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Severe Anxiety and Struggling with PHD


CuppaTea15
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Hi,

So I'm in my 2nd/3rd year as a PhD student. I've successfully completed my qualifying exams. I have presented to posters at conferences, I have 1 coauthorship and another on the way (Manuscript written, making edits and some additional control experiments), and a 3rd which I've completed my work for the project for, but could be a while before everything is written up and finished, there is still a lot of work to do there. I'm working on a project that will be part of one of my aims in my dissertation. I'm writing up my proposal now, and have to defend it soon.

I feel like I'm going nowhere, and that I haven't actually contributed much to the lab. I know, I have these coauthorships - but I feel like my part was minimal at best on them. My new project is slowly making progress, I think, but I'm struggling to get the protocol to work. I know, troubleshooting takes time, and once I get it working it should be smoother sailing.

I'm having panic attacks on a daily basis worrying about my work. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about analyses that are not done, or that maybe I did wrong. I see a psychiatrist and I'm on benzos and betablockers for panic attacks. I see a therapist and we work on challenging these feelings with evidence. But even with this, I feel so overwhelmed that I don't know if I could make it.

I feel like I would be better off quitting with a terminal master's. But, I don't want to. I just don't know if I can stand this anxiety anymore. But, another job wouldn't make it any better. I'd still be having panic attacks, so why not carry on now and do what I want? But then I question that, do I want this? How do I know? I'm having panic attacks, crying, getting upset stomachs and vomitting thinking about lab work or meetings with my advisor.

I know I'm not alone in these feelings, but I feel so isolated. Everyone around me doens't seem to have these problems. They just keep on keeping on while I'm hiding in my office crying mid-day because of an attack.

 

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I can't help but say that you are not alone! I posted a thread describing my PhD stress. 

I am progressing well and will submit by the end of this year. However, I have been very anxious for the past year and I only started to feel better lately. The stress of not getting my dissertation done was simply too overwhelming! It is good to hear that you are working on your anxiety. Would that be possible for you to take a long break to heal yourself? I see that possible because it is the end of the year. Your advisors may be fine with you taking the whole December off and come back in January. I had one very bad episode of anxiety during my bachelor years. All my psychologist suggested was to take a valuable holiday, i.e. not worrying about any school work. I recovered completely after enjoying a 6-week holiday. If you can't take a long break, how about you talk to your advisors and see if they can cut down your workload? I got terribly stressed out once when I helped out with a project independent of my dissertation. Since then, my advisors only asked me to focus on my own project. I had another incident when my advisors wished me to work on experiments to get a manuscript published, but I simply could not handle that along with dissertation writing. So I plucked up my courage and explained my difficulties. At first, I thought they would be angry and disappointed, but surprisingly, they understood and agreed that I got my dissertation done before proceeding to the manuscript.

From what you described, you have made very good progress for your PhD. In my opinion, it would be a pity to give up your PhD. However, it sounds like you need some time to heal and take care of yourself. Feel free to post back or PM me. 

Edited by Hope.for.the.best
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There's no shame in taking a semester or a year off. You might need time to change medications, let new medications work, and to develop cognitive and lifestyle skills that help to manage your condition. 

I took time of undergrad for mental health reasons. I didn't want to do it at all - it was forced on me. However, the time off was beyond helpful. I found medications that worked, I was able to not be working when my symptoms were still severe and once I came back, I could dedicate an appropriate amount of effort to my studies while keeping perspective. 

(I'll also add that the time I took off was my very last semester of undergrad. Like you, the end of the degree was in sight. I had a job lined up post-graduation which I had to knock back. But it was definitely the right thing to do.)

These days I can do stuff that I never thought I could do. If you want to to message me, please feel free (I'm aware that some experiences might be best shared in a message). 

Edited by lemma
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Feeling sad knowing your condition, but I could only suggest you to be strong. Don't quit, then it would be a lifelong regret, but cope up with your panics.

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