We’ve written about staying physically healthy while writing your dissertation, but it’s important that you also stay mentally healthy. Graduate school is demanding and stressful, but learning to manage stress and taking active steps to nurture your mental health is crucial for success.

According to an article in The Atlantic, half of all doctoral students leave graduate school without finishing their programs, leading many to wonder what the catalyst is for the departure. Mental health is a common explanation, but not every student who ends up leaving has a long history of mental illness. Multiple factors can lead to overwhelming stress, depression, or anxiety, including the culture of the program, workload, and lack of support from professors or classmates. However, even in the most supportive program, the demands of dissertation writing can take a toll. In my graduate program, it was commonplace to talk about going to therapy or needing to find a therapist.

Depression or anxiety can interfere with your research or the writing of your dissertation, and also impact your thought processes. It’s important to be aware of your mental health, just like you would your physical health. Here are some ways to take care of yourself while writing your dissertation.

Get Out of the House

Whether you’re in the research phase or the writing phase, it’s tempting to hole yourself up in your room or the library for a marathon, full-steam-ahead work session. Your brain and body need to be recharged, though, so aim to take a 20 to 30 minute break every three hours. Go walk to the store, do some window-shopping, meet a friend for coffee – anything to not be isolated.

Seek Professional Assistance

If you feel your depression or anxiety is interfering with your life or your productivity, see if you can find a counselor or a support group. Talk with your doctor or student health about how you’re feeling, and if they have recommendations for a specific therapist. Many schools have counselors at student health that will provide a certain number of sessions for free or at low-cost. These are real illnesses, and are not a “weakness” on your part at all.

Pay Attention to Diet

When we’re in a time crunch or when we’re stressed, it’s natural to either grab quick snacks that are pre-packaged and generally full of sugar or carbs (because we need to stay awake), or turn to comfort food. It’s also really easy to down a lot of coffee or soda with the excuse that we need the caffeine because we have SO much work to do and need to stay awake. Sugar and caffeine can lead to crashes (both physical and mental), leaving you more depleted than before. Make sure your diet has protein in it, even if it’s a few handfuls of nuts as a snack, peanut butter on a banana, or chickpeas in a salad. Food is literally our fuel; we need to make sure we’re feeding ourselves with high-quality nutrition in order to operate at our optimal levels.

Stay Active

Exercise helps release endorphins, a natural mood-booster. It also helps build immunity and relief tension and stress. You don’t have to be a marathon runner; even a 30-minute walk each day is beneficial for your health and can be a refreshing break after sitting in front of the computer.

Get Professional Dissertation Help

Another way to feel good while writing your dissertation is by asking for help when you need it. Need someone to deal with the stress of dissertation editing or dissertation formatting on your behalf? Give us a call. Want some constructive feedback so that you feel good about your dissertation proposal or dissertation chapter? That’s what we’re here for. Want to talk to an expert PhD to who can help you come up with strategies to get your dissertation done quickly and efficiently? We’re here for you.

What are some of the ways you stayed mentally healthy while writing your dissertation?
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Having a neutral editor review my dissertation and help me reduce the content to the key facts was incredibly helpful. As researchers, we are often too close to the data to know which parts of the document to shed and which to keep. This process helped me create a better document with more focus and better delivery of the research results.


- Kim M.

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