Being a Ph.D. student is not easy, especially when your lab or supervisor has high expectation of you (especially in top-tier universities). Ph.D. life can also feel very isolated and sometimes stressful. I heard that in many places, a Ph.D. student can only meet their professor one or two times a year, and the rest they have to figure out how to do their research, yes, it is that tough. I have experienced it myself. There are several things from minimizing stress level such as maintaining a good work/life balance (easier said than done!), do not overcommit on too many projects, and regularly doing exercise and eating healthy foods.
But once you got a lot of stress, there are several things I found useful:
- Think something positive about yourself (positive self-talk) - Sometimes, we are just too harsh on ourselves that we forgot "good" things about ourselves. We constantly think about how bad we are, how foolish we are on that day of presentation, how stupid we are on not getting paper being published. Stop thinking about achievements, productivity, and fame. All those do not really matter if you are not happy. Be more selfish. Perfection is a myth. Start thinking about positive things about yourself. Start recalling the moment when someone really loves you. Start recalling the time when you are having fun. Do this ritual regularly can help uplift your spirit.
- Talking with people that REALLY care about you will greatly relieve your stress and help you better understand yourself. When I feel isolated, I often call my parents or my closest cousins and it helps a ton because I know they really care. It is a misconception of our society not to complain or talk about our own problems to others. Moderate complaining or discussion is healthy.
- Reset your mind through more sleep, meditation, exercise, shopping, going crazy can help refresh your mind, and keep yourselves out of the thought loop. And through this emptying mind process, you can often find better solutions to your problems at hand. Sleep is underrated so sleep enough! Having good food, listening to music, doing shopping, watching movies can also support. Doing stupid things like reading 9gag or jumping around can also help :) The key is...for the moment, just forget about achievements, performance, people and focus more on relaxing, enjoying, and live your life.
There are also two thinking tools that may help you better orient your paradigm:
- First, stress or disappointment happens to everyone, including smart people, rich or poor, famous or not famous. Everyone has their own problems, e.g., rich people worries about their business day in and day out. It is just part of our life. Facebook "happy" posts are all superficial and short-lived.
- Second, there is always white in black, and black in white. Famous people can become infamous overnight. Rich people can become bankrupt overnight. Smart people can get overly confident and arrogant. Steve Job, the CEO of Apple, got kicked out of his very own company. But because of this event, he came back even stronger and lead Apple to be one of the most valuable companies in the world (he quoted in his book that he is kicked out is the most fortunate thing that happens to his life). Things are not always it seems. Here is the key: When in a bad situation, we should think that there is only getting better. When in a good situation, we should be extremely cautious because there is only getting worse.
- Third, stress can happen when you fail to find purpose in life, especially to those highly self-conscious humans beings. Or rather, you don't know why you are doing what you are doing. Then you become demotivated, then more stressed because you feel you are lazy, then more demotivated....this negative spiral never ends. Here is the key. Purpose DON'T come from thinking.....you will NEVER find it through thinking....it's an unsolvable equation - the more you try to think about it, the more you don't find it. High IQ people will suffer from this problem because they thought every equation can be solved which renders them more susceptible to prolonged depression/stress. Instead, live your life, let the purpose finds you, just like how your parents, friends, hobbies find you....it's a natural selection process - do you ever search for your hobby or best friend? No... you know it the moment he/she/it founds you... Stay with people with high positive energy. All these positivities will eventually allow you to better understand yourself as a whole and trust me, you will slowly understand the world bit by bit, and the world will finally reveal to you the purpose bit by bit.
For those who are actually depressed, you may want to try other ways. Here's a great Quora post about it: https://www.quora.com/What-cured-your-depression/answers/79960478