For the majority of my graduate program, I’ve relied on finding other people (via both social interactions and the internet) who are struggling with graduate school to help me cope. Reading the web comic strip “Piled Higher and Deeper” often seemed to help, and commiserating with my fellow grad students in a private Facebook group were my mainstays. But then, a few months ago, I realized that these things weren’t making me feel better; they were allowing me to wallow in my own misery.
Sometimes, going through difficult things makes you want to be incredibly negative about the experience. In a lot of cases, those around you will empathize. But there are definite downsides to all this negativity. First of all, without you even realizing it, you may be gaining a bad reputation among your colleagues, friends, family members, or graduate cohort. Nobody likes to hang out with somebody who complains all the time. Even if the people you complain to seem to complain back all the time, they probably turn around and then complain to other people about how you complain all the time. Sounds complicated? Welcome to social interactions. Secondly, while there’s certainly nothing wrong with discussing your feelings and being open, sometimes by constantly talking about how miserable you are you get caught in a cycle. If you feel miserable, and then say you feel miserable, you’ll feel miserable. It’s a sort of Catch-22. Eventually, you have to break the negativity cycle. Sometimes, just putting on a positive act while still feeling negative can work to change your mood. Finally, you become obsessed by your own negative feelings. Even when I’ve had the brief and rare opportunity to be at home and away from school for a while, my negativity overwhelms my interactions with my family members. I’m tense, uptight, and irritable, which means that nobody wants to hang out with me. In addition to my bad moods, I also sometimes can’t seem to stop talking about how much I want to get out of grad school.
So my advice? Fake it until you make it. Put on a happy face and work towards feeling the way you actually want to feel. Gain perspective on your problem rather than wallowing in its difficulty. This is not to suggest that if you’re having real problems you shouldn’t seek help. Even if you suspect that your anxiety, negativity, or emotions are being influenced by factors out of your control, seek counseling or professional help.