Mental Health: staying on top of stress

Experiencing feelings of stress in your PhD endeavor is normal during certain periods. Often, you work in isolation and get to deal with a high workload and plenty of rejection. You may feel like you’re not making enough progress and forfeit your spare time, which can affect your work-life balance. If stress levels remain high during a long period of time without sufficient support, this may lead to mental health issues. Remember: you are not alone! The prevalence of stress-related problems among PhD students is significantly higher than in the general population.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent mental health problems during your PhD:

  1. Work and time management — find a way to better organize and structure your work; ask your colleagues and peers about how they plan their activities and discuss with your supervisor what is expected of you.
  2. Learn to identify your dysfunctional emotions and thoughts — Identify your imposter feelings and learn to tone them down. If you think you can’t do this by yourself, ask for professional help; don’t be ashamed about your problems, they don’t define your identity.
  3. Exercise — the nature of your work requires that you stand still, read and write for long periods of time. Don’t forget to stand up once in a while and stretch. Try to exercise regularly and go out into nature at least twice a month, because its benefits on our mental health have been scientifically proven.
  4. Work-life balance — don’t read that “last article for today” but instead disconnect yourself from your work and social media by 7pm until the next day. Balance that work isolation with activities that will help you stay in touch with friends and family. Social relationships are among the best predictors of mental wellbeing.
  5. Envision your future career — instead of nurturing anxiety about your future career, start learning about academic job opportunities or how to transition into other fields. A clear vision of who you want to be and what you want to do will give you meaning, direction and strength in the difficult times of your PhD journey.

Support for PhD students in the Erasmus MC

  • Promeras
    As representative of all PhDs, Promeras wants to focus more on mental wellbeing. Lea Jabbarian (psychologist, former PhD student) and Merel Mol (board member, PhD student) will start setting up workshops/intervision sessions with a focus on prevention of stress-related issues. Follow our newsletter for more information.
    Any concerns, questions, ideas or feedback related to mental health can be sent to Lea/Merel (strictly confidential): mentalhealth.promeras @ erasmusmc.nl
Lea Jabbarian: psychologist at EMC dedicated to mental health among PhD students
  • Confidential counsellors
    During your PhD you may encounter difficult situations or conflicts related to your PhD-period, like disagreements with your supervisor or other colleagues, or feelings of discomfort within your working situation or circumstances. If you experience this, you have several options, including the confidential counsellors of your Research school.
    More information: https://stip.erasmusmc.nl/PhdCandidates/635
  • Company doctor
    All employees or Erasmus MC can go to the company doctor if they have questions about individual and personal work-related health issues. If needed, the company doctor can refer you to one of the company psychologists. The company psychologists also offer trainings for dealing with stress.
    Contact details (Arbodienst): tel. 33832; arbo@erasmusmc.nl
  • DESTRESS study
    The DESTRESS study wants to assess whether the introduction of resilience training reduces the perceived chronic stress among students and prevents burnout. Even if you do not feel stressed, it is still important and useful that you participate in this study. Participation in the study provides you with information about chronic stress and the prevention of burnout. You will learn to recognize early symptoms of chronic stress and burnout and how to cope with stress. The programs are offered free of charge.
    Detailed information about the study: http://destress.info/