Mental Health crisis among grad students – Take a step back

It’s been a while since I wrote something for my website and the main reason is that I have many unhealthy relationships. One of these is with work. I am unable to stop and I need the feeling to be constantly busy to feel that I achieve something. I recently started seeing a counsellor to treat my eating disorders and while digging into the reasons why I tend to overeat at times, I realised that eating or cooking is a way to fill the time. I overload myself with work for the same reason, it’s a way to fill the time. So, I decided to take a step back and set my priorities. Last week my priority #1 was my Etsy shop. It was small business week so I decided to run a promotion and put some of my items on sale. I didn’t expect to sell so much so my main focus was going to the post office and creating personalised items during my spare time.

I am an unconventional PhD student so my full-time job is research and during my spare time I do side activities such as running my business, Instagram page and blogging. Other students have a full-time job as researchers and have to teach/mark during their spare time. No matter what you do and the level of commitment you have with your PhD or side activities, overload yourself with work is unhealthy for your wellbeing. Taking a step back is so hard because you feel guilty and like an impostor any time you don’t feel like you are achieving something. Trust me that I had experience of all this. I used to put myself under enormous pressure, skipping lunch, waking up early to go to lab on weekends, avoiding going out with friends because the day after I had to go lab early in the morning, hiding in the bathroom and crying in between experiments due to the belief that my research was crap because I was a bad scientist.

Seeing a counsellor to treat my eating disorders made me realise that I have many unhealthy relationships, above all with work.

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Last year, when I was about to start the final push of my PhD, I bought this academic diary to remind myself that I would make it. This quote is my stone of life. When I started my undergrad programme in chemistry, I thought I would never finish it. Then, I started my master degree and I thought I would never make it either. Finishing my PhD felt impossible at times and I lost count of all the times I wanted to drop out. Fast forward, I am a step away from submitting my PhD thesis in chemistry.

You do not have to work until physical and mental exhaustion to feel accomplished.

 

The sense of guilt and failure is a pain. And at least for me, the unhealthy way to deal with it is overloading myself of work. If you, like me, are familiar with these voices in your mind that tells that you are useless, a failure or a good at nothing, you aren’t alone. Good news is that no one of these nasty thoughts is real. Most likely, they are a fabrication of your mind and none really believes that you are useless rather than yourself. Recognising the unhelpful thinking is an important step in healing from depression and any unhealthy relationship really. A turning point in my recovery was reading the book Get your mind out and Into your life. It’s a self-help book that uses acceptance and commitment therapy to teach you how to change perspective about your life and the way you process events and situations around you!

Most importantly, you don’t have to be constantly busy to be successful or a good scientist. It’s okay to lie down on sofa and relax, don’t constantly overthink about your PhD or work, enjoy life with your family and friends, take daily breaks from lab to have lunch outside and get a coffee, going to the lab late in the morning or setting off before 5pm if you feel like you are done with your daily work. What’s the point of depriving yourself of sleep to start work at down or staying in the office until 7pm pretending to work when you are done? Many will feel entitled to judge your routine, but who cares?? When these individuals pay your bills, your therapist and meds check, you might think to take their opinions into account!

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