We’re all human in academia

This is not the post I had intended to write and send out this week, but nonetheless I felt inspired and like this was what wanted and needed to be shared on this occasion.

I recently requested for members of staff within a university department to complete an informal, anonymous online questionnaire about their experiences with mental health, both during their own PhD studies and also now as an academic. What follows are some of the insights I have had as a result of being privy to these experiences, ultimately, we are all human and though we may put others on a pedestal, they too have their own issues and difficulties to manage and cope with.

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Doing things our own way

My UCAS personal statement began:

We are all different, it is the one thing we have in common

*Cringe*. It is so incredibly cliché, but like most clichés, it’s also very true. The last few years in academia I have become aware of a number of differences that at first made me feel a bit like an alien, or at least someone on the sidelines that perhaps didn’t ‘fit in’. And that is exactly true, I didn’t ‘fit in’ to the ‘typical’ and I’ve learnt that is perfectly ok, and I’ve actually come to love it.

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When Anxiety comes knocking…

I know I’m not the only one that struggles with anxiety, in life in general and when it comes to doing a PhD. Though not many of us share the realities of going about daily life feeling worried, concerned or like our hearts might jump out of our chest. Sometimes knowing exactly why, other times not having a clue, just knowing there is this sense of impending doom that you just can’t quite put your finger on.

First of all, the anxiety I am personally talking about here is that feeling of worry, bordering on panic, feeling sped up and like there isn’t enough time to do everything. Shallow breathing, heart pounding just a little quicker and perhaps feeling unusually warm. A brick in your chest, a lump in your throat and your stomach doing somersaults. The anxiety where your mind spirals and decides to show you the low-lights reel. The what if’s and the worst case scenarios. Perhaps you can relate? With practice, these feeling states can be noticed, before you fall too far down the rabbit hole. And the point of noticing, the point of awareness is really the beginning of getting to the bottom of things.

I thought I’d share some of my go-to’s for when I’m feeling anxious.

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Review: ‘The Science of Stress’ at The Royal Institution

A couple of weeks ago I attended an event at The Royal Institution in London called ‘The Science of Stress’. I probably wouldn’t have ventured to London mid-week if it hadn’t been for the fact that my supervisor Professor Julie Turner-Cobb was amongst the three experts presenting and then providing a question and answer panel session. It was great to support her and to see other individuals in the field present their work, and I was really glad that I went.

As someone who quite likes a bit of event management and organising an event, I was thinking on the train back to Bath, what makes a good panel event? Or any event for that matter? It really was a fantastic evening and I came away feeling enthused, excited, curious and impressed by all that I had heard. It was worth the journey to London and back.

So, what was it about this event that was so inspiring and excellent?

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National Stress Awareness Day

You may or may not be aware that it’s National Stress Awareness Day today, a day founded by ISMA (International Stress Management Association).

It’s not a long post today, but I just wanted to bring the day to your attention. To maybe provide a prompt for you to look inwards and see if there are any situations or areas in your life that could use a little stress awareness. It doesn’t have to be hard work, it doesn’t have to involve ‘doing’ anything to fix it, just bringing your attention to where you might be feeling a bit over stretched can work wonders. Becoming aware is the first step to allowing things to change or improve.

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Stress – friend or foe?

Those who know me will most likely know that my PhD research is focussed on studying a factor called stress. Something that we have probably all had a taste of. But when we talk about stress we are often referring to a psychological state and rarely are the physiological aspects of stress considered. Many people have heard of the fight or flight (and more recently considered, fright/freeze) response, and when provided with the classic saber tooth tiger analogy they can somewhat appreciate the possible benefits of stress. In that situation it is quite simply survival. But at what point does stress become too much? At what point does stress go from friend, to foe?

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How do you cope?

“How are you coping?” we might ask a friend.

What do we really mean when we ask this? Do we want to know how they are doing, or do we really want to know how they are coping? Perhaps in a friendship, it is the former. But in my research, I am asking the question literally, that is, what things are you actually doing to cope with the situation you are facing? Coping is a bit of an ambiguous term, and it’s not always easy to know how it is being used.

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