There are some very good and very bad things usually associated with graduation. The good: adorable grad caps, inspiring convocation speeches, and celebrating a life milestone. The bad: moving away from your college besties and navigating a new routine. Graduation, from both high school and college, ushers in a lot of change, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be stressful. We talked with Edie Stark, a licensed clinical social worker, about ways to quell graduation anxiety.
Stark says that graduation anxiety is actually called transition anxiety, which is an issue that is very real despite the fact that it isn’t regularly talked about. There are a few reasons why life transitions — especially ones as big as graduation from high school or college — are such big stressors. For one, Stark says that our coping mechanisms are put to a major test. “Transitions to or from college are hotbeds for maladaptive coping skills to arise,” she said. “When we are in a new environment, filled with new stressors, our bodies and minds can go into panic mode.”
In moving from one life stage to another, you’re inevitably going to face a whole set of new pressures or things in your life that you might not have had to deal with before. For example, an increased academic workload in college, living in a different city away from home, meeting a new set of people, and learning where your place is in the “real world” can all be factors that require significant time and effort to adjust to. And it can be a lot to navigate all at once. Oftentimes, Stark says that this cycle causes us to crave constancy. “When we go into panic mode, we want stability — and that can lead to self-medicating through increased alcohol usage, eating disorders, and insomnia,” she said.
While some people tend to turn to substances and risky behaviors to deal with the stress of a transition, that’s not the only path: There are healthier options too. The first step towards turning to these healthy coping mechanisms is to give yourself some space, Stark said. “The more space we give ourselves to allow for the discomfort of the transition, the easier it will be,” she said. “We run into problems when we ignore our mind and body signs that something isn’t ‘right.’”
Giving yourself some mental leeway to feel uncomfortable after graduation will help you identify the specific things that are making you anxious. Gone are familiar and predictable schedules, routines, and friendships —it’s only normal that you need some time to get settled in the new new, and maybe some of these shifts are easier than others for you. Change isn’t always bad though; it just signals something different, and more often than not, it leaves room for growth. In this transition period, as you are discovering what this next phase of life means for you, remember that you don’t have to leave everything familiar behind. You can still do your favorite workout, enjoy your go-to meal, or find joy in everyday indulgences. You still have access to the people in your life who are close to you, who can help provide comfort in times where things feel particularly overwhelming.
Most importantly, take the time to take care of you. “Self-care is super important during any life transition,” Stark said. “Surrounding yourself with supportive loved ones, nourishing your body, and giving yourself compassion are the of the ways we can best tackle the anxiety of transition.”