What to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed

When I first started my PhD, the enormity of what I had to do would often overwhelm me. I knew that I had to break my research project down into smaller steps, so I did that early on.  Yet I still get overwhelmed every now and then.


I have found that a small phrase or quote can often help put my project in perspective and get me researching again.  Here’s one that worked well for me:

Research is doing small, manageable steps:

  1. Pose a question,
  2. Collect data to answer the question, and
  3. Present an answer to the question (Creswell, 2008, p. 3).

This helps me to see that no matter how big I imagine my research project to be, it really is just a set of basic steps. Now I see my research as doable.

How do you deal with feeling overwhelmed? What works for you?

If you would like to ask me a question about writing your thesis, or finding the motivation to write, I would be happy to answer. Please write your question in the comments box.



Creswell, J. W. (2008). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. (3rd ed.). New Jersey: Pearson.



About Julia Hallas

Julia Hallas contributes to Thesislink posts in the hope of overcoming her procrastination and worry about completing the PhD so that she can develop some sound research skills. She enjoyed worked with Jennie Billot on Thesislink’s inception and continues her role as advisor to the team. Julia is a Teaching Consultant at the Centre for Learning and Teaching.

3 thoughts on “What to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed

  1. Kia ora Julia!
    Funnily enough I have thought of you and your wisdom this week. I have been feeling the overwhelm of the PhD more than ever and I remember you always had great practical strategies, so I certainly appreciate the timeliness of this post! I also opted to unload all my concerns on my supervisor — and she has been fantastic as usual. I’m sure some (students and supervisors) might not be so comfortable with that perhaps?

    Thanks again.

  2. Kia ora, Nimbus
    Great to hear from you, and I’m so pleased you are working on your PhD. I think managing the fear of writing is the hardest part of doing the PhD.
    As for your strategy, yes, you are lucky you have got a supervisor who will listen. I hope she had some good words of advice for you. Feel free to share them with us and your own ideas in a post if you have the time. I would love to hear your thoughts on doing the PhD.
    All the best for your writing, Nimbus, and everyone else who is reading this.

  3. Thanks, Julia for the great words of wisdom. For me the challenge is I am a drifter and creating boundaries for my research is an impossible task as I have a natural PhD in the art of waning and drifting away from the focus…Also, a related issue is how as I go on researching more, the key topics of research go through a transformation that it starts becoming a Journey to nowhere from the original journey to somewhere!

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