Dealing with anxiety about work (in grad school)
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Dealing with anxiety about work (in grad school)

This is a discussion on Dealing with anxiety about work (in grad school) within the Anxiety forums, part of the Mental and Physical Health category; This is a rant that has been bouncing around in my head for a long, long time. I'm posting this ...

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Old 09-07-11, 12:58 PM   #1
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Default Dealing with anxiety about work (in grad school)

This is a rant that has been bouncing around in my head for a long, long time. I'm posting this in "Anxiety" because I think that is the basic cause of the issues I'm talking about. Brace yourselves, this may take a while

I have always been good in school. Teachers all the way through high school always said that I was a talented, even a gifted, student. This was fine with me: I loved books, I loved knowledge, I loved talking about science or literature or whatever with other people. Now before you get me wrong, I wasn't one of those geniuses who go to college when they're 15. Schoolwork always took some effort (although not too much ). But studying was my thing, I liked it and I never had to force myself to do it.

Fast forward to the last year of high school, and I suddenly found that I had a hard time doing my homework. I just couldn't start. It's not that I didn't like studying anymore: I just... couldn't do it. I would procrastinate for hours reading fantasy novels and comics, and then I would finish things late at night. This was a vicious cycle that went on all year, and then when I went to university, it was more of the same. I really tried with all my heart to stop procrastinating and get organized, like everyone else seemed to do. When I tried to talk about my problems, most people laughed them off: "every student procrastinates, it's normal" or "you just have to have discipline". But I just... couldn't. I couldn't explain that if I didn't have A LOT of discipline already, I would just spend the entire day shut in my room, reading webcomics, for weeks and weeks on end.

I've been a graduate student now for a year, which is really like fulfilling a dream for me. But working has gotten harder and harder. Most of these days now, I end up fighting myself from morning 'till night, all the time, just to get myself to look at a book and read a few paragraphs. It's like a freakin' war. Sometimes I end up just reading a couple pages in a whole day, while I spend the rest of the time on the internet.

I am finally realizing that this is a real problem and it won't solve itself. I'm just telling part of the story here, but I've had some bad anxiety attacks and some bouts of depression recently, which actually helped me take the whole thing seriously. I'm seeing a therapist now and it's really helping with the depression and anxiety, but I still haven't seen any improvement with my work. I know I should probably be patient, but it's hard to do with deadlines coming up in a few months and me accomplishing a lot less than I was supposed to this year. I just wish there were something I could do to make things a little bit better in the short run. My therapist isn't very good at giving practical tips like that, and all I know for sure right now is that the idea of studying makes me incredibly anxious. I don't know where it comes from, but the anxiety is there.

I wonder, does anybody here have feelings like these? Like you just can't do something, even if it's something you love and you really want to? Do you have any tricks you use to keep anxiety down?

Thanks, and I'm so sorry. I know a lot of folks here have much bigger problems than this, and I feel like I'm whining ("Waaah! I have everything I ever wanted, I just can't appreciate it!"). But I really am getting desperate. I just don't know what to do or where to go.
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Old 09-08-11, 12:32 AM   #2
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I'm having a similar problem, although it doesn't always happen when I start, it can happen at various points of the day. For me it's sort of like hitting a wall and not really knowing why. At first I thought it was nutritional problem or sleeping problem but that doesn't seem to be the issue (although it always helps to be better in those areas).

As far as tricks go I'm not too sure.. I found B vitamins to help bring the anxiety down, but maybe that's just me or you can see what else can work and not work (i.e. caffeine).

The major problem I had with anxiety and starting was that I would get anxious on the entire work I had to do and not just the portion I was working on at any given moment. This caused the larger anxiety barrier so to speak, because the anxiety for the entire work is far more overwhelming than just that one piece. Have you thought about making a schedule to split up your work into manageable parts?

Getting to the bottom of what's driving your anxiety would help, I'm curious if you've gotten ideas on yours. For me I want to say I fear the amount of time I'll spend on work, and the result of me if I spend too much time on it then there's the other things I'll miss out on. Just theorizing at this point though.
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Old 09-08-11, 05:31 AM   #3
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Hi engima, thank you so much for answering. It was a pretty long and convoluted post so I'm grateful that you took the time to read it

I am right in the middle of an anxiety attack right now. I usually keep all my crazy, panicky thinking to myself but since I found this forum, I guess I'll post it here instead. If you (or someone else) are patient enough to read this too, I would be really, truly grateful.

The reason for the anxiety attack is that I just went to talk to my supervisor and she gave me so much more work than I will be able to do. This is not to say that it's an unusual workload for a student, just that it will be too much for me. You see, I should have spent the past six months reading a huge amount of literature on my dissertation topic. Due to anxiety issues with studying, however, I haven't really done that much. I've read about 50 papers, which is not as bad as it might be, but a lot less than my advisor has in mind, I'm sure.

