Post-viva panic attacks, I don't understand what's going on :(


Hello all!

This must sound completely ridiculous, but even 3 weeks after my viva and with corrections accepted, I still feel pretty rubbish. I was so stressed for the two months before submission and viva (you all know the story- deadline brought forward blah blah) but I assumed once it was over I'd feel great. Of course, I'm pleased and relieved etc, but I still feel so anxious, am being sick all the time, and just feel so out of sorts.

Today I've just had a massive panic attack in front of my other half, and I feel stupid. It happened a lot in the build up to submission/viva, but never in front of anyone, just when I was on my own. They just seem to happen out of nowhere and leave me shaking, hyperventilating and crying for no obvious reason at all. I'm moving away to start the new job in a few weeks, which I'm looking forward to (and am incredibly grateful that I have a job to go to), but this does mean I'll have no access to the medical support I've had set up for me over the years where I currently live. Obviously, I can set new support up, but it will take months. I'm scared I'll get there and fall to pieces in the new job.

I really don't mean to sound ungrateful that I've finished and got a job to go to, or appear insensitive, when I know loads of others on here are working towards that, and have far greater difficulties to deal with than this. Logically, I'm delighted. But emotionally, I'm just not feeling it at all. I feel awful, and I also feel awful that I feel awful (if you see what I mean) when I know I should be on top of the world. Any words of support/advice would be great.

Thanks. KB


======= Date Modified 02 Sep 2011 01:59:22 =======
KB, basically, your body was under intense but focused pressure for a period of time (needed to get you through that period) and now you have a down period (not necessarily talking down in terms of mood) because your body has shifted to a completely different gear. This is your bodies way of reacting. Even if you are excited about your new post, it's a change and all change involves stress which takes its toll. Just take good care of yourself.


You're probably the only forum member to have submitted, been viva-d, successful acquired a new job and submitted corrections all in less than a fortnight. I am in awe of what you achieved. These things do take their toll though, so I'm not surprised there have been some knock on effects.

So please be gentle with yourself and give yourself some breathing space. Would it help you to try to set up support systems at your new location in advance of getting there? Can your GP or any other people you've had support from help you source new support in the new place? Now your other half has witnessed your panic attack maybe he will be wanting to do what he can to help you avoid a future one - do talk to him and be honest rather than dismissing your stress as stupid. I'm sure he'll want to help you sort things out.

You've done some amazing things lately but they haven't been easy. You need to give yourself a chance to recover.


======= Date Modified 07 Feb 2012 11:22:24 =======
============= Edited by a Moderator =============


Hi KB,

Firstly, a compliment regarding your achievements.

Secondly, sorry to hear that you are not feeling well. It is strange isn't it, that you feel worse now then when you were still working hard for your PhD. On the other hand I think is a relatively well known phenomenon, for example in patients with migraines, some of them get migraines when they are actually relax. Or top athletes often feel low after winning gold medals etc. Perhaps it has got something to do with the quest to reach a target (PhD, gold metal, Everest etc.), the challenge of achieving that, and the very sudden change in life circumstances once the goal has been achieved.

Do you think the above may apply to you?


I think that your reaction is perfectly normal. You have been going through a very stressful period, completing your PhD in record time, and getting a new job as well. This is all very exciting, but now that your adrenaline is not as high as it used to be your body needs to rest.

Also, the new job is great, but obviously it is a completely new situation you need to adjust to. New house, new friends, new colleagues etc. It is quite understanding that while this is exciting, it might also concern you.

These are all major changes in your life that take time to process and adapt to. So, be kind to yourself. Try to establish a support network as soon as possible, as the others suggested, and don't be ashamed to discuss your fears with your boyfriend/ family/ friends. They are not going to love you any less because you show that you need their help.

You have a new wonderful project ahead of you, but like for the elephant-PhD, it needs to be eaten in small chunks!

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

======= Date Modified 02 Sep 2011 09:08:49 =======
Phew, end of PhD couples with major changes is alot to take in. Can you delay the start date for the job for a couple of weeks to give yourself at least a little time to take stock?

There's an unofficial rule of thumb about a quiet couple of years being needed to fully go back to normal and I guess that was true for me. I came across one person who didn't take this breather and all I can say is to me at least she can across a bit screwed up (locked in permanent hyper mode as she'd never come down from PhD work rate). I started to drop rapidly out of hyper (mixed with a strange elation) about 10 days after final hardbound submission after minor corrections. Suddenly, there was this 'what now?' feeling where I had to start making decisions again about life in general. It took a couple of good holidays to really get the healing process underway. A bad second post-doc period (mentioned elsewhere) didn't help.

You need a good holiday at the very least. Rest is all important at this stage and PhDs can really screw up people's wiring with the high stress levels. You're not allowing yourself the pause your body needs.


I'm sorry things aren't going very well for you right now. I agree with others when they say that you've had a stressful couple of months so this could be your body not being used to not being stressed. Also, from what you're saying, there'll be quite a few changes coming up soon and with that, normally comes stress too. Apparently, moving homes and starting new jobs are some of the most stressful things (amongst others!!) and you're doing both at the same time. Could it be that you're still feeling anxious because of the moving and its consequences (e.g. having to set up a new support system, 'losing' the current one, etc) rather than the viva?

I'm not sure what you've got set up at the moment but I was wondering if you could start setting up the support at the new place now, so you could have a transation period? This way, you'd still have your current support system whilst getting to know the new people as well and hopefully this would make things easier?

