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Self-Compassion: Tips to Recover from a Setback

At some point in our time in graduate school we all will face a setback. Or many setbacks in my experience. These can be related to physical ailments or injuries, burnout, fatigue, financial strain, or mental health issues. I have experienced all these setbacks during my PhD. The COVID-19 pandemic also did not help things, as it compounded multiple physical and mental health issues for many of us. Recently I had a mental health setback that really impacted my ability to work on my thesis for a period, and I am now trying to recover from that obstacle. This encouraged me to share some the advice and techniques that have been shared with me from other graduate students, profs, and friends over the last few years. The following are a list of some of the most helpful tips that I have complied.

  1. Don’t rush back in: By this, I mean allow yourself some space to recover from your setback to begin with. I was back to marking and writing a few days after I had major surgery. The work that I produced during that time was not worth the physical anguish that I went through to produce it. Most recently, I have allowed myself to recover my mental health before I dive back into my thesis, even though it means taking a few weeks away from my writing.
  2. Start small: Getting back into research and writing can be daunting. I often feel like I must do something ‘big’ to make up for time lost, whether it be editing an entire chapter or reworking my introduction. This becomes an insurmountable burden that leads to procrastination and frustration (and often tears). Instead, I try to make a list of small tasks that I can tackle in small bursts and give myself a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes it just means opening the document I want to work on or reading the first comment listed on a draft and only engaging with that for the day.
  3. Stop comparing yourself: Roosevelt famously said that ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’ This is truly the case in graduate school. It seems like no matter where I look one of my peers is finishing a draft, or publishing a paper, or receiving an award. I am happy for my friends, but it also tends to make me feel down when I compare my own progress to those around me. But that is unfair to me. We are all on our own journey, and sometimes that means taking an extra semester (or two…or four) to get through your degree. That doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with me, or that I am unworthy of being in my program. My journey just looks different because there is only one ‘me’! 

I hope that the tips that I have complied on recovery over the last few years are helpful for you! I wish you the best of luck recovering from whatever setbacks that life throws your way. 

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