Ph.D. Stress and Burnout: 5 Steps To Overcome Overwhelm

I shockingly found myself on academic probation after my first semester of my doctoral program. Talk about imposter syndrome!

After days of crying myself to sleep and mounds of self-doubt, I made the decision that I was going to kick ass the next semester. I was going to prove to the insensitive and non-empathetic faculty that they underestimated me and they could kiss my ass!

I’m proud to say that the next semester I did just that. Hello, 4.0 semester!

May was filled with celebrations and gloating! I was on an extreme high.

Then reality smacked me in the head as I entered my first summer semester.

I was tired!

Let’s just say that I spent the whole summer on the struggle bus.

I did well academically. Personally and mentally was a different story.

I’m not too proud to say that the next semester was more of the same.

Some of this was the results of being in a doctoral program.

A lot of it was because I burnt myself out that second semester and did not know how to recharge myself.

As a Black woman, I was taught that you just push through it. That there is no time for self-care. You have to keep going.

That can only last for so long. I learned that the hard way during my second semester of my second year. That’s a story for another time.

Today, I’m here to tell you 5 things you need to do to get over the hump of burnout and overwhelm.


Know You Why

I had absolutely no idea what it meant to get a Ph.D. Like I didn’t even know what Ph.D. stood for. I was just doing what my mentors told me to do. Apply for a Ph.D. program and finish it before you get pregnant. I mean I remember saying as a small child that I wanted to get all the degrees because I loved school that much. But I can’t say that I had a true why for putting myself through such a rigorous process. That’s the number one reason why I was burning out. I had no idea why I was doing this.

What’s your why? Why are you pursuing a doctoral degree? Are you doing it for you or for someone else? Be honest with yourself.

What Are Your Barriers

Knowing your why will help you to be real clear on what is blocking you from doing the things that you really want to do. Yes, there are program requirements that you have to do that you don’t care that much for. However, in the bigger picture, are you doing what you want to do? What is getting in your way? Are you doing extra projects or giving extra time to things and people that you really don’t care that much about? That you feel a deep sense of obligation to but really it’s not your responsibility at all. As Black women, we often do additional physical and emotional labor out of some deep moral obligation that we are not sure where it comes from. Maybe your barriers are simply things like facebook and television. Whatever your barriers, it’s time to be honest with yourself about it.

Figure Out What You Want

Knowing your why and the barriers preventing you from achieving that why opens up the door to being clear about what you actually want. This isn’t just about what you want academically. It’s about what you want for your life! What happens after your doctoral program? What type of life do you want to live now? Are you living it? Do you even know what you want? When you know what you want, it’s that much easier to tell other people and things no. Because when you are clear about your goals, you have no time for things that do not push you closer to those goals. I find what holds most people back is that they do not want to let other people down, When the truth is they are not at all concerned about letting you down. I’m not telling you to be completely selfish or void of empathy. I’m saying that YOU are also worthy and deserving to have the life that you want.

Plan Out What You Want

Once you know what you want, plan that shit out! It doesn’t matter if you write down the best goals. If you don’t actually plan and execute those plans, then you are no better off than when you started. Find a system that works for you to help you get shit done. This will take some experimentation and some soul searching. What works for your homegirl, may not work for you. Just because I tell you what works for me and what I do, it may not vibe with your personal working style. But you won’t know unless you try it. You don’t want to or don’t think you have time to? What do you have to lose? Face it, you are burnt out and overwhelmed. You have to act and give back to yourself to get out of it. Sorry, not sorry. I’m here to help.

Get You Some Accountability

This is the most difficult step of all because who wants to be vulnerable and ask for help? This woman right here does! I used to be that person who did want to look like I didn’t have it together, I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. But girl, you don’t. No one does. You have to get some sista friends who get it, who will support you, and who won’t be afraid to tell you to get your shit together! There are women who are just like you. Needing some accountability to get what they want out of life. Just do some research on the women you look up to. They are surrounded by a tribe (most likely women) who help them to keep it together, who challenge them to be better. Who is your tribe?

Interested in learning more about how to practice these five steps and getting some support from some kick-ass women, click here to join the Hustle Blueprint 5 Day Challenge.

Through this challenge, I will show you step-by-step how to go through these five steps so that you can feel better and get shit done. I personally send you daily emails with mini activities that take about 10–20 minutes a day. That’s it.

Are you worth 10–20 minutes a day?

Yes you are. Join me!

Until Next Time