Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Search in posts
Search in pages

Isolation, stress, anxiety, and what to do when you feel like quitting

Related articles: 

Coping with feelings of isolation

Thesis writing is often an isolating experience, which can negatively impact your physical and mental wellbeing. Experiencing a lack of support, connection and collegiality are significant concerns for many HDR candidates. 

Some tips for dealing with feelings of isolation

  • Make time to connect with other researchers and people in your faculty. Read our advice on building connections with the academic community.
  • Join the SUPRA HDR equity network. You can join the Facebook group, or to join on Microsoft Teams, email from your Uni email address, using the subject line: ‘Sign me up to the SUPRA HDR Network’. 
  • Keep up to date with postgrad events and news via Grad Post, SUPRA’s weekly newsletter. Opt-in to receive Grad Post when you join SUPRA, or contact us to be added to the mailing list. We also publish quarterly HDR editions of Grad Post
  • Attend SUPRA events and consider organising your own. Attending events can be a great opportunity to connect with other HDR candidates. Upcoming events are posted on SUPRA’s website and social media channels.  
  • Join a club or society. There are over 200 clubs and society at Usyd, ranging from academic societies to sports clubs, religious groups, hobby groups and social activism clubs. Find out more about clubs at Usyd
  • Consider a mentor – check if any of the Usyd mentoring programs would benefit you.  
  • Chat with a Peer Support Advisor – the Uni has a range of undergrad and postgrad students (both coursework and research) who are trained to assist with student life questions.  

Managing stress

Undertaking a Higher Degree by Research can be very stressful. Certain levels of stress can be motivating, but high and prolonged levels of stress can have serious impacts on our physical and mental health and wellbeing.  

Some tips for managing stress

  • Acknowledge your stress – this is the first step to doing something about it.  
  • Try to identify the causes of your stress and consider what options are available to reduce the stress. Sometimes writing down a list of problems and solutions, or talking them through with another person, can help you gain a different perspective. 
  • Change the way you talk to yourself – try not to glorify self-sacrifice or engage in negative self-talk. Feeling guilty that you’re not working hard enough is a commonly cited issue for postgraduate students. 
  • Talk to your supervisors – they are the people who are best placed to help guide you through the stress of research and deadlines. Avoiding your supervisor because you’ve missed a deadline can be a big source of stress in itself!  
  • If your supervisor is causing your stress, contact us for help. We can discuss your options and offer advice and assistance. 
  • Get support – seeking support from a GP or mental health professional can help you manage your stress levels. 


The challenge of completing a high-level research project in a relatively brief period can sometimes cause HDR candidates to feel unhappy, helpless or lacking in hope. If these periods of low mood become prolonged and you’re no longer sure why you feel the way you do, you could be experiencing depression. Read ReachOut’s clear and comprehensive explanation of the symptoms of depression. It helps to explain different types of depression and what range of treatments exist. 

Depression is not something you can ‘snap out of’, so seek support from trained health professionals. If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms listed by ReachOut over the last month, make an appointment with a GP to discuss a mental health plan. 


Stress and worry are unavoidable and important parts of being human. But ongoing anxiety can be debilitating and cause extreme distress. Beyond Blue has found that anxiety conditions will affect, on average, one in four people in Australia. Find out more about different types of anxiety and how they’re treated. 

Undertaking an HDR degree can often be a cause of anxiety, with academia being dubbed an ‘anxiety machine’. The pressure of a years-long research project can take a serious toll on mental health. 

Beyond Blue has a mental health check-in questionnaire that can offer some insight into how you’re feeling and what kind of support you might need.  

Connecting with support

Studies have shown that the majority of HDR students will experience a significant mental health issue or event during their candidature. Over half to two thirds of PhD candidates experience psychological distress, and around a third are at risk of a common psychiatric disorder. One in ten PhD candidates think about suicide. If you’re experiencing psychological distress, seek appropriate help now. Check out our list of University and community health and medical services

The University also has a list of free, confidential health and wellbeing support, which include those that are that are multilingual and available 24/7.  


Counselling and psychological services are confidential. This means they won’t disclose to the University that you are consulting them. 

Finding the right support for you can be difficult. If the supports you are receiving aren’t the right fit, or giving you what you need, don’t give up: check out our health resource list to find a suitable health professional. 

When you feel like quitting

Many HDR students consider discontinuing their candidature. Common issues HDR students face include: losing motivation to complete a thesis project; changes in professional or personal needs; and new priorities in life.  

Discontinuing candidature is a significant step. Before deciding, consider discussing your thoughts and concerns with your supervisors, postgraduate coordinator, other research colleagues and mentors, as well as loved ones and friends. You might also consider consulting a counsellor, to help you to identify the contributing issues and process how you are feeling.  

The Thesis Whisperer has an old, but still relevant, post: Should you quit your PhD?, which discusses why people feel like quitting, what they can do about it, and when it’s the right decision to quit. 

A careers counsellor can also assist you to evaluate what you want from your working life. The University Careers Centre can offer help and advice. 

Many researchers find it helpful to consider the benefits of an alternative academic (‘alt-ac’) career

You can also contact us for help – our caseworkers can help you to figure out what you might want to do, or to discuss any issues moving forward with your decision.

Download this article as a Word document
Download this article as a PDF

Written by SUPRA Postgraduate Advocacy Service March 2023

Get help from a caseworker or solicitor.

Our services are here for you.

Postgraduate Advocacy Service

Our caseworkers are experts on Uni policy, and advocate on behalf of Usyd postgrads to improve your rights and research conditions. 

SUPRA Legal Service

Our solicitors can assist with a wide range of legal issues, from intellectual property to contracts, as well as visas and migration law.