It’s graduation season and recent grads are finding themselves at the epicenter of the perfect storm of anxiety, nostalgia, debt, hopefulness and new beginnings. Graduation is a time of great joy but it can become a time filled with many unknowns. Handling these new feelings and situations takes a bit of practice and patience.
Upon leaving K-12 education, I found myself entering into a graduate program without any expectation other than receiving a Masters degree while bolstering my knowledge and earning potential. But the friendships I left with and the transformations I experienced created a safety net of sorts for me that I’d grown accustomed to. The effects of that final surreal week were not felt until the Monday after graduation was over. Had I known that my body would need to readjust, I would have taken a week off of work.
After graduation, I found myself sleeping excessively, emotionally confused and in a mental haze of sorts. At one point I was lost on my smartphone, wondering which app would help me find my way down the street… Yes, it was that bad. What was happening to me? I then realized that my body was going through a detox from the lack of sleep and the heightened amounts of adrenaline I lived on for the two intense years of my program. Besides that, the elevated and somewhat euphoric state of the actual graduating experience- putting on the cap and gown; seeing family in one place all focused on me; saying goodbye to people I’ve grown close to; and the whole host of other high energy, celebratory activities that burst into the fireworks of you’re now done– left me emotionally spent once it was all over. When the dust settled, what’s left?
I was left with a lot of questions. How am I going to make my loan payments and sustain my household? What was I going to do now? How will I make this degree work for me? When will I empty my inboxes? What should I fix first in my home? When will I tackle this mountain of laundry? How will I fill my time? When exactly are those loan payments starting?
There were so many questions, and even years later some are left unanswered. Ultimately it takes time to recover and heal (yes heal) from intense post-graduate study. Here’s a bit of advice I have to help soften the blow of graduation for recent college grads:
- Pace yourself. Take it day-by-day but plan ahead. We’re only human and we can only focus on one task at a time. Don’t plan to accomplish everything in one day, week or even month. Spread out the chores that went undone; sprinkle in a bit of fun; and make sure you plan something to look forward to. You didn’t finish your program in a week, so you can’t expect to get back to the real world in that time either.
- No pressure. Plan, plan, plan, but eliminate all avenues of pressure. If your family expects you to be “back to normal” immediately, have a conversation with them about expectations and reality, but don’t be a jerk, respect that they’re excited to have you back at 100%. Set appropriate boundaries for yourself at work and at home so that you don’t have a breakdown. Prioritize external expectations according to your goals and the promises you’ve made to others.
- Spend time with family. I have kids. I missed a lot of quality time because of school responsibilities. Make time for your kids, your spouse, your parents. Don’t fill the void of school with more work. Consider that they too made a sacrifice so that you could improve yourself. It’s time for a little kickback. Not a guilt-filled one, but still one rooted in a respectful acknowledgement of their support of you and your dreams.
- Physical and Emotional Maintenance. Go to the doctor, the dentist, the OB/Gyn, the counselor. While in school, I put off my own appointments for almost two years. That’s a shame but I realistically just didn’t have enough time between prioritizing my children’s health, school and work. When room opened up on my calendar, I scheduled all of my own appointments and got a full evaluation of my health. I used that information to take steps toward recovery and healing.
- Eat well. Generally, I eat well, but there were some nights when I ate a little junk or drank too many cups of coffee to fuel my studies. After graduate school I focused on eating more fruits, vegetables and quality sources of protein and omega fatty acids. I eliminated most sugars and starches, increased exercising, and drank lots of water. My body was able to bounce back quickly and I felt less tired and irritated.
- Sleep well. Go to bed early and get up early. I recall sleeping 3-5 hours a night during graduate school, that all changed after graduation. Post-graduation bedtime was 9pm some nights and I felt guilty the next morning until I realized that I my body needed it. Sleep is one sure way of helping the body heal and recover quickly. Never feel guilty about getting more of it. In a couple months my sleep cycle normalized to my previous 7.5 hour a night schedule.
- Positivity. Graduate school can be a very depressing time- grades, deadlines, pressure, finances. All of these have their share of negative emotions. Use this post-graduate time to find joy in life and focus on positive objectives. You just graduated! Celebrate little successes. Use your free time to smile more, stress less and find opportunities to create fun memories. There are challenges ahead for graduates, whether it’s finding a new job or paying bills- a positive outlook will make these challenges realistic and achievable.
- Habits and Hobbies. Habits make us who we are and our hobbies are our opportunities to express our joy for life. Finding opportunities to bring the two-habits and hobbies- together will ultimately make us happier people. There were a lot of what I loved was put on pause during graduate school because there was no time. Take a moment to think about what fun hobbies and good habits disappeared from your routine. Reactivate those activities because you need them to express who you are and feel whole.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed but keep it all in perspective. Nothing happens overnight; growth is a process. It took time to get from application to graduate. It’s going to take time before you fully recover, appreciate the experience, and opportunity that was available to you. Believe it or not, you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. You’re either going to fill your calendar with anxiety, more work, nothing, obligations for others or activities you enjoy- choose wisely. Congratulations!
Share your helpful tips for graduates in the comments!
Originally posted here.