Feeling v incompetent and discouraged

27-Aug-18, 10:20
edited a moment later
by koka
Avatar for koka
posted about 10 months ago
Hi everyone,

I've just discovered this forum and hope to find some support/ideas from other PhD students who have either experienced what I am experiencing or have any idea how I can solve the issues I'm facing.

I started my PhD in philosophy in autumn 2016. I took great pleasure in working on it until about April this year, when I started writing up. Since then, things have not gone according to plan. As an undergrad and postgrad (until April), I worked a lot and usually finished my work before the deadlines. Since the beginning of August though, I have now been stuck in a very negative spiral. I started finding it difficult to write, but now I cannot even concentrate on articles or books, let alone analyse their contents. I am struggling with feelings of incompetence and feel extremely isolated as I work from home on a subject that is not easy to share (as most PhDs I am sure). I have been experiencing constant negative thinking: I cannot do this, I do not understand x, y z, I do not care, how will I ever get this done, I am dumb/stupid (how did I not realise this before?), I am no longer passionate (but was I ever?), what is the use of my PhD, other people understand my sources better (they should be working on them), I should do something else (but I am incapable of doing anything else). As I spend my days alone, there is nothing to stop this negative thinking. The stress is affecting my work (I cannot get myself to even skim through my sources at the moment), my memory (I cannot recall certain words and am distracted when I am with friends and family) and my social life, as I am isolating/excluding myself from social activities, convinced that the incompetence I feel regarding my PhD is actually general incompetence "in life".

I am desperate to get out of this but I do not know how to. Should I stop my PhD? Start teaching aside or do smthg else some days, with the risk of not meeting the deadlines? Should I take sick leave, but to do what?

Thanks so much for reading, any ideas are more than welcome.

29-Aug-18, 14:56
edited about 16 seconds later
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 10 months ago
Take a holiday and get a hobby!

It sounds like you have burnout. Take some time for yourself and regain composure. Literally do anything but your PhD for even a weekend and you fell a lot better and motivated. Too much of one things kills the enjoyment and it sounds like you are more than capable to do the finish.
10-Sep-18, 08:03
edited about 2 minutes later
by melodie
Avatar for melodie
posted about 9 months ago
Hi Koka,

Your description could so easily have described me at many point over my PhD! I won't give too much advice as I'm not sure I've found the answer yet, but I definitely find it helps if I lessen the pressure on myself. After all you made a choice to do this project, so it hay help to remember that it's not all obligation and responsibility and deadlines, but pursuing a topic with the freedom to work on what you're interested in. Try to remember that while also have a break and doing other things a few times a week, and it should make the PhD feel a bit less all-consuming, I hope!

I also don't want to belittle the severity of the feelings, as it can also be an indication of a wider and deeper problem with negative thoughts and depression, and if you feel it is that severe I would definitely suggest going to the doctor and telling them about your symptoms. Just being able to physically talk to someone about it can help, but they can also suggest therapies or medications if they feel it is necessary.


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