Research-caused depression

Sometimes your research is likely to make you feel depressed. I think this is almost unavoidable. Even if you absolutely love what you’re researching, there will be that time when things don’t go how you were hoping, where something goes missing, etc. And, if you make it through all of those without feeling even a little bit depressed, well then I envy you.

Last week I had a meeting with my supervisor. Overall, I think it went okay, and I don’t think my supervisor probably thought all that much about. But, I walked out of it feeling very down about my whole project. Things are just not coming together. It feels like every step forward I take, I ended up being three steps behind. Each problem I solve causes new problems, or recreates earlier problems. It’s a very frustrating, aggravating and depressing situation to be in. And I think, on the day of that meeting, I had just hit my limit.

My pomodoros have been going really well. In fact, I’m well ahead of my goal of 6 a day. After two weeks, I needed 60 done, but actually completed 69. And I haven’t been including any meetings/seminars I’ve attended, even though all of them recently have been research related. But, for all that work, it doesn’t feel like I’ve made much progress from where I left off in December.

Anyway, after my meeting I was actually feeling like I just wanted to walk away from my project and be done with it all. Of course, I also know that that isn’t the right response, and not what I should be doing. That it’s just an overreaction to a stressful situation, and one I shouldn’t take literally.

So what do you do, when you have one of these reactions? Well, this is probably very person specific, but here are somethings I’ve done.

  1. I took the rest of that day off. I was ahead in pomodoros and could afford to. I went climbing. I met up with a friend briefly. I mainly just relaxed
  2. The next day, I got back to work on my project. I didn’t tackle the big tasks I have on my list, instead focusing on the small ones. This way I knew I’d be able to get some items checked off my to-do list and feel like I was making progress. 
  3. I vented to friends/family. This might seem odd, but sometimes the best way to put things into perspective, is to explain how you’re feeling to someone else – even if it’s in the form of venting. It gives you a chance to hear back from others (who usually offer a more reasonable and realistic opinion of what’s going on). And, venting usually makes you feel better. 🙂
  4. I took the weekend off completely. I was actually debating getting around to doing some work this weekend, but in the end didn’t. By taking the weekend off, I’m more ready to get back to work and re-focus. And it gave me time to re-evaluate how I was feeling about the project.
  5. Spend some time on a different project or area of your project. In my case, I have a paper I need to be working on, so I will move up my schedule and dedicate some of my work time this week to the paper. It will give me a break to do something different that is still productive.

I know my project is not a complete loss. And I know it’s not worth “throwing it out” where I am right now. But, I did really need the break from it and the chance to get a different perspective. It was helpful to talk with some and get reactions that reminded me I am where I’m suppose to be. And that things would look better in a day or too (and they do).

Has your research ever caused you to feel depressed and ready to just quit? How have you dealt with that reaction?


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