Emotional Resilience in Everyday University Life

Overflowing schedules? Too many impending deadlines? Exam anxiety or fear of failure? Competitive pressure?

Stress ist, wenn man nicht nur der Arbeit nachgeht, sondern die Arbeit einem selbst nachgeht. (Stress means it’s not you who finishes the work done but the work that finishes you.)
(Professor Gerhard Uhlenbruck)

Who does not know the feeling of being stressed and the negative attending ills that come with it? When you are torn between teaching and research duties on the one hand and financial and/or family-related or other responsibilities on the other hand, it can often seem difficult to break the vicious cycle.

The stresses and strains on students and doctoral students in everyday university life are real and tangible. We take them seriously and offer you advice and support! If you experience various symptoms, it may be reasonable to take preventative measures and to inform yourself about potential strategies and services before they worsen. In an emergency situation, do not hesitate to seek advice from internal and/or external counseling services.

How can being overworked manifest itself?

  • Burnout

    What can I do when I experience permanent overload in my job and everyday life and am no longer able to recharge my batteries in my free time?

    Burnout is the reaction of our body and our emotional life to chronic stress. According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) , symptoms include

    • emotional exhaustion: e.g., lack of drive, lack of energy, weariness, ready irritability
    • depersonalization: increasing distance between affected people and their environment (clients, colleagues, etc.), which results in increasing apathy.
    • failures: especially in view of continuously increasing demands your own achievements seem small. Mental overload can also lead to more mistakes.

    Burnout can cause different kinds of symptoms: psychological or physical symptoms, changes in behavior or in the social field.

    Get informed!

  • Anxiety

    ... is a feeling that stays with us throughout our lives – and it has its raison d’etre! But if anxiety takes control over our everyday life or lasts for a very long time, if activities in our free time, our social life and relaxation only happen once in a while and we cannot really enjoy it, if we maybe even suffer from physical symptoms, talking to a trusted person (family, friends), psychological counseling, therapy or help for self-help might be helpful.

    If you suffer from psychosomatic symptoms due to constant (mental) overload, such as issues of digestion, headaches/migraine, breathing problems or even panic attacks, do not hesitate to seek help!

  • Depression

    It is sad but true: depression is one of the most common illnesses of our time. According to the depression guideline of the German Medical Association and other studies, one in five adults will suffer one form of depression in their lifetime. But: feeling sad, gloomy or pessimistic or having lost hope does not automatically mean you are depressed! 

    Depression is clinically diagnosed by assessing the presence of certain major and minor symptoms. The number and severity of the existing symptoms determine whether a mild, moderate, or severe depression exists. Next to common symptoms such as “feelings of sadness, loss of pleasure and interest in activities, feelings of excessive guilt and low self-esteem, disrupted sleep, lack of appetite, fatigue, and poor concentration”, as listed by

    the WHO, there can also be other symptoms linked to depression.

    Women are more often affected by depression than men and depression often starts at a young age.

    Whatever your specific case is, the most important thing is: the earlier you get help and support, the better! But for those affected by symptoms of depression, it is often especially hard to bring themselves to take the first step of seeking help.


  • Impostor phenomenon

    They are caught up in a complex psychological system of self-doubt that diminishes their successes and achievements. They do not believe that it was their own potential that let them accomplish it. Often, they attribute their accomplishments externally, i.e., to luck or coincidence, rather than internally, i.e., to ability.

    This perception may also be influenced by the so-called “Matthew effect”: in line with the proverb “to him who has will more be given”, past successes may have a stronger bearing on current success than the actual current achievements. This may be due to the associated resources and preferential attachment.  

    Just knowing about these attributions and thought patterns can be the first step towards change! Additionally, writing therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other strategies for changing thought patterns have proven useful.

  • How likely are students and doctoral candidates to be affected by mental health issues?

    The group of doctoral students is predisposed. Evans et al. (2018) evidence a worrying prevalence of factors associated with depression in doctoral students. According to their study, doctoral students are six times more likely to experience depressive symptoms and anxiety. Their prevalence for moderate to severe depression is 39%, compared to 6% in the rest of the population. In addition, transgender people and women are even more likely to be affected than men.

    Studies by various health insurance providers show that pressures on students are also increasing and mental illness is particularly widespread among students: Up to 20% of students are affected by increased stress levels due to growing time and performance pressures or anxiety, expectations, and mental overload. Self-presentation in social media also influences how students deal with the challenges of studying.

    In addition, since 2020, the changes and uncertainties caused by COVID-19 have even had a reinforcing impact, especially for student parents, disabled students or students with a chronic illness, and students belonging to the COVID-19 risk group. This was shown, for example, by the online survey Studying in Times of the Coronavirus Pandemic //The Impact of the Coronavirus on Global Higher Education conducted by the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (Deutsches Zentrum für Hochschul- und Wissenschaftsforschung, DZHW) in the summer semester of 2020.

Podcasts, blogs, MOOCs etc. ... which services and programs might help me to stay mentally healthy?

What can I do myself to maintain good mental health?

In addition to institutionalized programs that provide advice and support, personal room for maneuver or general tips for a healthy lifestyle – whether it be during the pandemic or not  – are viable means of staying mentally strong during the time of your doctoral studies. 

  • Your personal impact during your doctorate

    The doctorate is a qualification phase in which no one needs to be perfect! You may and even should ask for support – in this way, some problems that may arise can perhaps be solved at an early stage. The following steps may be helpful:

    • Contact your superiors. Superiors are often heavily involved in research and teaching themselves. Therefore, stand up for yourself and, if possible, insist on regular agreements in a self-confident manner.
    • Short-, medium- and long-term schedules can be subjected to a reality test in these meetings and you can monitor whether certain milestones have been achieved. 
    • A plan B is always useful in case an interim goal cannot be achieved. In this way, you may be able to use the time constructively, for example, to evaluate data that has already been collected.
    • Open communication with the peer group can make things easier as those affected feel less judged or alone and accordingly are more likely to seek help. After all, all doctoral students face similar challenges. More advanced students may provide support and networking among students may also generate positive synergy effects.
    • Courses on self-management organized by the Studierendenwerk can provide tips on how to structure your studies. International doctoral students may seek individual support at the Welcome Center of the International Office and look for suitable courses on various cultural or linguistic topics. The online coworking space “The Writing Academic” deals with the importance of structure in writing.
    • In structured doctoral programs such as GESS with tight time constraints, the program coordinators who are familiar with the internal infrastructure are happy to share their experience in dealing with similar problems and, if necessary, to act as mediators. Doctoral students at GESS can turn to the members of the GDC, their mentors, supervisors, program directors, academic directors, and center managers for help with any problems or conflicts.
    • Incorporating relaxation and mindfulness techniques into everyday life – even by simply using the appropriate apps – can help to alleviate stress reactions, anxiety, and other symptoms. One option is the 7mind app, which is available to all students at the University of Mannheim, in cooperation with the Barmer Campus Coach program, free of charge for one year and without a subscription trap. No cancellation is necessary.
    • Various strategies for activating helpful resources, such as thought-stopping or the zoom technique, can also help reduce negative thoughts and mental blocks and possibly even transform them into positive energy.
  • General tips on healthy living

    The Psychological Counseling Services (PBS) of the Studierendenwerk Mannheim  and the PhDNet of the Max Planck society provide   recommendations for studying and researching during the coronavirus pandemic. They also address topics regarding a balanced lifestyle that are relevant for everyday life once the pandemic is over. A balanced diet, sufficient sleep, exercise, and relaxation (techniques) can also have a positive influence during difficult phases of life.

Advice and support inside and outside of the University of Mannheim