My first panic attack


Hello all. This is my first time posting as well as my first day here and I am quite happy to have found this place. I am a first year phd student in Experimental Psychology and have been having an alright time doing so. I've loved the office. Loved the research. Though massive case of impostor syndrome. I've been doing the old "fake it til you make it" ever since August.

But the past few months have been rather poor. First, I wasn't producing as much work as I should have been producing. So I fixed that and my supervisor was happy with me. Then I started doing poorly in my classes because I was spending so much time on my research. So now for the second time in as many months, my supervisor is not happy with me. I can't find the right kind of balance between research and classes.

Then about 3 days ago, I accidentally sent a friendly email about the online flash drive "dropbox" to all of my work/school contacts instead of my friends. So i received a flash flood of emails from my supervisors, professors, other work associates about it. While a simple misunderstanding, it was the straw that broke the camel's back and I spent the next 36 hours on the verge of tears. And I haven't cried since I was 12 (and that was when I was nearly physically beaten by my sister (17 at the time) and my mother came home in the nick of time). My girlfriend recommended I find a support group of sorts online and here I am.

I love my supervisor. I love this department. I love the educators. I feel very fortunate in many ways. But I feel like I can't find a balance. My girlfriend has been incredibly supportive of these 70 hour weeks and I don't know what I'd do if she wasn't. But I don't know if I can keep going. I love the work, but I feel as if I can't keep up, like the "Red Queen Race" where it takes all the running you can do just to stay in the same place. But everyone else seems to be moving forward and I'm stuck at the same point. Even when I fix one problem, another problem surfaces. Does anyone ever have everything under control. Or is the panic always under the surface, ready to strike when X+1 problem happens.

Thanks for whoever created this forum. Reading all the previous posts has been very uplifting, knowing that I'm not the only one who feels like their breaking point is only 5 minutes away at any given moment.


It will always be there unfortunately i.e. the next problem to surface! But there are ways about it, like even the simple thing of writing down a list and allocating time to specific tasks ... you may not follow it religiously but will clear the mind. The other thing is to remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing (your motivation for this work).
I would suggest meeting with your supervisor and clear the air and let them know it was a mistake and tell him/her of your difficulties - they will listen and might suggest means to alleviate the worry.
Most importantly though, make sure you discuss your feelings with the people dearest to you. At the end of the day, they are the ones that will provide support and you need to make them aware of the sometimes contradictory nature of research.


Oh Zoraxe, I was totally the red queen in my first year too! And my second, and my third ;)

It does get easier I promise. You are lucky to have supervisors on your back, I had that too in my 1st year but was left at large the next two years and suddenly had to self-motivate, but it's important to do so. I admire you coping with teaching and doing your research at the same time, they're both very time consuming!

Avatar for Caterpillar27

Hi, I'm also in my first year, new to the forum and feel the same! I have three children and work at the weekends, so constantly feel I am behind or peddling hard just to keep in the game! My supervisors seem happy with my progress at the moment, so I guess it is mostly imposter syndrome. But its hard to feel reassured as everyone in the department seems to be working at such a pace and I'm just plodding along, finalising my research questions after 5 months of study!!!! 

I just try to keep at it and hope I can prove myself as worthy - I'm learning loads along the way though :-)

Good luck - I try to prioritise the essential tasks and get on with those first.


Hey Zoraxe what you're experiencing is normal - I felt like that for most of my time especially re the Red Queen Race! When one problem gets solved another one crops up and some just end up dragging on (well you understand the source of the problem but doesn't really get fixed so you have to live with it!) I always felt like I was behind as I had a very intensive work load and nothing ever goes to plan so allow yourself lots of time for things to slide/go wrong (sod's law) especially with lab work! There are few people that ever have everything under control although some are better than others at hiding it. Panic becomes your friend which is strangely odd but I think it contributes to the stress of doing a PhD!!! That is always below the surface which contributes to people's mnegative experiences which you probably have read on this forum and elsewhere! That's the nature of doing it - always on the edge!

You are also very lucky to be in a supportive department with a good supervisor which is essential as I'm sure you've also read here! Also great that your girlfriend understands that your PhD takes over your life and you will probably spend almost every waking moment thinking about it! Hang in there and you'll be ok! Most people feel like their breaking point is only 5 mins away and it gets worse in 2nd and 3rd year as I've just read a post that someone suggested the 2nd yr blues which I remember occurred around the 16 month stage and another one at the 28th month I think. I don't remember the 28th month one - just that I was strangely calm at that point despite still have loads of work, problems with data and needed some more (don't ask...) So you have to steel yourself and just work yourself through it! It's like an endurance test and think of the prize at the end!

It's a rollercoaster as you gets good days when everything works out and you have eureka moment(s) and bad days when you just wish you hadn't got out of bed! It's a very emotional process and you become very attached (too attached some would say) to your work the so ups and downs of it affect you more!

But remember you do need to take time off occasionally, enjoy yourself and switch off as much as possible otherwise you will go mad! Hope this helps and good luck with everything. Try to take it in your stride, take a step back and see the humour in some things!

Tough luck about the "dropbox" - just think of all that potential space you could have got!!! ;-)