Post graduate blues: how to look after your mental health

It is the time of year where the graduates are now finishing University and making their way into full time work and this is commonly seen as a time for celebration. For many though this time is stressful and full of anxiety giving rise to the phrase post-graduate blues. Life after university is a huge change for many, especially those who have come straight from high school and never experienced a full time job or had to choose a career path. 

Many may also find themselves struggling to find a job in their chosen field, they may have decided to pursue a different career path to the one they studied, or simply are unable to find a job at all.

One of my lovely friends kindly sent me her thoughts on facing the world after the university bubble when I pestered her for it, and I wanted to share it with you all.

Graduate looking at landscape-unsplash

My life is over?

Melodramatic title, I know… But 3 years, 2 placements, a dissertation, multiple assignments and many huge personal losses and gains, the time to submit my final assignment of my undergraduate degree has finally arrived. In one click, I have finished the main part of my academic career.

“Click”

Nothing.

No fanfare. No confetti raining down from the ceiling. No mariachi band parading past. No sudden dissipation of the stress and anxiety that accompanies assignments. Nothing feels different. Everyone builds up the end of your degree as being a massive thing to celebrate but in reality, when it arrives its underwhelming, combined with a scary feeling of being completely directionless (un-directioning maybe?) In the current climate, I can’t even celebrate it properly in person with my friends and family, and let’s face it, being a new graduate in the midst of a global pandemic is going to be a nightmare. No one is hiring, or at least the hiring process is frozen, and if you’re like me, you had a slow dawning realisation in your final year that your degree doesn’t exactly open up the jobs you want to do. It simultaneously feels like there are too many options and none at all.

Do I go into research? Commit to more study? Go and get a job for the sake of having a job and earn money, be a gasp REAL ADULT?

Man covered in sticky notes

None of them seem overwhelmingly appealing to me. And none of those decisions are particularly instantaneous fixes to the ensuing boredom of being university free.

Sadly, *sigh* it seems a break is in order. But somehow, academia and studying has become a large part of my existence, for years doing things other than work has been accompanied by my familiar friend “work-guilt” – where you know you should be working but aren’t… Other than climbing and exercise (both limited at the moment) my life feels pretty empty, especially as I’m stranded in a university house and packed light because “I’ll only be at uni for 6 months before I come home…” – definitely wrong there!

One day into freedom, I’m beginning to understand why depression and anxiety are so prevalent in recent graduates. The endless onslaught of “How do you feel?”, “Enjoy the break! You’ve earned it”, “Do the things you’ve been wanting to do” – while well-meaning isn’t helpful, when you’ve lost what you enjoy and the break could be endless. Turns out “directionless” and “a bit weird” are not the answers people are looking for when they ask how you feel… who knew?

Once they get over the fact that you’re not bouncing off the walls with happiness some did give some pearls of *relative* wisdom… (just a warning this advice came from a mix of people from retirees to a tired junior doctor to a furloughed 20 year old… mixed bag I am aware).

4 ways to cope with post-graduate blues:

1 – DON’T PANIC: (and read The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Complete Trilogy in Five Parts (Hitchhikers Guide to/Galaxy) It’ll help, trust me)

Life has a habit of working itself out, and let’s face it no one has a clue what to do at the moment, with people being furloughed, job insecurity, companies going bust and other wonderful issues in the world, uncertainty over the future is definitely a common problem. A CBT diary can help you manage your anxiety too.

2 – Get into a routine. I know. Common advice coming at you again… However, my version of a routine is somewhat flexible. Pick 3 things that you like/are good for you, can complete every day, and stick to it! If you want to do it at the same time every day, GO YOU! But for me that just adds a certain level of pressure that is unhelpful, especially if I miss it by an hour, spiral into failure mode, and never attempt it again past day two…

My three things are – some kind of exercise (excited to shed the dissertation/lockdown weight), some kind of cleaning (I find it so satisfying), some kind of contact with another human being (Yes, I have friends). These are three things I know that I can do daily and will make me feel like I have accomplished something, what are yours?

journal

3 – Try to find the things you enjoy. This for me is the trickiest one. I find it very hard to enjoy myself with the crushing anxiety of the future and what I am going to do with the rest of my life following me daily. Especially when I feel I have lost who I am to my degree which, now I’ve finished it, I don’t even want to work in. So, my resolution is to start small. I like helping people, so when I was asked to help with a blog post I said yes – she may not like it but oh well, I like to warble… I have the time to try to do handstands, yoga, crafts, reading, writing and all the things that I didn’t have time to do previously and am not sure I will enjoy doing at all. But who cares? It’s not like I have anything else to do.

4- Evaluate your options. The overwhelming amount of freedom
and choice you have once you graduate is difficult to narrow down. So, write down anything and everything you think you want to do or could see yourself doing, no matter how ridiculous – travelling round Europe in a van climbing anyone?- even if it’s working part time for a year before you figure
something else out, and work out the pro’s and cons for each one until you
narrow it down. This article by Prospects may help you get started.

It’s ok if this takes a lot of time to do, life suddenly doesn’t have the structure and clear defined path that it used to – GCSE’s, A-levels, Degree, What next?–  and no-one really has prepared you for it. Never forget that things aren’t forever, if you start off in a job you hate then try something else, transferable skills are an important thing and you’ll have more of them than you think you do. Keep taking baby steps towards figuring out what you want to do, you’ll get there eventually.

Quote, take small steps everyday & you'll eventually get there

Moving forward:

My day today has lovingly consisted of yoga, clearing the kitchen, talking to some dear friends and having a wonderful laugh, and eating way too much vegetable soup. Plus spending far, far too much money on some arts and craft supplies, like this Giant Box of Craft 1000 Pieces in the hope that ONE of them might be the thing that I enjoy doing.  But, no matter what, I can take this time to focus on cultivating the friendships with people around me, and on finding myself again. I may even like me… eventually… (Stockholm syndrome works when you’re forced to be with yourself for a long time too right?).

So yes, part of my life, the largest part so far actually, may be over, and I can’t celebrate it or commiserate it with the people who matter to me in person. And that will 100% require some time to come to terms with – almost like a bereavement – permission to be sad granted. But eventually with time, maybe the nothingness will be replaced with hobbies and people, and a little bit of excitement about the future may creep in. Who knows.

Are you going through the same or know someone that is? Do you have any tips and tricks that helped you? Please let us know in the comments below or via social media!

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