Anxious Doll: stress, worry and the PhD student


I am aware of the ‘risks’ of personal blogging, but I know this is a topic that is experienced by so many PhD students, probably the majority of those who I have met.

I thought getting a studentship would make me feel better, and whilst I am extremely happy and grateful to have one it has added to my imposter syndrome and to my anxiety. Getting paid to do something turns the heat up. I don’t want to let anyone done, my supervisors, my university, my participants, myself.

On the other hand anxiety can sometimes be a good thing for me… it fills me with a constant energy (albeit a nervous one) and fuels my passion for the subject area and discipline. I do find it hard to turn my brain off, it’s constantly going at 100 miles an hour which doesn’t help my M.E or stress levels. However I have had a hyperactive brain since nursery school so can’t blame academia for that one.

I am hoping to work on with this with the help of yoga (my new hobby) and regular downtime with my friends and family. I used to feel guilty for taking time out when I have so much work to do, but as fellow researchers have kindly pointed out, there will always be more work to do. There will always be an abstract to be written, travel plans to arrange, funding to apply for, books to be read, journals to be found, papers to be written, admin to be completed. A lecturer at LJMU told me that doing a PhD was like “trying to drink a swimming pool of water which keeps getting filled up”! He wasn’t wrong.

On a personal level my husband was in intensive care in 2012 in a coma. Last month he went to hospital again with same symptoms, though luckily was not kept in. When our family is seriously ill, or we deal with bereavements and terminal illnesses, it does put things in perspective. Life is short. Getting to do a job you love and research you are passionate about is wonderful, but time is precious and can’t be put on hold. There must be a balance between career and private life. Also it shows that there will always be something to worry about.

Another positive of anxiety or stress is that I am aware of the importance of keeping well. Therefore, I am prepared that my fieldwork may take an emotional toll, and have already put things in place. Researcher well-being in the field, especially when dealing with emotive and distressing situations and topics, is something to be taken seriously. I am looking forward to getting out there in the field, and taking a self-reflexive stance that means my emotions and my reactions form a crucial part of my research. My research is ‘Sex Workers’ Experiences of Prison: From Punishment to Exiting’.

Anxiety or worry or stress can also be a sign you are very passionate and want to do your best. This isn’t a bad thing, but we all need to take care of ourselves and not feel guilty for scheduling time out.

If any students/researchers want to follow me on twitter I am @princessjack. Always great to meet fellow students.