About a week ago I was DEEP into dissertation anxiety and procrastination. Whether you're an undergrad, master's student, or a PhD student like me, we've all been there! Here's what I do to break the dissertation anxiety when it starts to creep in and stop procrastinating writing my dissertation.
So, without further ado, let's get into what my supervisors (and I!) recommend to address the dissertation anxiety cycle.
One of the best things you can do to break the dissertation anxiety you may be feeling is to take some actual, guilt-free time off. Speak to your supervisors before you do this (don't just disappear!). If you can't afford to take a day or a week off, try taking even an hour off to go for a walk, take a shower, etc. Giving yourself permission to take a break and get your mind off of your dissertation can very often spark inspiration about how to tackle your next steps or address a problem you've been stuck on.
The important thing is to just let yourself take the time off or break without being worried you're procrastinating or going to fail as a result. If you find yourself procrastinating because of genuine dissertation anxiety, burnout, etc., give yourself a break. I like to refer to this as ‘productive' procrastination because it actually helps recharge you and puts you in a better position to tackle your thesis. If you're spending all your time off feeling guilty about not doing work, you'll never recover.
This was a big one for me the other week. Both of my supervisors have been VERY busy lately and I haven't asked for as much guidance. So, I sent a LONG email explaining how I'd been feeling and issues I'd been having with my project to ask for their advice. And I had a long meeting with them to discuss how things were going which was very helpful.
Another thing I did was schedule a coffee with my colleague who is doing similar research to me to talk through my plans going forward. It was super useful to get his feedback and also to have someone to talk to who's experiencing the same things as me.
If you haven't figured out already, talking about issues I'm having really helps me. I also spoke to friends outside of academia and those who are doing PhDs in a different field from me. One of the best ways to solve problems you're facing in your project is to explain them in simple terms to someone who doesn't know anything about your subject.
If feelings of inadequacy are causing your dissertation anxiety and procrastination, choose one small task that you KNOW you can accomplish easily that will push you incrementally forward. Often even achieving something small will help you build momentum back up.
It always helps me to figure out EXACTLY what simple tasks I need to do to get to where I need to be. If you need to write a literature review, for example, write out exactly how you're going to search for articles, split them into chunks to read them all, how you'll organise your notes, and how you'll synthesise all the information.
Remember your initial motivation for doing your degree. This is really what will get you through when you're trying to break the dissertation anxiety cycle.
Sleep enough. Fuel your body properly. Practice self-care. Take breaks. Make sure you're taking care of all of the additional things in your life to make it easier for you to actually succeed in writing your dissertation.
I know we've all been stuck at home for quite a long time, but things are gradually opening up (at least here!). Going into the office (or another non-home study space) could be just the push you need! I went to the office the other day and found I was FINALLY able to make some real progress.
Sometimes your anxiety isn't about your dissertation at all, but rather other things going on in your life. You need to address this first!
Particularly if your anxiety about writing your dissertation is coming from feelings of imposter syndrome, this one is useful. Write down all of the things you've learned and accomplished in the past few months or year. Reflect on how far you've come and the progress you've made to date.
Sometimes perfectionism is at the root of dissertation anxiety. If this is the case for you, just write. Write vaguely about what you're meant to be writing about, of course, but don't worry about wording everything perfectly. This can help you get back into the writing groove without putting too much pressure on yourself.
If you're experiencing clinical anxiety or depression and it's affecting your ability to complete your thesis, get professional help. Reach out to student support services and they can put you in touch with a licensed counsellor or other health professional or schedule an appointment with your GP.
I hope this article helped give you ideas for busting dissertation anxiety and smash your thesis! Are you currently writing a dissertation? Let me know how it's going in the comments below!