Discover more from Let's Talk Grad School
Our 16th and 17th book winners are Dani Martino (prospective PhD student) and Adelaide Klutse (incoming PhD student)! Be sure to enter the book giveaway for your chance to win a copy of A Field Guide to Grad School! More details below (at the end of the post). Now, onto the good stuff!
Somehow we’re already nearing the end of January (make it stop!). Those who have applied to PhD programs may be hearing back about interviews and those who have applied for fellowships or grants may be hearing whether they’ve been funded (or not) soon. At the same time, because programs and fellowships can have their own timelines (and granting agencies, too!), it’s not always clear when you should expect to hear back. For this reason, you may be experiencing some anxiety. Here, I share some strategies and activities that may help you manage some of the anxiety you may be feeling (many thanks to my weekend group students who helped me generate this list!).
Please note that anything I share here should not be construed as clinical advice. I am not a trained clinician. If you are experiencing debilitating anxiety, I highly recommend that you seek the help of a professional. If you’re not sure how to go about doing that, please reach out to a trusted mentor, family member, friend, or colleague. If you are in the United States, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline, which is a free, confidential service that can help you figure out your next steps (1-800-662-HELP (4357)).
Write down your thoughts. When working through anxious thoughts, you may find it helpful to write down what you’re feeling—both the good and the bad. If not so interested in expressing yourself in words, you may consider drawing what you feel. And there’s something to this. As shared in this write-up from Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, journaling can help reduce psychological symptoms (this same effect was not found for the drawing group; however, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be helpful to you!). Know that there are many ways to go about journaling. If you’re wary of leaving your thoughts in a physical form, you may consider opening a Google Doc and simply deleting your writing after a writing session. Journaling can be whatever you want it to be.
Meditate. A simple Google Scholar search yields several papers demonstrating the benefits of meditation toward managing and reducing anxiety. I’ll admit that it was only in the last few months that I truly began to appreciate meditation as a means to engage in self care and manage my own anxiety. Just like anything, it’s not going to work for everyone, but I do think it’s worth everyone trying (and trying a few times, because being fully present in any meditative activity requires practice!). I hesitate to recommend free apps that are out there (there are so many when I just search for them) because I haven’t used any of them myself. I have, however, taken advantage of the meditation exercises available on the Peloton app and I enjoy them (note that the Peloton app is free for 2 months right now). Please let me know if you have your own recommendations.
Get physical. I’ll be the first to say that exercising, especially when anxious, may be easier said that done. Yet, I never regret hopping on my bike to help me reset while working through my thoughts (I do, however, regret not getting on my bike if I know it could help me). To be clear, I’m not recommending that you run a marathon or attempt to max out your weight lifting. Instead, I’m recommending that you consider finding ways to physically exert energy. If going to the gym sounds horrible to you (it kinda does to me, especially these days) and you’re not one to follow fitness videos, try dancing! Believe it or not, some researchers have even examined whether dancing interventions can reduce psychological symptoms (the answer appears to be yes BUT I have not read the paper myself). In short, find ways to move your body.
Watch videos of cute puppies. If you know me, you’re probably wondering why this isn’t my first recommendation (that’s because I’m writing these in the order the students and I generated them). Anyways, sometimes screen time brings us joy and few things bring me greater joy (on social media) than puppies (where puppies = any aged dog). Maybe you enjoy videos of cats or people making food. Whatever it is, do not begrudge yourself indulging in videos (or other fun content) that bring you joy. I unapologetically scroll TikTok (and have happened upon some great videos for presentations while doing so).
Reframe. I once heard someone say that anxiety is about the future. That is, we are often anxious about what might happen. For example, I often feel anxious when attending conferences because I’m worried that I’m going to say or do the wrong thing and look silly in front of strangers. Here, I have an opportunity to shift my focus to reframe conferences as opportunities to meet new people with the understanding that I am not alone in my fear of making a misstep. Rejection is also anxiety inducing, whether it’s being rejected from a program (What will I do if I don’t get in anywhere?) or having a manuscript rejected (What if someone publishes similar research before I do?). Here, there may be an opportunity to think about rejection as part of a longer process. Rejection isn’t a destination, it’s a part of the journey (and a certainty if you’re pursuing a PhD). I’ll talk a lot more about rejection later. For now, try to identify the source of your anxiety and think through ways you can shift your perspective. Even if this exercise doesn’t immediately alleviate your anxious feelings, it can leave you more prepared to manage your anxiety in the future.
Schedule your anxiety. During a 2019 Society for Consumer Psychology conference talk, Dr. Sendhil Mullainathan shared a recommendation he received to schedule “worry time.” Because new things to worry about can pop up each day, rather than worry about them the moment they appear, write them down and wait until a designated time each week to worry about them. I love this idea. It’s not going to work for everything or everyone, but it can help guard against your day being derailed by something that can be dealt with at a later time. If trying out this strategy, you may consider bundling it with journaling by using a journaling session to work through things causing you anxiety.
Some final thoughts.
So much is out of your control before, during, and after the PhD (more than you probably know).
Give yourself grace. Just existing can be exhausting some days.
Surround yourself with comforts when possible. When prepping for a difficult week, I make sure to stock my fridge with my preferred drinks (sparking water!) and my pantry with my favorite coffees. I also make sure to build in more time to walk or play with my dog.
If possible, lean on your family and/or friends. No one should feel they need to suffer in silence or should have to go without talking about whatever they’re feeling because “it could be worse.”
Thanks for reading Let's Talk Grad School! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
How to reach me: You are always welcome to email me (email@example.com) or find me on Twitter @tweetsbymidge.
Let’s give away some books: Readers located in the United States and Canada are eligible to enter the book giveaway to receive a copy of A Field Guide to Grad School by Dr. Jessica Calarco. To do so, complete this survey and note that you only have to complete it once to be entered in all subsequent giveaways! I do hope to expand the reach of the giveaway; however, at the moment, the shipping costs are too great to scale. If you’d like to talk about ways your institution could secure an electronic (or hard) copy, please let me know.
Until next time!