The Trauma of a Doctoral Degree

January 30, 2024

Yes, I’m aware at how dramatic that sounds. While I would never change anything about going through the process, I learned quite a lot. And it has honestly taken me just over a year to really see all of the different areas this process impacted my life.

Getting a doctoral degree is traumatic to your nervous system

When you are working full-time while pursuing a doctoral degree, you are busy. Emotionally, mentally, and physically busy. It isn’t just about reading some text and taking a quiz. You are constantly thinking about your study, reading about theoretical perspectives, making connections, and if you are anything like me, learning all about research and its terminology for the first time. Every bit of free time you have is spent thinking, reading, writing, etc. Your body becomes used to running at a high frequency constantly. There is no time for boredem. Barely any time for reading for pleasure. And when you aren’t working or researching, you are trying to fit in small amounts of time with your friends and family to sustain those relationships.

Getting a doctoral degree is traumatic to your health

I gained around 30-40 pounds from 2019 to 2023 (I wish I knew an exact number, but honestly, I gave up keeping track). Granted, some of that was intentional as I attempted to grow my muscles and love my body. AND we also went through a pandemic.

But, the last two years of my doctoral degree, I gave up working out. I wasn’t lifting weights anymore. I was barely walking (we’re talking 3000ish steps a day). My mental health deterioted. I was constantly depressed, anxious, and exhausted. Part of not getting any steps was due to literally being constantly exhausted. I honestly lost who I was. I lived and breathed my doctorate and career. Those were my priorities (aside from being a mom and wife, of course).

Getting a doctoral degree is traumatic to your relationships

I was very lucky. I had a great support system surrounding me who picked up my slack and knew this was a dream I had to pursue. This was essential to my success. When you start your degree, you barely have any free time. And the little free time you do have, you want to spend either resting (which is EXTREMELY important) or spending it with those you love. This means that yes, your relationships will take a hit and those around you will need to understand this change in you and your priorities. I am extremely grateful that my support system understood, worked with me, and were patient.

Next Steps

It has been just over a year since I finished my doctoral program, and I am pretty sure my body is just now regulating properly. Part of this delay is due to my nervous system running at a frequency where I was constantly busy and not used to being bored. This led me to continued stress and taking on way too much. I probably actually took on more than I ever had in 2023. By the end of the year, I was burnt out and sick with Covid for two weeks. I truly believe that I can attribute all of this to my nervous system being so out of whack.

Since early December, I’ve really focused on my health, both mentally and physically. I journal daily. I try to read every day (for both pleasure and learning). I try to get movement in each day with yoga, strength training, pilates, and stretching. I also try to reach 8500-10000 steps a day. I have also started putting relationships and fun first.

These small changes have already made a HUGE difference. I feel like I am slowly becoming back to myself and who I want to be next. Over the last two months, I feel like a fog has lifted. I’ve learned who I am again.

Knowing what I know now, would I still pursue my doctoral degree?

Yes. Becoming Dr. Blair Stamper was a childhood dream that I would never give up.

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