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How to Take the Stress Out of Writing That Dissertation

  • Posted by All Top Reviews
  • June 02, 2017
Content howtotakestress

If you have gotten this far, you probably know how to write a doctoral dissertation. You have had the coursework; you have read lots of others’ dissertations; you have an advisor who has provided advice; and you have your department’s guidelines. 
And you have probably read lots of articles with tips about how to streamline your work, how to schedule your time, and how to stay organized. 


Very little, however, is written about how to relieve the stress that will naturally come with such a huge and complex project – one that comes with deadlines and a committee that must approve of both the final product but also your oral defense. Add to that stress, the other obligations of normal life – family and social life, a part-time job that may well involve teaching, grading papers, and office hours. 

Why Students Don’t Finish Their Dissertations

A lot has been written about the condition of “ABD” – all but dissertation. These are students who finished all of their Ph.D. coursework but never finished that final step – that culminating project. Many of these articles speak to financial constraints, to lack of motivation, to procrastination, and to lack of support. And they also speak to the issue of stress.
The issue of stress figures prominently when students are asked why they never finished their dissertations. They speak of burn out, strain on family relationships, frustration – all things that are both causes and results of stress.

How You Can Reduce Dissertation Stress

No one can reduce the workload. But there are activities to do to relieve stress as you attack that workload. Here are several of them.

  1. Understand that your deadlines are flexible. Yes, you established a deadline when you submitted your proposal, and you set benchmarks for completion of each chapter. You can relieve some of your stress by allowing yourself to reconfigure those deadlines, take them to your advisor and keep your committee informed. No one will kick you out of the program for not changing your deadlines. In most institutions, there is a seven-year term allowance for dissertation completion.
  2. Schedule family and social time. When you do not maintain your important relationships, you begin to feel isolated. This is a stress factor in itself – and a big one. Schedule at least on family and one other social event every week. These are people who want to support your efforts, but they want to see the “normal” you too.
  3. Writing to relieve stress can work. Writing such a major, complex, and scholarly piece has a tendency to sour you on writing altogether. You can relieve some of the stress of the scholarly focus of this type of writing by writing for fun and for catharsis. Keeping a personal journey, writing a blog post, composing emails to friends and family on non-academic topics – all of these types of writing can both clear your head and allow you to vent some of the stress.
  4. Taking time for self is critical. There is an importance in getting off by yourself, away from your project and away from other people. You need time to reflect, to pursue physical exercise, to walk and think and daydream. Allow yourself this time - you need the balance.
  5. Break dissertation or thesis writing activities into small chunks. “Hitting it” eight hours a day will only increase your self-imposed stress. Plan no more than 3-4 hours at a time. When you go longer than that, your brain tires, your anxiety increases, and you will be far less productive.
  6. Mind your physical health. It is well known that stress is reduced by good health – adequate sleep, a good diet, and physical activity. And you will also be more productive when you are healthy.
  7. Find the right environment for work. Only you know where, when and how you are most productive and least stressed. What time of day is best for you? Where can you work without interruptions? What physical conditions are best for you? Do you need to snack or listen to music? Do you need absolute silence or background noise? Create your ideal environment, and you will have less stress.

Here’s a Thought as You Proceed

There’s a lot written on stress. Access a dissertation or thesis on stress, read some of the research, and use the results of that research to develop your own anti-stress program.

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