Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
I’m walking down the aisle towards an assembly of students that I’ve spent countless hours with over the past two years. We’ve made so many precious memories together, and I’ve grown to call them all my friends. This is such a momentous occasion for all of us, and I can’t help but think about everything we’ve been through together.
Our dean strolls up to the podium and delivers a warm introduction to our closest friends and family members. We all stand, grinning ear to ear, overflowing with pride and gratitude. Our keynote implores us to “go forth and pass your salt” and explains that we each have a gift to give and that we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves.
The time comes for our names to be called. We’ve waited for this moment all our lives. As we cross the stage and receive our diplomas, we also cross the threshold from student to working adult. And, as the weight of study and examinations are lifted from our shoulders, the weight of adult responsibility quickly replaces it.
The protection we had as students was stripped away. We were used to instructors, teachers, and professors guiding us along the way and telling us where to go. We’re always told how to get from point A to point B in school, but that ends in adulthood. It was easy to feel like a train that’s being derailed. After graduation, this lack of guidance transformed into depression and anxiety.
Many people are reluctant to bring up post-graduation maladjustment. So, one has to ask, “why is nobody talking about this?” It’s because the directive given to our graduates has always been so forward focused. Once the momentum of adulthood slows, and everyday life settles in, they are left in the lurch wondering, “What am I supposed to do next?”.
There is a simple solution, however, to establishing a path that you’d like to continue travelling for the rest of your life. This in itself provokes anxiety, but it’s doable, and I’m here to help you transition towards self-actualization.
Establish a support system
If can be hard to say goodbye to the friendships you’ve made during your time in college. This was definitely true for me, and I was left with tears and grief as my friends returned to their various hometowns, hundreds of miles from me. Eventually I had to relocate for work too, and I found myself totally alone.
My salvation involved really getting out of my social comfort zone, speaking with colleagues and always inviting people to grab food or coffee each day. Take opportunities like these at your new job and reach out to your co-workers. Joining fitness classes are also fantastic ways to meet new people while simultaneously burning off some extra fluff from your “freshman 15.”
Engage in stress reduction techniques
Now that you’re responsible for work, finances, and personal management, we need to find ways to deal with the accrued stress. New jobs are hard on anyone, regardless of age, but for the recent graduate who hasn’t developed the skills to handle work stress, it can be pretty rough. This opens up a great opportunity to join a yoga class and practice mindfulness.
Having a full mindfulness routine, in conjunction with yoga, really helps unbuckle the stress. Just half an hour of focused deep breathing can reduce cortisol in the blood, lowering stress. Eating certain foods, like dark chocolate, eggs, hemp seeds, and fatty fish have also been proven to reduce stress.
Make a five-year plan
One of the contributing factors to post-graduation grief is transitioning from clear, school-centric goals to blurred, self-prescribed life goals. So, after graduation it’s easy to feel lost in it all, even if you’ve managed to snag your dream job. Remember that most of us have spent over sixteen years in school, guided by instructors and assignments, guided by grades.
Receiving grades, teacher feedback, and a GPA let us quantify our success. We all knew exactly where we stood among our peers and in our classes. But after you’ve finished school it’s hard to gauge whether you’re successful or not. Since it finally falls on you to judge your own success, it’s wise to make one-, five-, and 10-year plans. These should reference your career, financial stability, expertise, hobbies, and even your romantic ambitions, if you’d like.
My final message to you: There is life after college, and it’s up to you to decide where it takes you. Don’t spend this time feeling hopeless — be empowered!
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