Remain Calm: Dealing with Stress and Anxiety in Academia

math on the move blog remain calm

Stressed Out

I am not going to list the 10,000 things causing you stress. You already know them. You’re drowning in them, constantly worrying about academic papers, completing your dissertation, getting published, giving talks (was that talk good enough? did I go too fast, too slow, too long?), not to mention trying to balance work life with home life.

Stress can do a lot of things to your body and often times grad students and postdocs are so inundated with work that they cannot recognize when stress and anxiety are affecting their body.

Symptoms of stress/anxiety:

  • excessive worry
  • hyper vigilance/irritably
  • fear/feelings of impending doom/depression
  • insomnia
  • fatigue/body aches
  • heartburn/nausea/intestinal pain
  • palpitations/chest pain
  • disorganization/forgetfulness/poor concentration
  • frequent colds/infections

This is a small sample of a very long list of what happens to your body while under stress. Yes, academic life is stressful, but being stressed is not something to be proud of. Being busy is not something to brag about.



It doesn’t take a lot to change your attitude toward stressful situations. With a few quick techniques, you have the ability to remain calm.

Being busy is not something to brag about

Take a mindful minute.

This is something I practice on the regular. If my workday is getting out of hand, or I just need to step back and relax (or even if I am relaxed and I want to soak it in), I take what I call a mindful minute. Stop what you are doing and take a minute to yourself. All to yourself. This means no phones, no books, nothing. Bonus points if you go outside (we call this mindful walking in our household. Smell the flowers, touch some plants, take in a great big sweeping view of the world like you’re seeing it for the first time).

Take a couple deep breaths, inhaling through your nose, holding the air momentarily and exhaling out your mouth. Smell the roses, then blow out the candles. Roll your shoulders a couple times. Feel your feet on the ground. You will return to your work calmer than you left it.



For the more disciplined, schedule time in your day for meditation. This will allow your mind to relax. In my experience with meditation I felt significantly more relaxed during and afterwards, my sleep habits improved, and my mind felt a lot clearer. There are helpful apps you can use as well, such as Headspace and Calm, which will guide you through each meditation. The Calm app features a helpful breathing guide that you can use for your mindful minutes. UCLA offers free guided meditations online.


The practice of mindfulness and meditation is an objective at-the-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and environment. There is no religion or spirit involved, just the power of one’s mind.

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2.  Hold it.
  3.  Exhale out your mouth.

Feel better?

Talk it out.

If you’re not feeling better, you should consider talking to a friend or a professional.  It’s 2018.  We know anxiety and depression are real and common diagnoses. The world needs to get over the stigma of going to a mental health professional.  Therapy is healthy and helpful.  A therapist will equip you with the tools you need to combat stressful situations and practice a healthy mindset.  Most student health centers on campus offer free or inexpensive mental health counseling for students and staff members.


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