Thursday, 11 August 2016

Getting through my dissertation (and constant worry)

Emily writes about the pressures during her dissertation and how she dealt with them whilst having ongoing stress and anxiety.
- Emily Smale

First term of third year, and it was looming over all of us. Dissertation. I had known the subject I wanted to look into for months, but what I wanted to find out was still a puzzle to me. During dissertation seminars I would hear people discussing their ideas, the literature they had already researched and the questions they had drafted. I felt so behind.

Of course, adding on to the stress was our first two assignments of third year. Progressing to Plymouth for my final year from a partner college was challenging. Just before Christmas I made myself physically ill with anxiety. I was juggling two massive assignments and the planning of my dissertation right before the Christmas break. For weeks I was constantly waking up with stress headaches, I would lie in bed and feel my chest tightening as I tried to go through everything I had to do, in such little time.

I finally got my ethical approval 5 days before Christmas. I was so fearful that it was going to take me months to write it up; I rushed into finding a school, receiving permission and planning my methodology all before the middle of January. I spent most of my Christmas break suffering from constant worry and panic attacks. I was not juggling the pressure of third year well, at all.

After Christmas break, I came to the realisation that everybody else was miles behind me. I was the only one in my research seminar that had been to collect my data. Some hadn’t received ethical feedback. It was at this moment I realised how much my worry had gotten to me. Being away from university for so long at a time (Long-distance learner), I lost communication from so many. I assumed that everybody was much further along than me, but they weren’t. I took the time I had at uni to talk through my worries and my ideas with my dissertation tutor.

As time progressed, the tightness in my chest, the pain in my head and the butterflies in my stomach surpassed. It became occasional that I would lie in bed worried about the pressure, as I had three months to write up my data. However, I then got complacent, and pushed the writing up of my findings to the back of my priorities. When deadline month was becoming closer, I decided to write up a schedule for each week with what I had to write, what I should write and what I could write if I had time. I would only let myself panic if I hadn’t gotten around to completing my “had” list for the day. Eventually, submission day arrived and 8,500 words later I was finished.

My advice is; never isolate yourself in times of worry and stress. Keep on with your dissertation tutor if you’re worried about time, keep yourself talking through with friends about ideas and questions. If you have sleepless nights, occupy your mind. It’s okay to not be doing it everyday. Trying to force yourself to write when your brain just isn’t ready will be a waste of time and energy. Taking breaks during writing and occupying your mind with something else, will really, really help. I would wake up super early and try to get stuff done so that I had the rest of the day ahead of me, but I soon learnt that I worked best later in the day/night. It’s not always going to be easy, but having a healthy balance between writing and taking breaks is the best way forward.

For more information on how to find support, click here.

For more information on how to deal with stress during studies, click here.

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