5 Tips on How to Overcome PhD Stress

Getting your PhD is a difficult, yet highly rewarding life achievement that will not only prove your educational experience and skills, it can also cause you large amounts of stress and anxiety. A PhD is a highly-regarded level of education that pushes your knowledge to its limits. Although feeling stressed out during this milestone is normal, we’ve got some great tips to help you reduce your stress and keep your eyes on the prize.


One of the most important things you can do for your PhD is practice, practice, and practice some more. The more drafts you can, well, draft, the more comfortable you will be with the writings.

Practicing will enable you to catch any written mistakes or errors, or even give you a new outlook on what you want to finally present. Your final presentation can end up causing you a lot of stress and anxiety. Practice not only your written drafts but also the actual verbal presentation whenever you can. Round up friends or family or check your university for any opportunities for speaking in front of a public audience.

The more you practice, the more confident you will feel on the final day.

Stay Organized and Timely

More likely than not your University will have specific and strict timelines for paperwork. Keep reminders on your phone, write them down on a visual board or calendar, and stick up a few post it notes for reminders. The last thing you want is missing an important deadline. With these reminders you can ensure you have everything done in a timely manner and that you will not be messed up by forgetting to turn in a form or an administrative error.

Staying organized will also take some of the stress off your shoulders. Set out an organized and reasonable goal for the timeline of your PhD. Take small steps to reach the final goal of presenting your PhD each day. Staying on the schedule you set out for yourself will be crucial for limiting your stress as well as ensuring you meet the overall and final goal of presenting your thesis.

Take Care of Yourself

An often overlooked aspect of the PhD program is taking care of number one: you. If you forget to eat, sleep, and relax occasionally, you will end up mentally and physically draining your body which will only end up frazzling your nerves even further.

Take time each day to breathe and calm your mind. Ensure you are getting plenty of rest and are eating a proper diet. It’s also important for you to maintain well hydrated too. Feeling great physically will help your brain and mental powers too. Wearing yourself too thin can only end in a negative way and stress you out further. Take a step back every now and then and make sure you are taking care of the most important person in the world: YOU!

That being said, we all know caffeine can be a HUGE help during the thesis process. Just be sure you are not taking in too much. Caffeine can negatively impact your sleep cycles and dehydrate your body too- both of which will drain you physically and mentally.

Give yourself a day off every now and again to refresh and relax. It will help you maintain your focus and feel recharged when it comes time to getting back to work on your thesis.

Getting plenty of exercise will also help your mind. Find an activity such as running, hiking, or yoga that allows your brain to focus on the present while getting your body moving in a healthy way. Many PhD students will simply say they do not have time. You have time. Even if it just 20-30 minutes each day, it will go a long way in terms of your physical and mental health as well as helping reduce your stress levels.

Remember the End Goal, the Big Picture

Ahh, the end goal, the final piece to the puzzle. Graduation! The moment when all of your hard work, stress, late nights, and determination will pay off. During your bleaker days, remind yourself of why you started this educational journey in the first place. Keep your eyes on the prize.

You will now have to take all the research in one little subject and mold it into an even greater body of knowledge. Eventually you will also be transitioning into a brand new position, role, or career. If you, or anyone else for that matter, asks ‘So what?’ you will have an accessible and more importantly, a solid answer.

The university committee will be able to see the future directions you may have for the lab, for your future career, and for the overall society. This is the time to shine! Show off your unique perspective, your profoundness for the subject, your independence, and of course, your creativity that you have grown all in the pursuit of the highest level of education you can achieve.

Avoid De-Motivators

Motivation can be fleeting at times. No matter which stage of the thesis you are in, it is vital that you avoid any triggers for losing your thunder and motivation to see the thesis through. First and foremost, stay away from the negative thoughts and people. Avoid being critical of yourself, doubting yourself, or beating yourself up. It will make you feel lousy and you’ll end up stressing out and feeling even more anxious.

The top ten reasons that can cause demotivation included:

  • Fear
  • Setting unrealistic or even the wrong goals
  • Lack of assertiveness and clarity of what you want
  • By a conflict of values
  • A lack of autonomy
  • Either being over challenged or having a lack of challenges
  • Struggling with grief or trauma
  • Loneliness
  • Becoming burnt out and overworked
  • Feeling distracted or aimless- unsure of what to do next, or daydreaming

Try your best to regain your focus and realign your goals if you are struggling with any f the above demotivators. It also helps to find support from councilors, friends, family, and other PhD students in times of emotional and physical strife. These people in your life can offer you support and encouragement in your time of need. It can be just the push you need to get back on the right track and refresh your motivation to complete your thesis.
Remember, remove the negativity and you are not in this alone. And most importantly, you CAN DO THIS! It’s been done by hundreds of thousands of hardworking students before you and you can join their ranks. Don’t give up!!

At the end of the day, your thesis will be over before you know it. Through all the hard work and the stress is a final achievement, your PhD. When the going gets rough, keep these five tips for helping reduce and overcome your stress during your PhD. They can help bring you back to a calm and focused state as well as rejuvenate your motivation.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed out from the heavy load of work involved with your PhD and you cannot find relief with any of the above tips, it is vital that you speak with a councilor or your doctor. Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is absolutely vital and while these 5 tips are extremely helpful, some individuals require the care and advice of a professional. Do not be afraid to speak to a professional about your mental or physical state.
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