So, you’re firmly enmeshed in your dissertation. You spend time with friends, take care of family, travel, present at conferences, keep up with studying and — oh yeah, make steady progress on your research and writing. It’s easy and breezy, right? Or, if you’re human, not so much.
It’s challenging to be in graduate school! There are many parts involved in doing what you do, and sometimes, it can be overwhelming. When faced with such a large, complex project, it can be daunting, zapping motivation and leading to elevated stress levels. How does one manage to not only complete a dissertation, but to do it well?
Strategies for managing procrastination, addressing anxiety, establishing a sustainable work/life balance and improving communication skills were explored during a free workshop hosted by the University of Michigan Psychological Clinic. The three workshops were presented by Jamie Socha, Emily Bilek, and Heather Myers, post-graduate fellows at the University Psychological Clinic. In case you missed the workshops, here are some takeaways to help deal with dissertation and other academic stress.
Three Approaches to Eliminating Stress and Tackling Your Work
1. Cognitive Approach: Tell yourself “I can do this.”
By changing your self-talk from “I will never get this done,” to, “I can do this,” you are restructuring negative thoughts and modifying negative beliefs and attributions. The University Psychological Clinic also recommends challenging inaccurate thinking, such as mind reading, all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, labeling, or “tyranny of shoulds” when approaching a large, complex task. Also:
- Challenge false assumptions about your capabilities.
- Remember that achievement does not equal worth.
- Keep in mind that values (such as family, compassion, philanthropy, etc.) are typically more important than goals (getting a good job, graduating, etc.).
- To prioritize your values and goals, imagine your 80th birthday party. What will be important to you then?
2. Behavioral Approach: Begin a task.
It may seem counterintuitive, but an easy way to foster motivation is by beginning a task. Commit to a short, manageable chunk of time. Odds are that once you become engaged in the task, you’ll keep going.
- Set aside time to start (writing, cleaning, researching, etc.) and create a schedule to complete your work.
- The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that breaks work into intervals with short breaks.
- Stay away from time-wasting websites like social media or online games. That “one game won’t hurt” can quickly turn into two hours of lost time.
- FocusMe allows users to block or set time limits on websites, applications, games, and apps.
3. Mindfulness Approach: Feel and let go.
Being mindful includes a two-part process of acknowledging emotions, sensations, and judgments — and then letting them go. There are many websites and resources available with more information on cultivating mindfulness. Suggestions to get started:
- Headspace.com offers meditation tips and techniques.
- Calm.com is a relaxation and meditation app.
- Find a resource that ultimately works for you!
If you’d like to work on developing coping skills further, contact the University Psychological Clinic. We offer ongoing stress reduction and general wellness groups, such as the Social Anxiety group and Mindfulness and Self Compassion group, as well as individual counseling. Many services are covered by insurance.
*Please Note: The University Psychological Clinic’s tips to stress reduction are intended for combating regular levels of stress. For chronic issues such as anxiety and depression, please contact us or another mental health professional for help.
Call the University of Michigan Psychological Clinic at (734) 764-3471 or visit PsychClinic.org for more information on stress reduction groups and individual therapy.