Nothing quite beats the exhilaration of the final weeks of college. After surviving four years of packed lecture halls and grueling exams, it’s time to celebrate. You successfully navigated living on your own, pushing beyond your comfort zone, and expanding your horizons. And maybe you even learned a thing or two. Cheers are in order!
Reaching the end of college is undoubtedly exciting, but graduation can also be daunting. Approaching the precipice of adulthood and looking out at the uncertainties of the real world can be a deeply scary time, whether you have a cushy job lined up or not.
The Post-Graduate Slump is Real
Once the party ends and the diplomas are handed out, it’s completely normal to start feeling down. In fact, there is evidence to support that rates of depression and anxiety reported by postgraduate students are significantly higher than the general population — one figure says rates of this cohort reach as high as six times the average.
“If a student’s college experience is mostly positive, college provides a cocoon of sorts: a community of friends, teachers, and mentors who are mostly readily available to offer support or advice. Graduating symbolizes a leap into ‘adult’ life, which is a huge transition,” Juli Fraga, a San Francisco psychologist, told The Washington Post.
The post-graduate slump is certainly something I can relate to. After finishing up a summer internship I suddenly found myself jobless, with a mountain of debt waiting for me, living in a new city far from my friends. Like clockwork, depression and anxiety set in. I tried to channel the little energy I had into applying for jobs, but the crushing weight of adulthood had already settled in. Was this it, this is what we spent four of the best years of our life working toward?
With time, I learned that true adulthood and having autonomy over your life is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. However, I didn’t get to that conclusion without help.
Here are some tips to manage your mental health as you enter this next chapter of your life.
Remember, First Jobs are Always Hard
Early on in my career journey, a relative reminded me “they call it work for a reason.” While this statement has merit (work is intended to be challenging and not necessarily filled with non-stop fun), it isn’t supposed to make you miserable.
However, your first couple jobs are intended to help you identify your professional strengths and weaknesses, and will inherently be filled with growing pains. Know this feeling is uncomfortable, but will pass.
For me, it helped to remember some of my idols — everyone from Tina Fey to Oprah — didn’t hit their stride until well into their thirties (and beyond) and that’s perfectly OK!
Try Out a New Hobby
Try to think of your first year out of school like freshman year. In order to meet new people and forge meaningful relationships you have to put yourself out there. As a young adult, that may mean exploring a new hobby or finding groups in your community on a topic of interest (Meetup can be a great tool for this). It may mean getting involved in your volunteer committee at your office. A little bit can go a long way to making new connections.
Make Time for Your College Friends
One of the hardest parts about graduating from college is suddenly all your best friends are no longer within walking distance. Whether you’re in the same city, or spread out across the world, making time to catch up be laborious but is essential to the post-grad transition. Scheduling a weekly Skype session or WhatsApp call with your friends, who are likely experiencing similar struggles, can help get you through difficult times.
Life transitions can be a tough adjustment to your personal schedule and routines. Getting used to the rhythm of a new lifestyle and workstyle can make it easy to put fitness, sleep, and healthy eating on the backburner. However, maintaining these essential areas of life will go a long way toward helping you retain your sanity and feel clear-headed, even on your most anxious days.
If all else fails, there is absolutely no shame in seeking out the support of a licensed mental health professional. I personally tried all of the above before I realized I needed a little extra guidance to help me through the bumpy post-graduate phase. Talk therapists can help you sort through your feelings and rationalize your fears to put you on the right path.
Ultimately, leaving college can be challenging, but there are plenty of ways to ease the transition and find a way to make adulting fun.