The transition between college and real-life was one of the most intimidating times in my life. Dealing with post-graduation stress after college was incredibly hard, and that’s why I was so excited to share this guest post by Ashlyn of Dear Young Professional.
She hit the nail on the head about just how stressful this transition can be, and her advice is something I wish I had heard when I was going through this. Luckily, I’ve since adjusted to the “real world” and all that brings after college, but I wanted to share her post so hopefully, it can continue to help others. Enjoy!
Believe it or not, that sickly feeling you’re getting at the thought of graduation isn’t all in your head. You, like many other students, may be suffering from a very real disorder.
Post Commencement Stress Disorder (PCSD), AKA post-graduation stress, is painful for anyone. At times, it can even make you feel out of touch with your former self. Does this feeling sound familiar? Today, we are going to discuss everything from what PCSD is to signs and natural treatment options to eliminate this problem so you can move forward with confidence.
The Science Behind Post Commencement Stress Disorder
Let’s first uncover, on a basic level, what stress is. We could easily spend hours on the function of stress in relation to our brains. There are literally hundreds of courses, books, and seminars all on this very topic.
If we’re keeping it simple, here’s the breakdown: stress is a natural response. Your brain houses some very complex and intricate sensors that are triggered by stimuli such as loud noises or sudden events. These triggers are picked up by your amygdala (A-Mig-Duh-La) which then shoots them over to your hypothalamus which then tells your nervous system that something isn’t quite right.
Pretty amazing to have this well thought out system right in your brain, huh? But, like all things, we are flawed.
You see, stress is a natural response that was developed over time to strike quickly and be resolved quickly. Unfortunately, we live in a society that bombards us with stress constantly. According to neuroscientist Rick Hanson “modern life exposes us to mild-to-moderate, but chronic, stress constantly — multitasking, juggling too many things, moving too quickly, being bombarded with stimulation.”
Basically, we have the car alarm on 24/7 and our system is in overdrive because of it. While everyone will find their stress comes from different avenues, triggers can lie in even the most obvious of places, and college is no exception.
What we’re finding now is that the overwhelming pressure to perform in college is transferring equally into life after graduation. Which, when you think about it, doesn’t seem so outlandish.
You’ve just slaved away for 4+ years to become a professional multitasker. Life was a constant cycle of studying, working, research, papers, projects, exams, internships, and more all building up to this one moment: Graduation. The question then becomes “Now what?”
After college, it’s time for a different type of pressure, one that many people find far more daunting than college ever was. These next post-grad decisions are life decisions. They are permanent and not as easily changed as deciding to take one class instead of another.
What is Post Commencement Stress Disorder?
PCSD is like other stress disorders. It’s caused by a set of events which lead to symptoms that can impair your way of life.
What are the symptoms of PCSD?
- Feelings of failure or hopelessness
- Having anxiety related to your degree and finding a job
- Feeling like you’ve lost control
- Depression as it relates to post-grad life
Many students feel like they either aren’t moving forward at all, are moving too slowly, or have no control over their future. Others feel as if they were unprepared for everything after college.
Additionally, they might find out that the job they studied so hard for wasn’t at all what they thought it would be, or that finding a hard wasn’t easy at all. These experiences are all more normal than we give them credit for, but the best part is there’s a fix.
5 Techniques to Overcome PCSD
When you’re dealing with post-graduation stress after college, you don’t have to settle for a life of anxiety and stress. There are ways to overcome these feelings and find a path forward. Here are some strategies:
1. Write It Out
As complex as our minds may be, we’ve become very good at overloading them. This first tip was originally developed as a way to get rid of test anxiety before a big exam.
Students who wrote out all their fears about the test, including how it made them feel both physically and emotionally, performed better than those who didn’t. So, write it out yourself.
What are you afraid of? What’s your biggest fear of life after college? How does it make you feel physical to think about the future? Seeing it written out can give you a whole different perspective.
2. Give Your Fear a Name
Personify your fear by naming it and calling it out BY NAME whenever it is present. Whenever this feeling of anxiety or worry comes into your mind, you must recognize it and acknowledge it. Trying to hide it or cover it up usually tends to backfire to create an even bigger mess.
3. Create a Goal List
Successful people will almost always tell you their success didn’t come overnight, rather, it was created through daily habits that were applied over and over.
Just like in finance when you compound daily over a set amount of time, the return tends to be much bigger than the original investment. Write out where you’d like to be next year, then break that down over the next 12 months and 52 weeks and 365 days. Create small daily applications that you can easily track. Smaller goals are far less intimidating when dealing with post-graduation stress.
4. Use Your Body to Ground Your Anxiety
Research shows that 30 minutes of exercise 2-5 times per week can significantly drop anxiety. Get outside or in the gym, whatever you do get moving and raise your heart rate.
Here are some easy ideas to get you started if you’re new to moving your body:
- Go on a walk with a friend (or your favorite podcast)
- Try a YouTube video with a fitness routine
- Use a fitness app to track your progress
5. Get Some Life Advice
If you are stuck at a crossroads trying to figure out which way is the next, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Ask yourself who is out there doing what you want to be doing? Is it a professor, someone you interned with last summer, or maybe a college friend you had Chem 2 with? It’s worth buying them a coffee and talking it out.
However, don’t start throwing all your fears and worry onto them! No one likes a sob story. Instead, create a plan, think it out, and take it to show them. (Check those goals we just talked about!)
Not sure what to say? Start simple. “Hey, I’m not sure of how to get from here to there, but this is where I’d like to be, and this is my plan so far. What is your advice for someone in my position?”
First, people like seeing you put in the effort. If you’ve already laid the groundwork, it shows them that you’re serious. Second, people love to talk about themselves. If you can get them going about their own success, they will more likely give you every contact, resource, and route they took to get where they are now. Don’t underestimate your own connections.
Dealing with Post-Graduation Stress: Moving Forward
One last thing to remember when dealing with any sort of post-graduation stress or psychological problem is that not all stimulus is a bad stimulus.
Don’t mistake your elevated heart rate for a disorder every time it happens. When you think about the future and your heart begins to pound, this isn’t anxiety, it’s excitement. This is your body’s way of telling you it’s getting ready to perform. Now go out there and make your goals a reality.
Ashlyn is a civil engineer and blogger who is on a mission to help young professionals find their footing during and after college. As the creator behind the blog Dear Young Professional, her main topics include college, career advice, and personal finance. You can visit her blog for young professionals here.