How to: Manage Post-Graduation Depression
not having everything figured out is more normal than you think
Congratulations, you did it! You completed four expensive, fun, insane, blurry years of higher education, and you’re transitioning from a puffy, hungover monster to a puffy, hungover monster with (maybe) a full-time job. Some might call this “The American Dream”, but somehow, you’re still probably filled with confusion and self-doubt.
You’re supposed to be happy, right? You finally have a degree and are making moves in your professional and personal life, so how could you possibly be depressed?! Well, if you happened to catch The Washington Post's 2017 article detailing the phenomenon of post-graduation depression, you and other twenty-somethings might have breathed a collective sigh of relief upon the realization that you’re not crazy, you’re not alone, and it’s okay to not be “okay” after graduation.
So, how do you combat it—or at the very least, take steps to deal with it? If you're like me, you might have made a massive life change after graduating, like relocating to a brand-new city, completely solo. In that transition, these are the things I've decided can help a lot when dealing with post-grad depression.
learn to not do things
In college, every moment you were awake was a moment you should have been doing something—studying, working, partying, working out, studying more, eating right, and more studying. Once you graduate, your time is now your own. You are in control of your daily schedule and what you choose to do or don’t do. It’s a scary “now what?” moment because you’re left entirely to your own devices. You realize that you can finally go for a walk after work if you want, or start learning to cook quinoa, or just eat ice cream and watch season 10 of America’s Next Top Model. The point is, you don’t have to fill your time every single day with productivity. You have work and hobbies, and you’re not married or have kids yet. Savor your free time while you can, and spend it any way your heart desires.
get a hobby
As previously mentioned, you have a lot of free time, and relaxing is nice, but what about that thing you always wanted to try but never had time to learn? Did you ever sign up for that barre class? Or what about knitting? Or that passion project you’d love to take more seriously? You’ve probably been so used to living life in four-year increments—getting to middle school, getting to high school, finishing college—that you’ve forgotten how to differentiate your time and do things that make up your individuality. Your work, whatever that ends up being, will be a part of your life, but it isn’t the only thing that defines you. Once you graduate, you have 40 years, give or take, to do what you please. How you spend your life is entirely up to you, so get out there and try new things.
know your limits
As soon as you walk across stage, your body instantly stops being able to process alcohol like it could at age 18.Suddenly, the hangovers are far too real, and instead of eating up a few hours of your time in the morning, they consume entire days. When you finally get back to full strength, you realize you’re behind on three of the projects you promised to your boss by Monday.
It’s important to realize that you don’t have to go out every single time anyone gives you an invitation. You might get stuck, like I did, in a dangerous, continuous thread of “If you don’t go out, they won’t like you, and they won’t invite you back. You never know when the last time you can go out will be” and “This could be it. You’ll be a boring, full-fledged adult” and so on. That cycle of thought forced me to go out, which caused weight gain, money loss, and further pushed me into my post-graduation depression. Take care of yourself and put your own needs first. Your friends will still be your friends, and will love you regardless.
It’s important to consider that the post-graduation depression you are experiencing might be actual depression. Big life changes are tough. You’re transitioning a brand new, tags-still-on point in your life, so it’s totally understandable to feel withdrawn or sad or self-conscious. But if you’re noticing your job-search anxiety has now transferred to workplace anxiety and gym anxiety and grocery store anxiety and bedroom anxiety, maybe it’s time to see a doctor. Start off by visiting your primary care physician—that sad feeling might have a nutritional deficiency you’ve neglected all these years—and check the mental health benefits your health insurance covers. Therapy is a wonderful for anyone to use, with or without diagnosable mental health issues. When navigating the shitstorm that is the real world, paying someone to listen to you for an hour once a week can be one of the best coping mechanisms. It’s invaluable to your success as a coworker, friend, sister, uncle, boyfriend, and human.
At the end of the day, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to get through this, and life is going to be so much sweeter afterwards. You’ll still have to pay rent and file your taxes and schedule your own doctor’s appointments, but you’re not in this alone.