Writing a thesis is the logical culmination of higher education degrees at the Bachelor’s, Master’s, or PhD levels. It is a vital piece of writing that, when properly completed, can lead to the awarding of a diploma. No wonder students feel immense pressure when crafting such a paper, considering the seriousness of the work. Sometimes, however, the thesis-completion process can cause more serious psychological problems, becoming the cause for stress, high anxiety levels, and even leading to panic attacks.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Organizing your writing schedule and setting smaller, achievable goals can significantly reduce stress and increase productivity.
  • Engaging with study partners or writing groups provides accountability and emotional support, making the writing process less isolating.
  • Incorporating physical activity and creating a reward system can help maintain mental and emotional well-being during the demanding thesis-writing period.

This was the story of one PhD student, who was supposed to finish their degree in one month. In a heartfelt Reddit post, they shared their struggles with writing their thesis, revealing how the task has triggered debilitating panic attacks. Feeling desperate and having not started writing yet, the learner turned to Reddit for some advice.

The post has resonated with many Reddit users, who have flooded the comments section with messages of support and advice. Fellow students and mental health advocates have shared their own experiences and offered practical tips for managing anxiety and stress. So let’s look at what other students have found to be helpful in battling thesis-induced stress and anxiety.

Top 3 Tips on Battling Anxiety and Staring Writing

We’ve dug into the comments from various Redditors and found that some pieces of advice repeated each other. As such, we have outlined the 3 main tips that seemed to work for a large audience of students.

Break It Down

Breaking down the thesis writing process into smaller, manageable tasks proved to be a key strategy among Reddit users. A few commenters shared,

“Write one sentence, have a beer. Write another sentence, and take a shower. Repeat the next day, just write two sentences this time…by the end of the week you start writing regularly”

PhD Student Struggles with Thesis-Induced Panic Attacks, Turns to Reddit for Support

“My very first step was to get an outline so I used Xmind to get a mind map about my thesis, sketch out figures by hand, and then try to write around them”

Others also suggested changing the perception of the work process, saying to treat it not as “writing a thesis” but rather as “just doing a paragraph on the introduction. Or a graph. Or write a description of your first method.” This allows to easily break down the whole work into smaller chunks which generally reduces the pressing need to complete the whole thing in one sitting and also shows the general progress more clearly.

Another user also mentioned setting smaller goals, but more in terms of the worktime:

“Write for 5/10 mins then walk away. Increase the time if you feel up to it.”

By focusing on incremental progress rather than the entire project, students can reduce anxiety, make the writing seem less overwhelming, and build momentum.

Study With a Partner

Another trick that seemed to help many students was to find a study buddy. As one user put it,

“Scheduling writing sessions during the day with other humans (‘body doubling’) so I was accountable to another person.”

This sentiment was echoed by another commenter who found virtual writing groups helpful.

PhD Student Struggles with Thesis-Induced Panic Attacks, Turns to Reddit for Support

“Writing sessions with an accountability partner over Zoom. These also led to some vent sessions that didn’t help with writing but made me feel better.”

Generally, as we can see from the responses, writing with a partner or in a group was reported to provide motivation, reduce feelings of isolation, and create a support system for overcoming the challenges of thesis writing.

Add Physical Activity

The last but not the least advice given by the Reddit community was adding more physical exercise into the daily routines. One Redditor shared

“I’ve been having anxiety attacks off and on when writing my dissertation. Things are better if I get enough sleep and drag myself out of bed to go walk/workout first thing”

PhD Student Struggles with Thesis-Induced Panic Attacks, Turns to Reddit for Support

Another user found relief through exercise:

“I got out of my thesis rut by joining a gym and just doing the yoga classes and sauna. It helped immensely.”

You see, from a biological perspective, any physical activity can pump our body up with endorphins which are the neurotransmitters that make us feel better. Additionally, exercises reduce the levels of the two main stress hormones in our body – cortisol and adrenalin. As a result, physical activity (especially aerobic ones, such as running, walking, jumping, dancing, etc.) allows you to manage anxiety, improve focus, and, additionally, provide a much-needed break from the stress of writing.

Additional Tips That Can Also Help With Focus & Productivity

Aside from the top 3 most common advice, we also found that there are a couple of niche tricks that could prove to be helpful for some learners.

One Reddit user suggested starting with the formatting and organizational aspects of the thesis.

“Doing all the format stuff first (page layouts, table of contents, planned figures, Zotero library) and copy-pasting in writing from previous abstracts or term papers or my qualifying exam, so it felt less like starting and more like filling in.”

This approach can make the ask feel less daunting by creating a structured framework to build upon. Another user recommended scheduling writing sessions during unconventional hours. “Only writing from 10 pm-4 am when no emails, family, or anything could distract me,” they shared. This strategy might help those who find it easier to focus when the world around them is quiet and free from interruptions. Similarly, another commenter noted,

“My (bad) solution: work from midnight till the sun rises…it kinda works.”

Although unconventional, these late-night writing sessions can be effective for some individuals. However, it all depends on your usual working routine and the times of the day when you feel the most productive. Incorporating a reward system was also highlighted as a motivational tool. One Redditor suggested,

“Creating a reward system. For each hour of writing, maybe you watch an episode of a show.”

This technique can help maintain motivation by providing regular, enjoyable breaks. Finally, keeping a physical journal to track progress and goals was mentioned as a useful strategy. One user detailed their process:

“A physical journal to jot down thoughts and progress and goals, with fun pen colors and stickers, which I checked every night when getting started.”

This, similarly to gradually completing smaller chunks of work, can help in visualizing progress and maintaining a sense of accomplishment throughout the writing process. In general, these extra tips, though varied, offer unique strategies that can serve different preferences and significantly aid in managing focus and productivity during the thesis writing journey.

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