Sophie Almond |
I think we can all agree that doing a PhD can, at times, be an extremely stressful experience. Conducting primary research, working to tight deadlines, and filling in endless amounts of paperwork takes its toll. Luckily, I have a good support network and a stable home life, which means that when I do inevitably get stressed because of something work-related, I can throw my laptop at the wall take a breather, shut the study door, and come back to it when I feel ready.
So what happens when the stress is home-related? What happens when your ‘stable home life’ is suddenly put into question? What happens when you no longer have a study door to shut?
Some context. My partner and I moved into our first house together in early 2018. Before this, I had moved every year for the past five years, never staying anywhere long enough to truly make it feel like my own. This time round we got lucky; we found an amazing place to rent in a fantastic area, and settled down to spend what we thought would be years in our new dream home. We were told that the landlord was looking for a long-term let – perfect! I could finally settle down and relax.
“Even with the luxury of a fixed-term contract, renting can leave you feeling insecure about the future”
We bought our first sofa suite, planted flowers in the garden, and I set up my PhD office in the spare bedroom. Everything was great. This being said, I never allowed myself to forget that this wasn’t ‘our’ house; even with the luxury of a fixed-term contract, renting can leave you feeling insecure about the future. At the end of the day, you are paying for the privilege of living in someone else’s property. But this felt different, and I managed to quieten the anxiety which lurked at the back of my mind.
A few weeks ago, 11 months after we moved into our lovely home, a bomb-shell dropped into my inbox. Rather than receiving an email from our letting agent about renewing our tenancy for another blissful year, I was faced with my worst nightmare: ‘Your landlord has decided to sell’.
Suddenly, all the security which I felt I had in my home life vanished. What were we going to do? Where were we going to live? How was I going to cope with this level of upheaval during my PhD?
Faced with an uncertain future, my brain went into a full-blown meltdown. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t rationalise. I had no perspective. I felt like my world was falling apart. I ‘coped’ with the uncertainty by throwing myself into a series of intensive house viewings. For over a week I got absolutely no work done, I was a horrible person to be around, and I forgot about appointments that I’d had in the diary for months. I had convinced myself that we were not going to find anywhere else to live, and that in two months time, I would be effectively homeless.
“Stressful life events, especially unexpected ones, have the propensity to really throw you off-course. As a PhD student, many things already seem uncertain”
This may all sound ridiculous, but stressful life events, especially unexpected ones, have the propensity to really throw you off-course. As a PhD student, many things already seem uncertain – Will I ever finish this chapter? Will I ever be able to write 80,000 words? Will I be able to find a job at the end of it?. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed when your home life starts to feel precarious too.
Having somewhere to call ‘home’ is an essential part of the PhD. You need a base, a safe haven, somewhere you can relax after a difficult day researching. It doesn’t help that low stipends and academic precarity makes renting the default option for most people. We have no choice but to put our fate in the hands of someone who is better off, and effectively hand over all control.
- Be kind to yourself – you are doing a great job.
- When things get tough, ask for help – you are not alone.
- Take some time to clear your head – your wellbeing is as important as your work.
- Remind yourself that everything will be okay – it may not seem like it now, but this situation will pass.
Happily, my partner and I have now found somewhere to live, and we will be moving in early April. I know we are very lucky, and that many people have to deal with months of uncertainty before they find somewhere else to live. My not-so-great way of dealing with this *new* stress was selling all of the furniture we can’t take with us, five weeks in advance. This has included everything in my office.
Reader, I have sold my desk from under myself.
Thankfully I am now in the position where I can look back and laugh at my meltdown (and lack of desk). Moving is undoubtedly very stressful at the best of times, but moving whilst attempting to write a PhD can be extremely problematic (good luck to anyone who recalls one of my library books). Whatever your own situation might be, try and keep things in perspective, and remember, like the PhD, you’re working towards an end goal. Once the boxes are unpacked and you’ve had a chance to
down a bottle of prosecco settle in, the stress will fade away, and you’ll be able to make your new house, a home.
“Home is where the heart is, even if you can’t remember which box you packed it in”
Sophie Almond is a PhD student at the University of Leicester, researching the history of early women doctors. She is currently negotiating a house move whilst attempting to write her first thesis chapter. For regular updates on her stress-levels, follow her on Twitter.
All images: Pexels.