Graduation Anxiety

The carpark barricades and marquees are up – it’s graduation time! Over the next few weeks, crowds of black-gowned and bonneted graduates will gather around the university, taking photos with family, friends, and academics. For most of you this will be a joyful occasion, bringing a sense of achievement and relief as you can put all the assessment deadlines and exams behind you. If you are graduating with a profession or a specific job path, then congratulations and GO YOU!

For others, the future is less certain, and this may bring some anxiety about what happens next? (Disclosure: many years ago, I graduated this university with a science degree, no job or plan, and grades that weren’t high enough to get into honours…so I share this experience with you). I have put together some tips for those of you experiencing graduation anxiety. 

1. It's often worse in your mind than it is in real life.

In clinical psychology practice, we find that people often feel worse anxiety in the period BEFORE an event than during and after the event. This anticipatory anxiety can be experienced before giving a speech, writing job applications, interviews, having to move to a new location to begin your job, and of course, your first day in a new job. That’s completely normal and understandable. But if you practice self-compassion [1] and brave it out, you will usually find that it’s not as bad as you imagined!

2. Work with your strengths.

If you’re on the job market without a lot on your CV, you may feel like you have little to offer. But consider this: young people have time and energy that us ‘old hands’ do not!  Also think about the skills you've learned in your degree and how you could make a great contribution to a workplace. Also start with people you know. Ask around family friends and your social network for job opportunities that are in your field of interest.

3. Keep busy.

You’ll want to take a well-earned rest over Christmas, but in the new year it’s time to get busy. It might take some time for your ideal job to come up, and everyone starts somewhere. Start with a part time job or some volunteering if you can afford it. Talk to people about your interests and hopes. Find out more about how to get into the career that matters to you. There are often many paths to take.

4. Stay connected.

Research shows that if you can maintain your social groups across a stressful transition, and join new groups after the transition, it is better for your mental wellbeing [2]. So, if you’ve made some friends at school and university, it’s good to keep contact after you’ve graduated to check in with each other. Once you’ve moved or started a new job, reach out to others and suggest doing something outside of work like a coffee, dinner, picnic or day trip. These activities create opportunities to develop new friendships and support networks. Social group activities such as exercise groups and arts and culture groups (singing in a choir, buying tickets to an art exhibition, concert, or dance event with a few friends) can improve your mood and mental health [3].

5. Back yourself

Everyone starts somewhere and everyone experiences failures and knock backs. You will get to the meaningful life if you back yourself and keep learning and trying. Best of luck to you all.

 

[1] Harwood, E.M., Kocovski, N.L. (2017) Self-Compassion Induction Reduces Anticipatory Anxiety Among Socially Anxious Students. Mindfulness 8, 1544–1551. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0721-2

[2] Haslam, Catherine, Haslam, S. Alexander, Jetten, Jolanda, Cruwys, Tegan and Steffens, Niklas K. (2021). Life change, social identity, and health. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 635-661. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-060120-111721

[3] Dingle, G. A., Sharman, L., Haslam, C., Donald, M., Turner, C., Partanen, R., Lynch, J., Draper, G., & van Driel, M. (2021) Systematic review of social group interventions for depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 281, 67-81. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.11.125

Last updated:
13 December 2021