“It is Inevitable That PGR Students Become Stressed or Mentally Ill”

This myth recurs a lot in the literature and in our conversations with PGR students. It states that post-graduate research is inevitably stressful and will inevitably take a toll on your mental health. It is just part of being a PGR student and you have to accept it. 

Wrapped up in this is another, more insidious, suggestion; that if you don’t become stressed and mentally ill during your degree, then you aren’t really working hard enough or taking it seriously enough. That remaining healthy, somehow suggests that you aren’t really committed to the work. 

As one of our students stated, “This just isn’t good enough.” We shouldn’t accept that ill health is a price worth paying. It is, and should be, perfectly possible to study at PGR level without becoming ill. (In fact, as we discuss in section 2, maintaining good wellbeing will improve your productivity, creativity and quality of your work.)

The danger of this myth is that if you accept it, it actually becomes more likely that you will become stressed and/or ill. Our beliefs influence what we pay attention to, how we feel and how we behave. If you believe that doing a PhD makes you ill, you will probably pay more attention to the negative aspects of being a PGR student, adopt behaviours that increase the likelihood of becoming ill and find that you are more prone to feeling anxious or down. It can also persuade you that behaviours that might improve your wellbeing are unnecessary or frivolous and therefore, the myth can create a barrier to good wellbeing.

This isn’t to say that you can avoid all stress through the power of positive thinking. Doing research is hard work. There will be set backs along the way. There will be moments of doubt. You may even feel upset or frustrated at times. But all of this is ok. As discussed in section 2, being stretched can be good for our wellbeing and it is ok to feel negative emotions in response to things that happen in our lives.

However, the way you think about yourself and your research, will be one factor that has a real influence on how you feel and perform. 

Give yourself permission to enjoy your research, to maintain your wellbeing and to take care of yourself. Reject the myth that becoming stressed and ill is somehow a good thing. Embrace the idea of being a flourishing, well and productive student and researcher and this will make it easier for you to take care of yourself and make better informed decisions about what you need to be well and produce good research.


Every evening write down 3 good things that happened that day.

This helps you to reflect on the positives that have happened throughout the day.

Try and complete this exercise for a week.

Seligman’s (2009) [1] research has found that completing this exercise and focusing on the positives has shown to increase happiness and lower depression.



Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.