Now she asked me to write a 50-page essay reviewing all the literature I have read so far by the end of the year. This would be quite reasonable, I think, if I didn't have a @$%#-ton of literature that still needs to be read! And on top of that, I'm going to waste some time moving and adapting to a new country, because in November I will be going to a university abroad for six months, because of course I overestimated myself (again) and thought that I would be totally OK staying away from my family, my friends and my boyfriend for six months, doing something that causes me a huge f#@$ing ton of anxiety. Way to go, f#@$head! (This is usually the point where I start calling myself an idiot, a loser, hopeless, and then I start thinking that I will never get anywhere in life and will probably just die on the side of the road somewhere.)

My thinking degenerates so fast when I'm panicking. The only way I've found to counteract it is to turn the thought process around, taking it apart piece by piece until it gets rational again, but it takes so much effort and half the time I don't know if I'm doing it right. I'm just so sick of my professors being disappointed in me and thinking I'm lazy and disorganized. I'm really trying my hardest with my studies but it's never good enough. Sometimes I wish they'd stop putting up with me and just kick me out so I could go find a nice, boring, no-pressure job at an office or something (just kidding -- I know office jobs can be just as stressful as any other job). But then I know I wouldn't want to do that either, at least not at this point in time.

I'm sorry for ranting. I promise I'll post a more reasonable reply to your post later on, engima.
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Old 09-08-11, 06:05 AM   #4
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I just wanted to say that after writing this rant (the one I just wrote, not the first one ) I copied it into a text file and literally picked it apart, sentence by sentence, writing down rational objections to every sentence that felt too irrational or "wrong". A very interesting exercise, and I think it helped too!

Last edited by 15560; 09-08-11 at 06:06 AM. Reason: clarify
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Old 09-08-11, 04:42 PM   #5
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Hello again engima, here are a few thoughts in reaply to what you posted.

"The major problem I had with anxiety and starting was that I would get anxious on the entire work I had to do and not just the portion I was working on at any given moment. This caused the larger anxiety barrier so to speak, because the anxiety for the entire work is far more overwhelming than just that one piece."

This is exactly what happens to me, too. I try to make a work schedule as often as I can; it does help but it's not enough, since I usually schedule more work than I can handle.
I have been experimenting lately with focusing on one very small, very manageable task at a time: e.g. "read this paragraph" or "write down this idea", then on to the next paragraph or idea and so forth. It seems to work, but it takes a lot of focusing and mental discipline. It's like my mind is so used to following certain "paths" that it's really hard to lead it somewhere else.

You're also right about finding out the deeper cause of the anxiety: it would help a lot. This is mostly what I'm working on with my therapist at the moment. My theory is that it has something to do with my relationship with my parents (I know, a total cliché but I think it's true in this case). It might sound weird, but I feel like if I finished my studies I would be a "big girl" and I would have to give up my parents' protection, and that scares me. My parents have always been very protective and somehow I feel I never really learned to care properly for myself -- it's been an uphill process ever since I moved out of the house for college. Of course this is also just theorizing, I don't really understand what's going on below the surface, not yet at least.

Last edited by 15560; 09-08-11 at 04:45 PM. Reason: complete
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Old 09-10-11, 06:08 PM   #6
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That's cool you're picking apart your logic, sounds like you're getting into cbt, which I find to be really effective. If you can pick apart the deeper logic then it helps to get rid of those automatic anxiety-provoking thoughts, including the self negative ones.

Looking through what you said, I'm sure you picked up on a lot of negative predictions about things that are going on, here's some of mine if you want to compare:

'You see, I should have spent the past six months reading a huge amount of literature on my dissertation topic'
- I think shoulds are generally a bad idea (in terms of thoughts). You are aware that your anxiety is causing the issue of not being able to work effectively, so why criticize and make yourself worry for not being different?

'I've read about 50 papers, which is not as bad as it might be, but a lot less than my advisor has in mind, I'm sure.'
- Are you actually sure or are you predicting? In any case it might be good idea to see why you included the part starting at ', but a..', without it, it becomes a realistic positive sentence.

'because of course I overestimated myself (again) and thought that I would be totally OK staying away from my family, my friends and my boyfriend for six months, doing something that causes me a huge f#@$ing ton of anxiety'
- would you have anxiety regardless of where you are though? why do you think you are incapable?

'I'm just so sick of my professors being disappointed in me and thinking I'm lazy and disorganized. I'm really trying my hardest with my studies but it's never good enough. Sometimes I wish they'd stop putting up with me and just kick me out so I could go find a nice, boring, no-pressure job at an office or something (just kidding -- I know office jobs can be just as stressful as any other job). But then I know I wouldn't want to do that either, at least not at this point in time.'
- I think this sounds like frustration more than anything, and battling anxiety can be frustrating. There's no need to be negative on yourself on it, it's understandable (even if generally people aren't aware of what you're going through). It also only causes you to be less effective in finding solutions to be where you want to be.

Some deeper questions:
Why do you feel you cannot care properly for yourself?
What do your parents provide that you cannot provide for yourself?

Feel free to not answer anything if you don't want to, but I find more exploring always helps (particularly writing stuff down to avoid tunnel vision type thinking). I used to write a ton and it does help a lot, especially picking up patterns as a result.
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Old 09-17-11, 07:19 PM   #7
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Oh wow, came to the forum just to vent a bit and calm myself down, after I read list of courses offered and the fact that school is starting next week. I threw up. After I've read your first post, it was pretty much as if I've written it myself.

