No question about it, being a postdoc is stressful. Academic life is stressful. Your future is uncertain, you are under pressure to produce, you may have family and life circumstances that add to the joy – and the stress – of your experience. Given the data on mental health among graduate students and postdocs, we at the Graduate School encourage open dialogue about how things are going. Check in with each other. And seek help and support when you need it.
Three practices have been shown to make a difference for resilience and well-being:
- Self-care. Sometimes things get so out of whack you have to remind yourself of the basics: enough sleep, healthy food, exercise. All of these things help you think better and perform better. We know there are times you have to push through, but this is a marathon and you have to sustain yourself for the long haul. Find the daily or weekly practice that keeps you on solid ground.
- Connecting with support networks. Seek out people you can be real with. These may be peers, part of your mentoring team, or friends or family from back home. You need a place to speak openly and honestly about how you are doing, a place where you can just be heard. Sometimes online communities can be strong points of connection too. When you find others that feel like you do, it helps you feel less alone and gain more perspective.
- Remembering your purpose. Why are you here? This could be the bigger picture reason you are here – is it love of science? Passion for problem-solving? A desire to make a contribution in the world? Keeping your driving purpose and passion closer to the front of your mind can help you regain focus and motivation when the details or deadlines are rushing in.
One study of postdocs at UT Austin showed that the difference between those who are flourishing and those who are languishing is more positive emotions. It makes sense, right? Positive emotions don’t just happen by themselves – you have to fuel them. Keep things in your life that bring you joy or passion. Check in about things you are grateful for, even – or especially – when times are dark and hard. It all helps keep your positive fire going!
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of self-harm, please visit Samaritans or MentalHealth.gov. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential 24-7 service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information and local resources. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- The science of resilience & Tips on developing resilience
- Elisabeth Pain (2016). Trainees and mental health: Let’s talk! . Science Magazine.
- Nick Roll (2017). Calling attention to a postdoc’s struggles and suicide. Inside Higher Education.
- Christian T. Gloria & Mary A. Steinhardt (2013). Flourishing, languishing, and depressed postdoctoral fellows: Differences in stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Journal of Postdoctoral Affairs, 3(1).