Dealing with generalised anxiety disorder/depression at the start of PhD

10-Sep-19, 01:44
Avatar for RootinTootin
posted about 10 months ago

At the end of June I moved to the other side of the world to start my PhD. I found the move a lot harder than I thought it would be (I have lived abroad multiple times before), and missed my family and sorting out accomodation was a nightmare. I also started my PhD while I hadn't really settled- I was going in and having to do enrolment/ethics etc and then sleeping on people's couches for the first few weeks.
All of this got to me and I was feeling incredibly anxious and got into a really bad rut. I took advantage of the university counselling service (which I am still using) and am now on anti-depressants after the doctor diagnosed me with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression. I should point out I have had mental health issues beforehand but nowhere near to this extent.

I am definitely better than I was, and a good friend of mine also recently moved here so that has helped a lot. However I am now questioning my whole decision to move here and start the course. It's got me into such a bad place already, and although my peers and a lot of people I've spoken to have said it's normal to feel overwhelmed/lost etc. at the start of the PhD (I'm still only 2/3 months in), I just can't believe how bad I feel. I'm struggling to sleep because the anxiety is so bad and it's far from ideal being on medication!
The thing is, I'm not sure whether it's because I'm in a bad headspace that I'm doubting my decision, or whether it's the PhD that is just causing me all this stress. To add to the mix, if I did drop out I would have to leave the country, which means leaving my friend who moved here (mostly to live with me), and also my girlfriend.

Just wondering if anyone has any advice or similar stories that may help?
10-Sep-19, 17:17
edited about 22 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 10 months ago
I'm so sorry to hear what you are going through.

It is completely understandable that you would feel stressed after moving, especially having moved abroad... and starting a PhD on top of that plus all of life's other issues. I think all the stress you are experiencing is to be expected.

My only advice would be not to make any hasty decisions while not feeling so great. I totally agree with what you say about headspace and needing to be in a better one to know better how you really feel about the PhD versus the bad headspace. Oh and I suppose you've already thought of this, but do you have some strategies for dealing with certain things? Can be as simple as watching a movie to distract yourself when times are tough.

I hope others have some good thoughts to share with you.

11-Sep-19, 03:18
Avatar for RootinTootin
posted about 10 months ago

Cheers for the reply!

Yeah I completely agree. I was close to packing it all in and flying home a few weeks ago when I was at my lowest, and now I look at that and think it would have been a mistake, so I should definitely wait longer and see.
I guess the problem is getting myself into a good enough headspace where I can think clearly and make a balanced decision because it currently feels like a daily battle to do anything!
It's crazy, I had never experienced mental health issues before (not properly at least) and I just didnt think it would happen to me and be this all-consuming!

I have some strategies- I love football and whenever I play I find it helps. Also running. Watching movies and stuff can distract me but often I find I'm still ticking over in my head worrying about stuff.
Would you have any recommendations?

I also think that I'm weirdly causing a lot of the stress myself- I have got myself into such a negative head space regarding the course that I'm resigned to having to quit, and quitting brings with it a lot of stress in terms of leaving the country and my girlfriend etc. But if I can get out of the rut and try to enjoy the phd (or at least give it a chance!) then I woudnt have all these other stresses!

Again, thanks for the reply! :)
11-Sep-19, 19:44
edited about 13 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 10 months ago
You're welcome and I hope it was a tiny but helpful. It sounds like you know what is going on (i.e,, that you are experiencing some mental ill health and that this is a temporary thing) and I think that this is the most important thing there is. You know what it is and that you are going to come out of it. I don't want to sound like I am undermining how crap you are feeling, so I hope this doesn't... but sometimes I have found it helpful to scrawl on big letters on my whiteboard, "it'll pass" - just to remind me that the low mood or whatever else I am experiencing is not a permanent thing - it will get better - and so it kind of stops that downward spiral of thoughts and behaviours. Maybe something like this could help you too.

I know what you mean about it still ticking over in your mind. All I can suggest is keeping up the strategies. Maybe writing in a journal now and then to get the stuff out of your head and on to the page? And then perhaps reframing the situation as well - document any achievements - no matter how small and insignificant it may seem to others? Just some ideas!

I know what you mean about ruts... sometimes again I think it's just a matter of waiting for that difficult time to pass, and then suddenly you realise, oh I'm not in that rut anymore! PhDs have a way of being sort of one rut after another though... so know that you are not alone in this! And, it will get better for sure.

In terms of the actual PhD work - how is it going? Are you in the literature reviewing stage? That can feel so overwhelming at the start. Will you have to do a summary / report thing at the end of the first year? That can be helpful in helping frame your ideas and making you feel less lost and like you do have some kind of plan!

Good luck!
21-Sep-19, 03:49
Avatar for RootinTootin
posted about 10 months ago

Sorry for the slow reply but thank you again so much for the reply! I've read it numerous times over the past couple weeks and it's helped a bunch!

The first paragraph didnt come across as undermining at all! It's very difficult to remember in the darker moments but all of this has happened in such a short space of time- It's only been about 3 and a half months! In which time I have gone as low as I ever have... But that means that it can also pass and be back to normal within another 3 months!

The ticking over thing is very annoying. Sometimes I wake up and am stressed about a tiny detail in a potential experiment and then that's the tone set for the day!

In terms of the actual phd I have kind of been thrown in at the deep end a bit, or at least that's what a lot of people have been telling me! I had to do an ethics application as the first thing I did (I actually had to do that before I had even officially enrolled...), and now I am planning experiments, and the only reason they haven't started yet is because there was a delay in a chemical I need being delivered.
But the battle with anxiety and depression has also been exhausting so it's been a bit all over the place so far in terms of going in and working. Unfortunately when I do go in I am feeling overwhelmed and lost still and this causes more anxiety! Bit of a vicious cycle!

Thanks again for the reply :)


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