Final stages of writing & personal life stress



I was quite active on this forum for sometime but this is my first appearance in over 5 months.

To sum up, I'm just wondering if it's normal to feel like you're going crazy as you try to full your thesis together in the final stages. I have 75,000 words of OK quality writing drafted and another 20,000 ish to go plus I need to tidy up the other chapters before I submit (hopefully in Feb).

On the personal side of things, my brother passed away suddenly this summer and though I took 8 weeks out, the bereavement and everything that came with it (supporting my family, relationship stress, weight gain) has taken it's toll.

I'm making progress with the thesis and have good days and bad days but sometimes I doubt myself and wonder if the low mood and agitation are normal at this stage of the PhD or if it's a sign I should take a long break (or have even contemplated giving it up). I love my research (though starting to get bored of my topic now) and really want to finish, it does sometimes feel like such an uphill struggle though and I don't know if that it due to my personal stresses or just part and parcel of the PhD.

Guess I'm after some reassurance or advice really as I'm feeling quite isolated lately.

Thanks for reading.

GM x


If I had to guess I would say its both. What I see from phDs around me is loss of motivation during the final year which gets even worse when it comes to the final months of writing the thesis. Some get really cranky, others are hiding (and speak only the absolute minimum of words per day), the next one explodes on regular basis... different ways to cope with stress, I guess.

Your stress level is probably even worse since you lost a relative and had turbulences in your private life. So please hang in there, you are nearly at the end and giving up at this point is something you will probably regret later on. You could talk with your supervisor and ask about an extension if you think that you can't finish in time - or if you feel that external help is needed visit perhaps a counselor at your university.

Avatar for Pjlu

hi there, I think Rina's comments are spot on. So sorry to read of your recent loss-grief is something hard to quantify or regulate in terms of the profound impact on one's life and, in my observations (I'm not a counsellor or therapist though) it is unique and individual for everyone-even if there are common patterns to it.

With regard to the PhD and end of thesis though, it seems to drive most of those I know a bit batty. I am on the end of mine and my stress levels are really spiking. I didn't think they would be this bad because I have taken several weeks leave from my day job to finish an entire draft, so other than the draft, i don't have as many stressors as usual. Doesn't seem to matter-this process is just something that takes your brain somewhere else. As well as spiking stress, I've noticed a huge increase in the amount of general anxiety over very little accompanied by negative thought patterns.

Given you are in a similar sort of point, a deadline that is set a few months earlier than mine, and you are adjusting to the loss of your brother and the enormous accumulated impact of this on your life, no wonder you are feeling less motivated. Best wishes for a good finish-please don't give up, you can always take a little longer though if you need but don't give up.

. PS: I find that I ignore my lack of motivation and just set manageable daily targets and bang them out even as I hate every minute of it. It might work for you, and the other thing is, sometimes maybe you need to give yourself permission to feel sad about the loss of your brother and accept it is harder to work as productively at those times.


hi GM,
I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I lost my mother suddenly towards the end of my phd (when I was still funded!). Then funding ended and I was practically struggling with everything.

When I was depressed - at my lowest points, I would take long walks, I wished the electric cables above would snap and just zap me off into oblivion, and I wished I could just die, but as usual, nothing happened, I had to walk home again and again, and go back to work on my thesis!

I can understand what you are going through, it is not easy but I promise you, it will get better over time, you will feel less isolated, and you will be all right.

When you have good days, do as much as you can on your thesis.

When you have a bad day, give yourself a break and kind of let the bad day just go by, sometimes there is not much we can do to stop the grief, sadness or even the phd stress, at that time it would be nice for us to be kind to ourselves and take a time-out from the phd.

Sending you a big hug
love satchi


I'm very sorry to hear about your brother. It sounds like you might be dealing with some very difficult emotions just now, and things that are hard to process.
From having read others' accounts of finishing their PhDs (I'm still some distance away myself), I think it does very often create feelings of self-doubt. I guess you have been working very closely with this thing for years and now you are nearly finished and that would be enough to give anybody a wobble. It's great to hear you are still making progress - you are so far through the process that you can absolutely do this - but be kind to yourself as well and have breaks when you need to.

Avatar for Eska

Hey! I'm at the final stages too, handing in in six weeks.

It is a rollercoaster. I've been through wanting to get out of academia and all the way back to being determined to carry on my research. Rest has been crucial. I felt utterly exhausted last week, on the verge of depression, which is not like me. I took two and a half days off over the weekend and Tuesday. Only on the third did I feel my old self again and realised what all this meant to me. Grief, as I remember is just as exhausting... So maybe rest would help? Although you know best.

I'm working full time in an entirely different sector, and that could be another far cushier but nowhere near as exciting career option for me. Hence I've felt conflicted and worn out.

I read an article that made alot of sense to me. We have achieved brilliantly to get this far. Our technique in getting to this point obviously works. Resting when needed and working when my batteries are full is what I will continue to do.

Thanks for posting it's good to hear from a fellow finisher :)

Avatar for Eska

Another thing. Reminder to myself: don't read/watch or listen to the news.. It's too exhausting.


I think it's really difficult to say what's 'normal'; writing up can be an isolating and stressful experience, and I guess most students go through some anxiety and fear of not getting it done, not having done enough etc.

But everyone's circumstances are different, and it sounds like you've had more to cope with than most over the last few months. I would suggest that you don't hesitate to ask for help (e.g. counselling) if you feel it might be helpful, or for an extension or mitigating circumstances to be considered if you feel your work is being affected.

This is just my advice from personal experience -- I have a bad habit of trying to just struggle on by myself despite personal problems and not tell anyone or ask for help, and looking back I wish I'd done differently during my PhD.


Thank you all so much for the encouragement :) I've definitely made some changes to my daily working routine since I posted this. I'm letting myself take a break when I get preoccupied by personal stresses and the loss of my brother. I also play the guitar but haven't made much time for it over the last couple of years, I've tried to change that and use that as a time to play something for my brother. Just a little thing like that has helped my focus because I'll be working at my computer, get overwhelmed with grief but I remind myself that I have some time aside for that later.

I did also see a counsellor weekly for a while and that helped.

Thanks for the kind words of support :)


Quote From GrumpyMule:
I did also see a counsellor weekly for a while and that helped.

It sounds like you're making really positive steps. I'm so sorry to hear about your brother - grief is a (very) long and complicated process. My mum died a few years ago. Don't hesitate to go back to have some grief counselling if you feel like you need it. Things can continue to crop up over a very long period of time.

It does get easier and we do learn how to deal with it better. But it's ok to find things difficult, and it takes a strong person to recognise when they need help and ask for it.

*hugs* x

Avatar for doctorjohn

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. One of the best pieces of advice I was given when I started my PhD was that it is never going to be perfect. It will never be the work that defines you. See it as a larger essay rather than your magnum opus. A lot of PhD students that I see get caught up in striving for perfection, which can cause a lot of heartache.

I hope this helps in some way.