De-stress your PhD

By Anna Page

10 tips for kicking stress to the curb

Stress is inevitable in life, particularly if you’re a PhD student. But if you put up with it and ignore it, it can cause bigger problems down the line. Here are 10 tips you probably already know for dealing with stress, but which bear repeating:

  1. Listen to your body

It might be inconvenient, but pay attention to what your body is telling you and make your physical health a priority. If you’re getting a headache at your desk, go take a walk or sit outside (without staring at your phone!) If you’re ill give yourself the time and space to get better. If you push yourself too far, it’ll ultimately take longer for you to return to full health

  1. Remember everyone is different

What might be working brilliantly for someone else might not work for you. Maybe a 9-5 works for your friend, but you do your best work in the morning or in the evening. Comparing yourself to others will only stress you out more.

  1. Talk about your worries

We’re all in this together, and your fellow PhD students are here to support you! Whether they’re offering commiseration or practical advice, just knowing someone else is going through the same stuff and your experience is normal can be a huge help. Speaking your fears out loud will force you to confront what you are actually worried about, and often makes them seem a lot less big and scary.

  1. Break down tasks into manageable chunks

If your to-do list consists of ‘1. Complete PhD’ you might need to break it down into smaller steps. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to start a huge task and having no idea where to start. If you’re struggling to break it down, describing the problem to someone or writing it down can force you to organise your thoughts and make the task ahead of you clearer. But once you’ve broken the task down, don’t just try and do all the little jobs at once! Working methodically through small tasks one-by-one will keep you from getting overwhelmed.

  1. Keep active

If you have a sport or hobby that you already enjoy, don’t let your work get in the way of continuing with it. And if you haven’t found the activity that’s right for you the university is a great resource for trying out new things – there are loads of societies offering different sports from Archery to Zumba. Even something as simple as going for a walk around the common or visiting the New Forest will refresh and energise you. If you really hate exercise, I can totally sympathise, so if your idea of an active day is sitting in the sun and reading a book, or playing with your pet then go for it!

  1. Get a good night’s sleep

Hate to say it but your mum was right! Try not to work or watch TV in bed (or even in your bedroom at all, although I know this can be hard if you live in a shared house) and give yourself time to relax away from any computer or TV screens for an hour or so before you go to sleep.

  1. But also don’t worry if you don’t!

If you sleep badly, or just have a bad day, that’s fine! Worrying about it won’t make you feel more awake, or make you work harder. Some days will be more productive than others, so put any bad days behind you and concentrate on the good days.

  1. Take time off

You’re not a robot and you’re allowed to take a holiday. Whether you go abroad, stay with friends or family, or just stay at home and eat pringles, you’ll be able to relax and put your work into perspective. Don’t worry, B85 will survive while you’re gone (probably).

  1. Celebrate your achievements

It can feel like there’s always more you could be doing and that you’re not getting anywhere with your work. Take a minute to stop and look back on what you’ve done. You’re making progress and building new skills all the time, and if no one else is celebrating it then make sure you do.

  1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

The one thing you can be sure of in research is that things will go wrong – what’s important is how you deal with things that don’t go right the first time. Whatever you’re doing, from lab work to programming to writing, your first attempt doesn’t have to be perfect. Heck, it doesn’t have to be any good at all. Having something terrible to improve on is a lot easier than trying to reach perfection from scratch.

(Bonus 11. Be kind to yourself!

Trust me, you’re doing great!)

And if you’re still feeling stressed, why not go and stand near one of the undergraduate exam halls and just feel smug that you don’t have to take exams any more. Suckers! 

If stress or other problems are becoming unmanageable and you would like advice or someone to talk to, the University of Southampton Enabling Service ( offers drop in sessions between 1pm and 3pm Monday to Friday during term time, and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the holidays. They also have a crisis support team you can contact by calling 023 8059 7488 or emailing

Your GP, either at home or in Southampton, can offer help and advice about mental health. Additionally the NHS service steps2wellbeing ( is available for people registered with a GP in Southampton, offering free and confidential advice and treatment.

This blog solely represents the views of the author and does not reflect the views or opinions of BSPS. Blog content and comments will be moderated and any offensive comments removed. 

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