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As I mentioned in a previous post, at my last supervision meeting in December 2014, I have been told to focus on set small tasks rather than planning the future. Also I need to do one thing at a time, rather than doing everything all at once. The plan was to get three things done by March (I don’t know if I meant beginning or end of March… let’s say middle). One was a good draft of chapter 2 and 3 and also to merge my dataset and create my variable. One supervisor said she would be impressed if I achieved these things as they are all quite big tasks.

So how successful has this been since my last supervision meeting?

Well it has gone quite well.

First of all I designed my own motivational poster to keep me blinkered, can you spot it?:

Phew, I'm glad I tided up before taking this photo.

Phew, I’m glad I tided up before taking this photo.

Secondly I have been focussing only on one chapter and one topic – a historical look at the British education system.  A large part of the time has been spent working out the structure of it which involved quite a few revisions before I got it how I want it. So I have the structure, many of the sections started with some finished. However, it is turning into a big chapter with two parts, so actually I am only really one-third through it now, but that is OK as it is good that I know what is going in it.

Third I met with my one of my supervisors for a data merging training session and have finally created my own variable and merged some data, which is possibly one of the most important parts of the PhD process so far. So a big milestone.

So why is this post about to turn into a self-pitying session?

Well, some very negative behaviour has crept back in. When I am anxious or upset about anything I tend to stay up very late and either stare into space, or watch TV, mainly QVC. I have always done this (not always QVC, there are many other late night things to watch like infomercials for box sets of 1950s music, or one of my favourites, the magic bullet chopper) and think  it is an anxiety thing, not a PhD specific thing.  However, the terrible knock on effect is that either you get up very late the next day, or if you get up early, you are so tired all day that you cannot do as much work, so your anxiety gets worse as mentally you are not helping yourself by being sleep deprived.

I think what happened was that I realised as the deadline was approching, that I was a little overly ambitious about having a nice complete chapter to give to my supervisors by Thursday night, so I subconsciously decided to self-destruct. What I should have done is try to tidy up what I have, summarise for my supervisors what the rest of the chapter will look like and just keep on going. I know they will understand that it is still work in progress, but what I have done is quite big stuff in terms of structure etc.

So this paralysis lasts about 3 days and then I realise what I should do, but by then it is too late and I only have one full day now to tidy up this draft and then I worry that my supervisors will be disappointed in me. I also think it is disrespectful to give them something that is too drafty, so then I worry that they will read it, tutting throughout.

Now my paralysis has worn off, I remember that my friend once told me, that I should write a list of little tasks I can do when these symptoms set in. For example, perhaps tidy up Endnote, read a couple of articles from my reading pile or a chapter of a key book, maybe tidy up some files and so on. She said I should write these down because, as has happened, once one is in a state, one does not think clearly.

So I will do this now and add the list next to my motivational poster.

So tonight I will go to bed before midnight (ooh, that’s now!) and start afresh tomorrow. My motto ‘Focus’ may have to have a sub-motto: ‘It’s never to late to re-focus!’

 

 

 

 

(As it’s midnight, I wonder what Today’s Special Value is?….oh wow… it’s a Vax Vacumn cleaner…. I really need to watch it……)

 

 

When I handed in my upgrade document I took three days off. I thought this would be enough with the two days of the weekend making it up to five days of no PhD. I filled those days with lots of fun activities and catching up with family and friends. But when I tried to get back to work on the Monday after the weekend I felt a terrible anxiety and tightness in my chest. I couldn’t bear to look at my document and when I did I felt upset about my poor research questions and even started to feel a little bit paranoid that my upgrade panel must have read them by now and started visualising everything that can go bad at the meeting and how the panel must be trying to think of ways to diplomatically tell me my project design is rubbish. Of course this is possible, but I need to be mentally strong to take criticism well rather than take it too personally.

I think this anxiety spike was due to the fact that I actually needed a longer break to recover. During the week that I was supposed to be back into PhD mode, I decided that it is better to take an extra week off, but try to ease myself into working again by going to the library, paying of my HUGE fine (£16), browsing all the new books I got out and attending a couple of seminars at the university. I also decided that I may as well catch up on some other things like registering to give blood (haven’t quite plucked up the courage to donate yet!), going to the salon for a much needed restyle, getting the plumber in to do some big jobs, finishing off some admin tasks like researching accommodation for a conference, planning and booking my training and such like.

If most workers have two weeks off in the summer, then of course a PhD student can too, especially if like me you worked over the summer and in fact have not had any days off, not even a weekend for a couple of months. It is silly not to take a break. In fact we are allowed to have 8 weeks according to the official documentation.

So just as a new haircut is a fresh new start, holidays are meant to give you that feeling of a fresh or at least refreshed start. I now feel better prepared to start anew on Monday.

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