Commencement. It’s a big deal. As it should be. You work hard, focus on classes, dig deep, complete the dreaded final exams and drop the pencil like an artist drops the mic. What’s that feeling coursing through your veins? Oh, right – Accomplishment. Pride. Satisfaction of knowing you gave it your all and you are going to make it to the next chapter. All the stresses of school seem suddenly distant. Yet, the horizon holds hidden challenges, and hidden opportunities for wellbeing and coping beyond graduation.
Caps and gowns proudly displayed to the tune of pomp and circumstance, you walk the aisle to the awaiting certificate. Your family covers you in accolades. You have made it! The community around you cheers your praise! And while you think you have a pretty decent grasp on who you are on this page of life, you have yet to discover the myriad of paths that will twist and turn you to who you will become.
Life After College
For some, the road to success is straightforward and clear. Like an arrow finding it’s mark, you have always known the direction to take. For others, you may find yourself for the first time in your life, taking detours and getting a few roads crossed. Sometimes you seem to lose that sense of accomplishment – your pride seemingly disappeared with each new surmounting (and unexpected) challenge.
You may find yourself in this position – unclear of what lies ahead, and unsure if you are ready for it. Expectations run high and you are finally facing the chapter of life called “Adulting” – the chapter that you thought was filled with freedom and opportunity, instead realizing it’s filled with choices, bills and responsibility. Maybe you have struggled to cope or relied on substances like drugs and alcohol to help you get by. While those coping strategies may have worked in a short term, they will never be a long- term fix for what life will send your way. Coping beyond graduation will require new skills.
The transition between high school or college to actual adult life can be stressful. You find yourself thrust into a complex world with all the expectations of being an adult, but the inability to function in it. You are trading a solid social network, community and a safety net with the daunting mystery of the unknown known as Adulthood. As an adult, you may find yourself with even less free time, as classes, jobs and responsibilities call your name in a very real way. The consequences of failure in this game are at a higher stake than you’ve ever played before.
The Shared, Stressful Experience of Adulthood
While many recent graduates feel isolated in their abrupt change in life and emotions, it’s important to note that you are not alone. In a recent survey done by the City Mental Health Alliance, 49% of graduates surveyed said that their mental well being declined after leaving university. According to a recent interview in the Washington Post, many recent graduates have found themselves struggling to cope:
“Post-graduation depression, therapists say, is understudied and probably underreported…” said Sheryl Ziegler, a Colorado psychologist and licensed professional counselor who has many young clients.
According to therapists and postings in Internet chat rooms by recent graduates, symptoms of post-graduation depression include an abnormally negative perspective, decreased motivation to get out of bed, a general sense of hopelessness and, occasionally, substance abuse. “They often have .?.?. trouble motivating themselves to get a job,” Ziegler said. “Graduates are often lonely due to a lack of connection with friends. While young adults are in college, they may have been in an environment that was more accepting of alcohol and recreational drug use, and while depressed it’s possible this is being used as a coping mechanism.”
If you or a loved one find yourself in this state, it’s not too late to get those life goals back on track. Whether it’s taking a break, finding a treatment solution, or even reaching out to a counselor – you can still achieve the dreams you worked so hard for. Remember, this journey of life is yours. You are working on your timeline – comparable no one else.
Steps for Coping Beyond Graduation
Here are a few actionable steps you can take to keep heading in the right direction:
- Be honest about your mental health. If you are relying on substances of any kind to cope, you are not actually coping. You’re not thriving, you’re just merely surviving. If you are struggling to cope, seek out help.
- Remember to balance sleep, exercise and diet. Your mental and physical health are interconnected. Ramen noodles and all-night Netflix binges will eventually take their toll.
- Find your guardrail. Who will be the people to speak truth into your life when the warning signals flare? Who can you have that honest “I am not okay” moment with? Know those people and cultivate those relationships. Have the critical conversation.
It’s always okay to say, “I’m not okay.” What matters most is that you don’t allow yourself to stay there. Never let the shame of who you think you should be stand in the way of who you can be.
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