As a student, it’s important to look after your wellbeing. Academic environments can be tough: a lack of concrete feedback and structure can lead to uncertainty, and many students feel under pressure to excel, or anxious about the job market. We’ve collected some resources on how to take care of your mental health and manage common challenges.
We’re not mental health professionals, so if you’re acutely distressed or unwell, we suggest that you seek further support. There are some resources on finding a therapist at the end of this post. While we hope this post will help you decide on some first steps, it isn’t comprehensive. If there are any resources you think we should add, we’d love to hear from you.
Managing depression and anxiety
If you think depression or anxiety are causing or contributing to problems in your life, the posts below might be helpful.
- Questionnaires like this (UK-specific) depression and anxiety self-assessment quiz can help you understand your symptoms and find resources.
- Lorien Psychiatry’s introduction on depression covers what depression is, how you can tell if you’re depressed, and what to try.
- This similar post by Scott Alexander lists ‘things that sometimes work if you have anxiety’.
- This collection of mental health resources includes several workbooks for anxiety and depression.
Dealing with impostor syndrome
You may have impostor syndrome if you:
- persistently think that you’ve only succeeded in life due to luck.
- overly focus on setbacks.
- struggle to internalise others’ positive views of you, or recognize your own accomplishments.
Here’s a post where researcher Luisa Rodriguez describes her own and others’ experiences with impostor syndrome. She talks about the impact that impostor syndrome can have on your career, and offers some strategies for managing it.
Increasing your self-compassion
Building your self-compassion can improve your wellbeing whatever you’re struggling with, helping you feel more resilient and less stressed. Here are some resources for building kindness towards yourself.
- These self-compassion exercises by Dr. Kristin Neff are a great place to start.
- ‘You are probably underestimating how good self-love can be’ – the author describes how they increased their self-compassion and why that had a positive impact. They also link lots of further reading.
- ‘There are no “bad people”’, from the Replacing Guilt series: this post might help if you feel like you’re a bad person when things go wrong.
- ‘Understanding Our Inner Critic’ is a conversation between therapists Esther Perel & Dick Schwartz on how to be kind and curious towards the inner critic.
- ‘NVC when you’re feeling s***’: a short video exercise to help you be empathic and non-judgemental towards yourself when you’re feeling bad.
These posts talk about the importance of self-care and working sustainably, and offer ideas for cultivating balance.
- ‘How long can people usefully work?’ – coach Lynette Bye points out that working longer hours can result in diminishing returns.
- ‘Desperation hamster wheels’ – Nicole Ross describes how her obsessive focus on improving the world damaged her wellbeing, and makes some suggestions for what to do if you’re in danger of burning out.
- ‘Burnout: what is it and how to treat it’ – reviews the literature on burnout and gives suggestions on how to treat it.
Creating structure and support
- Rob Wiblin talks about self-improvement and research ethics on the Clearer Thinking podcast. At around 27 minutes, Rob suggests that students might benefit from arranging a weekly meeting with a peer where they check in on how their work is going and how they’re feeling, set goals for the following week, and brainstorm solutions to problems together.
- You might want to try FocusMate if you’re socially motivated to work but tend to work alone. It pairs you online with someone else for a 25 or 50 minute session of focused work.
If you’re stuck on a specific research task
- Rubber duck debugging: explaining what you’re stuck on to someone else can help you move forward.
- ‘Stop trying to try and try’ explores how to stay connected to your real goal.
- ‘Some reflections on testing fit for research’ offers some advice on what to do when you’re stuck on your research question.
- ‘Five strategies to get your academic writing “unstuck”’ suggests writing an outline for your paper; setting a target of a sentence or paragraph; imagining what questions someone reading your paper would have; summarising a research paper; and going for a walk with paper and pen.
- ‘“Ugh Fields”, or why you can’t even bear to think about that task’ summarises the phenomenon where a task gets more and more aversive the longer you put it off, and suggests some ideas for what to do if this happens.
Avoiding perfectionism and guilt
People who care a lot about making the world better sometimes feel unhelpfully intense guilt about not doing more. These resources might help you feel more at peace.
- Scrupulosity: my EAGxBoston 2019 lightning talk: Holly Elmore explores how wanting to help others can become a compulsion, and offers some ideas about what to do about it.
- The Replacing Guilt series by Nate Soares: several posts about how to act out of compassion and care for the world, without feeling guilty or self-critical that you’re not doing more. The post ‘Altruistic motivations’ might be particularly relevant. There’s also this summary of the series.
Getting back in touch with your motivation
If you’ve started to feel like your research is an obligation or chore, check out ‘Not because you “should”’, which offers advice on how to stop worrying about what you “should” be doing and get back in touch with what you want to do.
- A list of mental health resources compiled by a psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist. The list includes several workbooks and audiobooks and covers a broad range of mental health difficulties.
- A book review of ‘Being Well In Academia’ by Petra Boynton.
Podcasts can offer advice, help you identify what you’re struggling with, or even just reassure you that you’re not alone.
- Here’s a directory of podcasts covering various mental health topics.
- This 80000 Hours podcast explores the impact of depression, anxiety, ADHD and impostor syndrome.
Seeking further mental health support
There’s no one-size-fits-all advice on finding a therapist who’s a good fit for you, but these posts offer some guidance:
- A Step-by-step Guide to Finding a (Good!) Therapist
- How to Find a Good Therapist: 10 Tips and What to Avoid
- The Bad Therapist
Many of the students we work with are interested in effective altruism. EA Mental Health Navigator can help you find a therapist who’s familiar with EA. You could also sign up to this newsletter for updates on upcoming mental health workshops.