Also, I'm wondering what you've been doing with your days now that you've submitted (apologies if you've mentioned this elsewhere as I don't get to read all the threads and my memory is like a sieve!). But I wonder if it'd be helpful for you to include more things that you 'want' to do rather than concentrate on the things you 'have' to do in your day to day. These don't have to be massive things, it could just be go for a walk or watch a certain film or cook a certain recipe. The important thing is that you 'give yourself permission' to do these.

I hope this doesn't sound patronising as it's not meant to be. I've been off work in the past with anxiety a few times and this was the sort of thing that I learned that helped me to get through. It's been a few years since I had any problems so I'm tempted to believe I'm ok now...

And very importantly too, take good care of yourself! You deserve it!!!


======= Date Modified 02 Sep 2011 14:05:20 =======
Thanks everyone for some really good advice. I suppose I haven't really given myself much of a break. My trip away right after my viva had to be cancelled because my other half was ill, and I was gutted. That break was what was keeping me going in the run up to my viva. We got as far as boarding the plane and then had to disembark because he really wasn't well enough to fly.

Since all that I've been preparing to move away for the new job. The house-hunt has been stressful, and of course I'm nervous about starting somwhere new and leaving all of my friends behind. It is difficult for me to get support at the moment. I am no longer eligible for student services, where I had been seeing a counsellor (who has just retired anyway) and a mental health advisor. Because my new address is not yet confirmed (application still processing), I can't set up any support yet in the new location.

The other issue that is stopping me asking my GP/consultant for help is that I will have to undergo an occupational health check to re-new my NHS research passport and research contract for my new job. It took me 6 visits to get through occupational health for my PhD because of my history of bipolar (they treat anyone with a history of mental health problems like a serial killer), and if there's any sign of current difficulties on my health records I may not get clearance for the new job. It's a risk I can't afford to take. I can't delay beginning the post either- my start date has been arranged so that I will overlap with the girl whose job I will be taking over for a few weeks, so that I get to grips with the role and am ready to take over when she leaves.

I think you're right though that the move is causing me stress, and that I need to try to take some time out before the new job. My body just hasn't unwound yet and I suspect that it might only do so when I am moved and settled in the new location. My boyf is moving with me, so I won't be on my own, and he is very patient and understanding as well. It is strange having it all done, but I am trying to keep myself very busy, as you suggest Skig. I go to the gym every day, have been catching up with people and generally doing things that I haven't had time to do for a few months. Being busy does help a lot- I know that from my own experiences!

Phdbug- sorry to hear you're feeling rotten as well. I wish you the very best of luck with your viva, and even though in my case I don't feel great, there is still a strong sense of relief when it is all over. Will be keeping an eye out on the big day to hear how you've done!

Best, KB


I know I'm not the only one who is thinking what I'm thinking.


======= Date Modified 04 Sep 2011 16:38:03 =======

Quote From LarryDavid:

I know I'm not the only one who is thinking what I'm thinking.

Haha, I know I'm not the only one who is thinking what I'm thinking too.

Thanks everyone- finally got my new address sorted so I can start making firmer plans now. Just had a fab weekend looking after my two little nephews, which is certainly one excellent way to distract yourself from stressful events! Also just had another paper accepted which has cheered me up a little! Looking forward to the move now and starting the new job, can't wait to get there and get settled and then hopefully the anxiety will shift :)

Hope everyone else had a cool weekend too!
Best, KB


wow keenbean, you must have been stressed if looking after kids calmed you down! Like sitting in a kiln to cool off! :P

Hope you're alright mate. I would tend to suffer from IBS (not panic attacks as much) but the mental 'worrying it'll happen so it happens' thing is common to both conditions. I literally try to think about football as it is my happy place. it really helps me unwind my brain when im stressing. maybe having an outlet like that might help. hope youre good tho, bud!


Hey Twanky, thanks :) I'm not sure the kids de-stressed me, but they certainly take my mind off my own issues and put things into perspective a bit. And they're so funny, like a little comedy double-act! I do try to keep busy to keep me distracted, and do loads of exercise as that really helps, but I'm still feeling pretty awful. It's probably gonna be back to the docs for me this week, which is a shame as I've been doing really well, but that's life....this will come and go, like everything else! Meanwhile I've got plenty to keep me occupied with moving location, hopefully I'll be feeling better by the time I start the post-doc - I'm really looking forward to it and would love to carve out a future there so want to make sure I'm well enough to give it 100%. Thanks for your support :) KB


I think that feeling crap after its all over is usual and common. That is for lots of different reasons, as many of the posters have pointed out.... I myself used to joke that I had PTSD after the whole process, but underneath the joke was the realisation that there was a lot of post PhD stress. I could not go near the hard bound copy of the thesis for months, without feeling anxious and sweaty and sick. So I buried it out of view on a shelf and to this day, almost two years on, I can barely stand to go near it. Certainly I do not use it for anything, and my research interests have moved well past what was in the thesis, albeit related.

On another level, finishing the PhD is a sort of loss. I think there is a period of grieving and mourning when it is done, because you are saying goodbye to a major and intense period of life and the work you put into something. People do not expect to grieve the ending of the PhD, they expect to celebrate it, but with the joy comes a feeling of loss.

Change in itself is stressful, so simply moving on to a new phase of life brings its own stressors.

Given the overwhelming and contradictory emotions of elation, post PhD stress, and grief that finishing the PhD brings, I think its no wonder people are emotionally all over the place when it ends. Worse is that no one talks about this, and so people are not aware of just how common a reaction this is.