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Dissertating during the Time of Covid 19? 13 Ways to 
Prevail and Grow during a Crisis | Issue 265


By Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C., Editor

We are living through a previously unimaginable world crisis. The changes have disrupted nearly every aspect of our daily lives, creating huge challenges for some and uncertainty for all. 

You may have had to change your work habits dramatically to adjust to the "new normal." As you practice physical distancing, the isolation of dissertation writing may have increased. 

In this crisis, you may be wondering how to stay grounded, connected, and hopeful as the ground shifts beneath you. 

When you feel discouraged, resist the temptation to give up. Instead, build your resilience with these positive psychology strategies for difficult times. 

The more you practice, the more resilience you will feel.

1. Own your feelings—don't let them own you. 

Fear and anxiety are normal responses in times of uncertainty and threat. Instead of ruminating or running from negative emotions and thoughts triggered by events, take a mindful pause. Breathe deeply as you name your feelings, thoughts, and bodily states. Write them down—then put them in a drawer instead of dwelling on them. Now pivot to constructive action and watch how your mood catches up with you! 

Worried about pandemic-induced delays and costs in your doctoral studies? 

Read "Don't Forget about Graduate Students," from the Chronicle of Higher Education about what institutions should be doing. If your school hasn't yet taken action to protect you regarding finances and timelines, share this with your advisor and graduate dean and insist on a response.

2. Rely on trustworthy sources for news and recommendations. 

Avoid consuming or spreading social media disinformation. Check credible sources as needed. Create safety for you and others by following best practices. Follow official updates on how the crisis will affect your academic progress and any work you may have.

3. Nurture your body. 

Stay "SANE" by managing your Sleep, Attitude, Nutrition, and Exercise. Get seven or more hours of sleep and vigorous activity daily to keep a strong body and mind. Take solo walks. Explore free Internet resources for exercise, yoga, and more. Use curiosity to experiment with new recipes to stave off boredom. These will help keep your mood up, as will the following recommendations. 

4. Design your own positivity portfolio. 

List at least five activities you can still engage in that bring you pleasure and satisfaction to create your unique "positivity portfolio." Some possibilities: reading, journaling, drawing, painting, making music, cooking, gardening, etc. Engaging in vigorous activity and spending time in nature also enhance mood. Avoid things that bring you down, e.g., bingeing on social media or junk food. Post your list where you will notice it when you most need it. 

5. Connect with others for fun and meaning.

We are an incredibly social species. Staying connected is fundamental for overall well-being. Stave off loneliness with video chats and phone calls to family, friends, and colleagues. Bring in humor and playfulness in new ways. Affirm both feelings and strengths. Acknowledge growth in resilience and newfound meaning in your conversations and journaling. 



6. Go for a balanced perspective. 

Dealing with the coronavirus is just one aspect of life for most of us. What else deserves your attention? What you focus on grows, so train yourself to stay grounded through such practices as meditation, prayer, reflection, yoga, etc. Create your own mantra to counteract pessimism, e.g., "This too shall pass" or "We will get through this together." 



7. Be kind to others. 


This crisis calls for cultivating relationship skills since we are all under stress. We will get through this better by noticing our triggers, taking a deep breath, and remembering our common humanity. Lowering the tension might mean exercising more patience when people take longer to get back to you or forgiving sooner when people let you down or get under your skin. What better time is there to practice listening generously to others' struggles and pay it forward than now? Notice how practicing kindness helps you feel better as it affirms your power to improve someone else's experience even in bad times. 



8. Be kind to yourself. 


New routines and normal emotional responses at this time are likely to impact your productivity and your energy. You deserve to treat yourself with the tenderness you would offer others in hard times. Speak to yourself as if you were your caring kindergarten teacher or kindly grandfather, perhaps using a term of endearment to address yourself. When you fall short, keep in mind that self-compassion is a better motivator than self-criticism. (P.S. Compassion is also a better motivator than criticism of others as well.) 



9. Honor your deepest values and vital goals. 


Crises have a way of bringing clarity to many situations. What really matters to you now? How will you honor those values and goals? Do you need to protect time to work on your dissertation? Are there other goals you find more pressing or more doable? Be reasonable about what you can accomplish. Notice how good you feel checking items off your to-do list. When tempted to fritter time away, leverage 20 seconds of courage to get started on something your future self will thank you for. Need accountability? Set up a quiet writing hour on Skype or Zoom with a friend. At day's end, reflect on your wins to help rewire your brain for productivity and positivity. 



10. Make a plan. 

Most of us will not get sick, but our minds will churn through energy imagining all the scenarios. You can create greater inner calm by writing down your plan for what you can do if you should get sick. What supplies do you need to keep on hand? Who could you call in an emergency? Do you need to consider arrangements for children or pets? Then post it where you can refer to it easily if needed. See the CDC for tips. 



11. Hunt for the gold nuggets.

Actively seek to highlight what goes right in the world, in your environs, and in your life. Challenge yourself to find something beautiful or admirable every day. Savor it. Take a photo or write about it. Reminisce the good times with others. Anticipate the good times to come. Enjoy the art and music gifts being offered on the Internet. Find a venue for offering your own gifts to others. Be a "benefit hunter." 



12. Leverage opportunities.


The challenges are real. Choose to prevail, not just muddle through. If you feel lost without the library or cafe where you used to write, draw on your curiosity and creativity to figure out how to block out noise and commotion and write anyway. As much as possible, convert obstacles into problems to be solved—then harness your inner and outer resources. Dig as deep and wide as it takes. How might you invest your time, instead of spending it? Hone an old skill or learn a new one? Catch up on a backlog of deferred tasks? Read a novel—or write yours? When this crisis is over, what will you wish you had done with this time?



13. Practice gratitude. 

Pause to appreciate the crisis helpers: healthcare professionals, researchers, news services, grocery clerks and stockers, goods and food suppliers, delivery persons, public leaders, etc. If you catch yourself spiraling down, take moment to contemplate three blessings in your life. Fretting about not having access to what you really want? Then reflect on what you still have—then imagine life without it. Gratitude is a superpower that can stop rumination and the blues in their tracks. If you are still here, you can find something to be grateful for. 


We wish you and yours health and hope. Together we will get through this.


Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY


If you are considering whether to get your own coach to help you reach your academic goals, fill out this brief application for a free consultation with a dissertation coach.

An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resources

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



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