Feeling Overwhelmed? Five tips to get through a PhD Slump

The PhD journey is one of highs and lows. From the euphoria of successfully presenting your first paper at an international conference to the struggle of trying to stay connected to your research when you’ve received a lot of  “constructive” feedback. In more ways than one the PhD process is a test of endurance. So for those hours/days/weeks/months when you might be feeling overwhelmed by your research and stuck in a PhD slump, here are five tips to get you through.


 1. Talk to Others

You’re not alone. I’d venture to guarantee that every PhD student and academic has, at some point, wondered if they’ll make it through. Talk to more experienced PhD students or academics in your department. Sharing stories and discussing ways to move forward will be incredibly helpful and will ensure that you have a strong support network. Often the PhD experience can be very isolating, so it’s important to make sure that you know you’re not alone by reaching out and connecting with others who understand exactly how you’re feeling.


2. Find a Routine

The beauty of the PhD is that you have the freedom to schedule your own time and work. Sometimes, however, lacking a proper routine can make things difficult – even for the most driven and self-disciplined researcher. If you’re struggling with this, try to avoid working from home. Get up and out of the house every morning and head to the library or an office where you won’t be distracted by the laundry or washing up. Treat your PhD like a full time job, making sure you have time for work and time away from work each day. Set working hours for yourself and plan things to do when you’ve finished for the day – go to the gym, meet friends for a drink, or just head home and watch a film.


3. Focus on Small Steps

At times a PhD can seem like a towering mountain that you’re scaling. Instead of focusing on the mountain, concentrate on breaking your PhD down into smaller, more manageable, segments. Of course it’s very important to be able to visualize your project as a whole, but try to avoid overwhelming yourself with the amount of work you need to do to get there. Celebrate all your triumphs, however small and insignificant they may seem. Although the peak of the mountain may be shrouded by cloud, remember that each small step you take is a step closer.


4. Take a Break

It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking that you should be working every hour of every day. Sometimes working weekends and evenings may be necessary, but it shouldn’t be the norm. As guilty as you may feel, it’s extremely important to take timely breaks and look after yourself properly. After submitting a chapter take a day or two off to give yourself a rest and prepare mentally for the next challenge. There will be days when you’re looking at a blank page for hours. Close your laptop and go for a short walk, or buy a coffee and take a break to be alone with your thoughts. Going back to your work feeling refreshed after a quick change of scenery can often be just the thing to spark new ideas.


5. Look at how far you’ve come

When you’re in the midst of a PhD slump, it can feel as though you’re on a stationary bicycle, pedaling away but getting nowhere. Take a moment to look back on how far you’ve already come. No matter where you are in your PhD, your work will have evolved and matured in ways you may not immediately realize. It can be a fruitful exercise to keep a journal to trace your progress. Sometimes you forget how far your PhD has already developed during the tough times. It’s helpful to have a way to look back, gain perspective and see that though difficult times may come they will also pass.