Stress and Anxiety in the Life of a PhD Student



Career advancement can be exciting but at the same time demanding, which can cause stress and anxiety in students of all levels of education. Particularly, the academic responsibilities of a PhD student may be stressful if not well managed.


In recent research carried out in Belgium by policy makers so as to ascertain the extent to which PhD students are affected by how they organise their studies and the level of their mental health challenges, Levecque et al. (2017), identified three key facts that should be of real concern. These are:


Stressed PhD student

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1. One out of two PhD students experiences mental anguish while one out of three is in danger of developing a psychiatric illness.


2. Compared to students of other levels of education, and also to highly educated employees, PhD students suffer mentally related health challenges the most.


3. Work and organisational setting are the key determinants of PhD student’s mental health.


Bazrafkan et al. (2016), define stress and anxiety as a “syndrome shown by emotional exhaustion and reduced personal goal achievement”.


Causes of Stress and Anxiety


There might be several reasons why PhD students go through stress because they are anxious about work and studies. Bazrafkan et al. (2016), mentioned several causes some of which are time management (lack of proper time management by the PhD student), selection of a good thesis topic, poor writing, problems in the student-supervisor relationship, lack of feedback from the supervisor, and a lack of financial resources among others.


Mandal (2019) mentions that a study involving 5,700 PhD students, revealed that 20 percent of the respondents were “overwhelmed” with course and research work which have led to stress and anxiety. In another study by Advance HE in the United Kingdom which surveyed 50,000 PhD students in order to ascertain their level of stress and anxiety, it was again exposed that 86 percent of the students experienced astronomical level of anxiety.


Prevention of Stress and Anxiety


According to Cheeky Scientist (2020), feeling stressed and anxious is not a weakness but rather a medical condition that demands help. Such students could see a psychiatrist or other supportive people for assistance. Making friends, forming relationships and networking during conferences, class discussions, social gatherings and writing to loved ones could also help in alleviating the situation.


The key points to observe seem to be: do not be hard on yourself by measuring your value based on your achievements – the conferences you have attended and presented, number of publications or your level of progression compared to colleagues. Engage in physical activities like exercises – aerobics, walking, jogging, skipping, skiing with friends and colleagues etc.

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Write down your success stories no matter how trivial they may be. Be thankful to God and yourself for your achievements. For instance, having a time out with friends after a successful conference presentation. Try to foster a good working relationship with your supervisors.


Research indicate that “keeping a gratitude journal makes you more creative by opening up the blood flow in your brain. It also helps you sleep better” (Cheeky Scientist, 2020). Do not concern yourself with what other colleagues think or say about you. Grab every opportunity that comes your way and take things easy.



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Article writer and Content contributor

Dolorae Mensah Hervie GiLE article writer

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