Coping with the emotional strain and isolation of a PhD


Hi everyone,

This is my first post here. I've been driven to post after struggling since November in my own PhD. I'm studying full time and am currently about half way through. I live away from university with my partner and can only afford to get into university once or twice a month. I've struggled recently with the isolation of working from home and struggled to meet people in the area. It's got to the point now where I'm crying almost every day, becoming ridiculously clingy to my partner who has managed to make new friends in the area (who I don't seem to get on with), and just feeling generally low and rubbish. It's affecting my motivation, I'm questioning my reasons behind doing the degree and so on. I'm now fed up with this cycle of feeling low and have decided I need to do something to get my life and confidence back to where it was.

I wondered if anyone here could share similar experiences and methods they have for coping with it. Especially if anyone in the UK has any ideas for groups or anything I may be able to meet to join people with similar interests etc.



I'm sorry to hear you are having a bad time. I think even when we are not physically isolated during a PhD, we still suffer from isolation.

I think you need to develop some interests away from your PhD and away from your partner as it will be good for your relationship too. Could you join in a local walking group to get outdoors for fresh air? I'm trying to think of cheaper things as you mention affordability of traveling to university. I am a member of a speakers group locally which helps me practice public speaking. Does your local library have a book club? Are there any similar things you might do? If you were nearer campus I'd suggest joining clubs/groups, but that might be too difficult?

I'd definitely start going for daily walks to clear your head though, being alone or indoors all day isn't good (I've been there!).

I hope some of this helps and if not, please know you are not alone.


I agree with CR1980, it's really important to have interests and things in your diary outside of the PhD.Either a hobby you've let slide or taking up something new - but preferably one which will get you interacting with other people. Search online for local groups doing different things e.g.

It's also important to get peer support for your PhD, as it is always a lonely process, even when you have a desk in an office with others. Ideally this would come from your uni, but as that may not be practical, look online. This forum is a good source of general support. In terms of your own topic, set up a Twitter account for academic purposes, follow relevant academics, PhD students and departments, and after a while you will develop your own, highly relevant 'virtual' network.


Hi Claire, I recently joined this forum too. (See ). I have had a very similar experience of your isolation, so can speak with some recognition of how you're feeling. I have lived nowhere near my university and the distance and isolation has taken a considerable emotional toll. It also affected the quality of my work to a degree. I think a support network of real people would have helped me immensely because it's what I tend to thrive on. I think the best I could have done was considered a Phd where I would have been geographically close to the department. I think the suggestions above are good ones and I would just like to register my solidarity and best wishes.


Hi Claire
It sounds from your post like you're coping with being in a fairly new area as well as the isolation of doing a PhD, is that correct? If so, then hats off to you for hanging in there - I've previously felt similar things when moving to another area and trying to settle in (I took the radical step of giving up on the new area and coming back home, but that situation was different to yours as there was no PhD involved at the time - just wanted to say I know how it feels being in a new place and getting nowhere fast with meeting people).

I'd echo others' suggestions about using sites like to find like-minded people. I'm also doing my PhD on a mostly 'distance' basis as I'm a 4-5 hour round trip away from my uni, and I have found it important to have non-uni people around to socialise with. This was something that hit me early on in my PhD, the need for people I can go out with and not talk about PhDs all night, to help keep the whole thing in perspective.

It is hard when you find yourself feeling upset every day. I would say before even asking questions of yourself like 'why am I doing a PhD?' it might help first to do more basic things to help you feel less distressed - do some of the stuff you enjoy doing and look after yourself a bit.