Mental health issues are not something to take lightly. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders affect over 40 million American adults. In addition, it is common for someone with an anxiety disorder to suffer from depression or vice versa.
Anxiety is a normal biological response that helps us get out of danger and prepare for important events. It is Mother Nature’s way of telling us we need to take action. However, problems arise when we experience anxiety that is persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, and overwhelming. If it’s an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it can be disabling. When anxiety interferes with daily activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Most people feel depressed at times. Losing a loved one, getting fired from a job, and other difficult situations can lead to a person feeling sad and lonely. These feelings are a normal reaction to life’s stressors. Some people experience these feeling daily, or nearly daily, for no apparent reason, making it difficult to carry on with normal, everyday functioning. Depression is a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or disinterested in life in general. When these feelings start interfering with daily activities such as taking care of family, spending time with friends, or going to work or school, it is likely a major depressive episode.
Both of these conditions are treatable illnesses that only roughly one-third of those suffering seek help. If you have mild cases of anxiety or depression, the following tips may help. The Anxiety and Depression Association of American has some great resources for finding help if you need it.
If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, please seek professional help immediately.
Here are some tips to stay positive and move forward.
Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by your feelings. Depression and anxiety are NOT weaknesses. Very often they are treatable medical conditions. Talk about what you are going through with supportive people.
Foster supportive relationships. At the very least, spend time with one or two other people. Have lunch with a friend, email your sister, Skype with your parents. Make time to have dinner with your significant other each night.
Challenge negative thinking and your own limiting beliefs. Performing experiments can be very self-depreciating. How many times has your experiment failed before it finally worked? In STEM fields, our work is constantly be scrutinized by other scientists, our manuscripts are rejected from journals, and there always seems that answers to our questions just bring more questions. Remember to not be too hard on yourself. Do not measure your value based on the results you do (or don’t) achieve in the lab or the number of papers you publish.
Take care of yourself. As a grad student, work often requires long hours in the lab, sleep deprivation and little to no time for eating and exercise. Remember to do one thing for yourself each day. Whether its that yoga class in the afternoon at the student recreational center, going for a run in the morning, cooking dinner, or joining a sports team, taking a little time for yourself each day will go a long ways.
Celebrate successes, no matter how small. Keep a gratitude journal and write down at least one thing you are thankful for each day. Corny, but it works. Keeping the journal makes you more creative and helps you sleep better. Here are some iOS and Android apps to start and keep a gratitude journal on your tablet or phone. Also, keep finding small wins to show off to yourself and other people. Hang that western blot you finally succeeded in performing by your desk. Go out for dinner and drinks with your lab mates when you had a breakthrough.
Try new things, take the unbeaten path. Just because everyone else is going to do a postdoc doesn’t mean you have to as well. Create your own path. Don’t worry about what other people may think about your decisions.
Seek Professional Help. Most universities have student counseling services available for their students. The counselor you will see can help you decided if you need long-term guidance or just short-term help to get through a rough patch. They can provide you with coping mechanisms as well as a place for you to talk about your concerns without being judged.
Two final things to remember:
Follow Dory’s advice:
And Muhammad Ali’s:
Have you dealt with anxiety and/or depression while in grad school (or other stressful situation)? What advice would you give someone going through the same thing? Please leave your comments below!