Is your technique of writing down an event and picking it apart helping?
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Old 09-21-11, 09:57 AM   #8
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Hello there, this is still me, notsobad. I've had a lot of trouble logging into the forums since I last posted. I'm still waiting for the problem to be solved, but since it's been a while I decided to create another account just to answer here and let you know I haven't disappeared or given up or something. I hope the moderators will forgive me if they see this.

Engima, thanks for your input. You noticed quite a few things that I didn't see, in fact (such as using "should" -- always bad, but such a difficult habit to kick!). I know very little about cbt, actually. I learned some stuff about controlling negative trains of thought that distort your vision of reality at meditation classes and some forms of "alternative counseling" I've had over the years. I'm going to look into cbt proper when I have the time, though. It sounds useful.

Also, thank you so much for pointing out that I shouldn't get negative or criticize myself for being the way I am. This sounds incredible, but no one ever explicitly told me anything like that before. Most people refuse to believe that anxiety can be this crippling, or else they say "You have to get rid of it" (when they manage to say something at all!). I don't know if it was exactly what you meant to say, but the message I got from you was "You have anxiety and it's influencing some areas of your life. So what? Accept it, and get on with your life knowing you'll have to take it into account." I really needed to hear something like that.

Drama Queen, I really sympathize. I always feel panicky when I have a big job to do. It sounds like this happens to you, too. However, it is comforting in some way to know that you're not the only person dealing with it. What is it exactly that triggers the anxiety for you?
I don't know if it's the same for you, but apart from the panic I also feel hugely frustrated, because if I were free from anxiety I would be... well, a little worried, maybe, but also really excited about all the stuff I'm going to do or learn. But anxiety takes all the pleasure out of it.

Anyway, the method of writing things down works a lot for me. I find that it helps me slow my thoughts down and concentrate on them one at a time, so I don't just jump to negative conclusions. Slowing down physically also helps: sitting down, taking deep breaths, not thinking about anything for a while. Then when I feel a little bit better, I try to focus only on one of the things I have to do, ignoring all the other things I still have to deal with. Have you tried doing anything like that when you feel anxious? I'd love to know if any of these things help.
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Old 09-22-11, 02:06 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by notsobad28 View Post
Also, thank you so much for pointing out that I shouldn't get negative or criticize myself for being the way I am. This sounds incredible, but no one ever explicitly told me anything like that before. Most people refuse to believe that anxiety can be this crippling, or else they say "You have to get rid of it" (when they manage to say something at all!). I don't know if it was exactly what you meant to say, but the message I got from you was "You have anxiety and it's influencing some areas of your life. So what? Accept it, and get on with your life knowing you'll have to take it into account." I really needed to hear something like that.
Sure, no problem :). I think that's a big part of it, not negating self and finding acceptance. You've might of heard the quote 'acceptance is the first step to recovery', it's great you're picking up on it right away, it can be difficult to realize for some. Seems like many people are influenced to not accept their problems as legitimate or have some kind of belief telling them otherwise and will try to push the idea out of their minds rather than accepting there's a problem and learning how to address the problem directly (for what it is).

I like to shoot past the acceptance as well for the bigger picture though, to change the general mentality (and behaviors) to attack core anxiety issues (and depression as well) . If you notice from your post you're still suggesting using another 'should', this time to what seems like for a positive reason, but it still has negative application (say you feel down and negative one day and you're not fulfilling the 'should). Maybe there's a pattern in behavior to check out from that (like maybe the need to force yourself to fit a static image).
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Old 09-26-11, 08:33 AM   #10
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Hey there, thanks for answering again. You've been giving me a lot of great food for thought.

I'm very familiar with the self-acceptance problem and with the difficulty of viewing one's own psychological problems as legitimate, as you say. I wouldn't exactly say I've picked up on it right away, because I've been dealing with a lot of little -- and not-so-little! -- difficulties for years and, until recently, steadfastly refusing to treat them as signs of a psychological issue (and therefore, addressing them with the appropriate tools). It's true, though, that when the episodes of depression and anxiety grew stronger, it didn't take me long to take them seriously and look for help, so I guess I should give myself credit for that. I'm still trying to understand what all of this means for me and what kind of impact it's going to have on my life from now on, but I guess that will come over time.

I also completely agree with looking for the deeper patterns of thought that cause anxiety and depression, and also possibly for the experiences that might have caused those thoughts to become so deeply ingrained. Like I said, this is something I'm working on with my therapist, but so far it seems like I can only get to a certain point, and then the explanations stop making sense. I know from experience that these things take time, though, so that's ok for now.

I think you might be on to something with your analysis of "should". I definitely have a very rigid model of "how I am supposed to be", which is not even conscious most of the time, and it's typical for me to spend a lot of time beating myself up for not matching up to it. In fact, when I first read your post, I thought "Well of *course* I want to fit a static image! Doesn't everybody?" And then I realized that maybe it's not the most constructive way of living in a world which is basically defined by change. :D
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