supervisor still thinks I have a good topic, and that it won't take too much effort to put together a sales piece-- a fairly short list of questions to answer, most of which I could roll off pretty quickly. There is always the question of what my primary sources will be, but I should be able to make a preliminary stab at something plausible.  And if that all changes in the next six months, well, so be it.

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