What to do when I feel stressed out and unhappy

Submitted by chaky on Thu, 10/21/2021 - 20:30


Being a Ph.D. student is not easy, especially when your lab or supervisor has high expectation of you (especially in top-tier universities).  Ph.D. life can also feel very isolated and sometimes stressful.  I heard that in many places, a Ph.D. student can only meet their professor one or two times a year, and the rest they have to figure out how to do their research, yes, it is that tough. I have experienced it myself.  There are several things from minimizing stress level such as maintaining a good work/life balance (easier said than done!), do not overcommit on too many projects, and regularly doing exercise and eating healthy foods.

But once you got a lot of stress, there are several things I found useful:

  • Think something positive about yourself (positive self-talk) - Sometimes, we are just too harsh on ourselves that we forgot "good" things about ourselves.  We constantly think about how bad we are, how foolish we are on that day of presentation, how stupid we are on not getting paper being published.  Stop thinking about achievements, productivity, and fame.  All those do not really matter if you are not happy.  Be more selfish.  Perfection is a myth.   Start thinking about positive things about yourself.  Start recalling the moment when someone really loves you.    Start recalling the time when you are having fun.  Do this ritual regularly can help uplift your spirit.
  • Talking with people that REALLY care about you will greatly relieve your stress and help you better understand yourself.   When I feel isolated, I often call my parents or my closest cousins and it helps a ton because I know they really care.  It is a misconception of our society not to complain or talk about our own problems to others. Moderate complaining or discussion is healthy.
  • Reset your mind through more sleep, meditation, exercise, shouting can help refresh your mind, and keep yourselves out of the thought loop.  And through this emptying mind process, you can often find better solutions to your problems at hand.  Sleep is underrated so sleep enough!  Having good food, listening to music, doing shopping, or doing stupid things like jumping around or shouting can also help! The key is...for the moment, just forget about achievements, at least for one day. 
  • Stay away from negative people can help keep you away from negative speeches, sound, mindset that can slowly suck away your positive energy.  When you are not strong enough, it's not your job to take care or try to change these negative people. Rather, stay very closely with very positive people, they can recharged you, even when you talk with them only for a few minutes!

There are also few thinking tools that may help you better orient your mindset:

  • First, stress or disappointment happens to everyone, including smart people, rich or poor, famous or not famous.  Everyone has their own problems, e.g., rich people worries about their business day in and day out.  It is just part of our life.  Facebook "happy" posts are all superficial.
  • Second, there is always white in black, and black in white.  Famous people can become infamous overnight.  Rich people can become bankrupt overnight.  Smart people can get overly confident and arrogant.  Steve Job, the CEO of Apple, got kicked out of his very own company.  But because of this event, he came back even stronger and lead Apple to be one of the most valuable companies in the world (he quoted in his book that he is kicked out is the most fortunate thing that happens to his life).  Things are not always it seems.  Here is the key: When in a bad situation, we should think that there is only getting better.  When in a good situation, we should be extremely cautious because there is only getting worse.
  • Third, stress happen usually because you wanna change people, things, the world, and basically everything.  I can tell you that it's impossible.   No one can truly change anyone, things, and the world because you are not in control.  You may influence but not change.   You cannot control what people will say, how things work, or how the world function.    You will become happier when you realized that.   Instead, you will be happier when you focus on changing yourself because you are in full-control.   So many people want to change others, yet very few try to change themselves which is much easier and happier process!! 
  • Fourth, stress happen sometimes when you have low self-esteem -  you feel you suck,  not smart, you don't have life purpose, you are not rich like others, etc.   Well, don't ever hurt yourself again by doing this kind of negative talks.   Tell yourself that I don't need to be anything, and I don't have to prove anything to anyone.  Instead, I will try slowly in my own way.  Everyday, step by step.   Start from super small things you can be proud of and you think you can do everyday.    Things will eventually get better. Trust me.   You don't owe almost 99% of people in this world.  You don't have to prove to anyone and you don't need to be like anyone.  Just be yourself.

For those who are actually depressed, you may want to try other ways.  Here's a great Quora post about it: https://www.quora.com/What-cured-your-depression/answers/79960478