Sunday, 20 January 2013

Top Ten Tips to diffuse 'PhD Panic'

This is not the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobody has ever died from not writing a PhD. It is not the end of the world that you have hit a blockage. Nobody is going to die because you haven't written 100 words today. Convince yourself via the following steps how counterproductive panic is, and how it's much better to tick off these ten steps from your to-do list than panic over it.

1) Stay Calm with Deep Breathing - try the 7/11 technique.  Count to seven when breathing in and count to eleven when breathing out. Can be done anywhere, anytime, any place.  Helps you get to sleep too.
2) Get help. Acknowledge that you are panicking and immediately seek help.  It could be that your panic might lead you down the not-so pleasant path of anxiety and/or depression.  Possibly not, but even so talk to your friends and family.  If they can't help then seek help from the professionals - the students' union, the careers service, perhaps someone who has helped you before, they will help you again no doubt. 
3) Give yourself a break.  A metaphorical one - free treats, be kind to yourself, and a real one - fresh air or just a few seconds deep breathing, an hour's walk, a nap, a weekend away or time off for longer.
4) Use Distraction: Do something else. Either work on a different section, read or do something totally different from the PhD for a little while, coming back to it afresh may give you that calm space and feeling of serenity in your head that is so empowering.
5) Get a good night's sleep. Everything is always better in the morning and you may get inspiration to deal with your worries from your dreams.
6) Take some exercise.  Good for your physical health too, great for invigorating yourself.  If you can't face leaving your desk, do a few yoga or Tai Chi moves in a bit of space by your desk. Or a stretch or a nice long yawn looking out of the window; all thinking time.
7) Allow yourself thinking time. Really important this that you start to see so-called 'procrastination' as thinking time instead.  It only takes a few seconds to write a sentence.  Theoretically a thesis could be done in a year; you could write 3,000 words a day but most people probably write 100. All that time is mainly for thinking, not writing so stop beating yourself up!  Don't forget you think whilst you're cooking, washing, feeding the cats, having a bath, chatting to friends.  Those cogs whir on even when we're asleep.
8) 'Chunk it' : Break down the task into doable chunks.  It might be you are just panicking over the very first step, such as finding a document that you have lost.  Book a trip to the library or phone a friend to help.  Try to make the tasks that you dread as pleasurable as possible.  Give yourself a reward for the smallest of steps - like a cup of tea for the first sentence or writing the day's to-do list. Estimate how long each task takes, put timescales (and rewards) against tasks.
9) Use the internet for support.  This probably needs its own blog post - how to use the internet for support in your PhD, but there are so many blogs, twitterers, #groups, facebook people, linked in and stuff I don't know about.  Find out the twitter feed addresses of your University main people and follow them, then follow the people they're following.  You could also use twitter and linked in and facebook to help you keep abreast of your topic.  I get enthused whenever someone contacts me and says 'carry on the great work', even if it doesn't feel like particularly great work, it's wonderful you feel you have an army of people behind you supporting you in your research.
10) Bolster your self confidence.  Poor self confidence and poor self esteem go hand in hand with anxiety, panic and depression.  So whatever you can do to big yourself up is worth doing if there's a whiff of those about.  The problem is that with most PhDs, even at the end, we end up being more unsure than ever of concrete conclusions - that's what the Universe is like (ie nobody knows) so it's not surprising we end up doubting ourselves.  But we must steer away from seeing ourselves and the PhD as one and the same thing.  We are not.  We are separate human beings from the PhD, which is some words.  If you know you have confidence issues have you tried to tackle them?  Re-read your most well received work.  Go over in your head words of praise your supervisor has given you.  Pin those words to your computer monitor.  Have you thought about seeing a hynotherapist for self-confidence?  Or a life coach?  Or sorted out a mentor for yourself at University? - ask an inspirational member of staff that you get on with. Go on a free coaching course.  If your panic is hand in hand with a crisis in confidence (it usually is) then use the 'confidence bubble' NLP technique.  Imagine you are in your 'confidence bubble.'  You are protected inside this bubble in a sphere of happiness, confidence and strength, protected from all the negative things which are outside of it.  You need three or preferably four memories of when you have felt most confident - preferably in date order, ie remember the first one first (childhood/teenage) - good exam results?  First love? Best friends playing together?  Then move forward in time to another memory when you were confident - you are much more confident now in your mind's eye, doubling the first amount of confidence.  Then treble it with the third memory, and quadruple with the fourth. The fourth memory should be in glorious technocolour, bright and big and massive. And you should find yourself smiling and confident, happy in your confidence bubble.  Repeat 5 times daily.  Write down these, your most happy, confident memories and pin them to your computer monitor. Practice especially for Vivas, interviews, public speaking, supervisions and so on.  Get into your confidence bubble and write, write, write!  Use your new found confidence to sustain motivation.

1 comment: