What Comes Next? Thriving in Emerging Adulthood After Graduation

Spring tends to be a time of renewal and change for most of us, especially those of us who are within the education system. Whether you are finishing high school or completing a college degree, there is a certain level of excitement and anxiety that comes with walking across that stage. People may ask what your plans are after graduation, and you may not necessarily have all of the answers. Personal, familial, and societal expectations for success can be stressful. As a result, many recent graduates experience fears that they are unprepared for adulthood, worry about the loss of connection with current friends, stress over not finding a job, and imposter syndrome. All of these feelings are normal and you do not have to navigate them alone. Here are six tips to lessen the post-graduation stress and angst:

1. Clarify What You Want: Exploring the things that you enjoy and find interesting is the first step in figuring out what you actually want to do in the future (i.e., what job you want, where you want to live, etc.). Creating a list of the things that you want in your life, the values you live by, the things that you are willing to compromise on, and the things that you absolutely do not want is a great exercise to start putting these pieces together.

2. Seek Out Social Support: Talk with your family, friends, and colleagues about the stressors you are facing in your life. Maintaining social connections is essential when we’re going through a time of significant change, and you will likely identify others in your life who are experiencing similar challenges, or who have been through something similar. Have conversations with mentors, family, and others, who can provide guidance on your journey to figuring everything out. Take the information you glean. These are pieces of data to support you in your decision making process.

3. Break Down Obstacles: Taking things slowly and breaking them down can ease the overwhelming pressure that comes with graduation. Make short term goals that are less daunting to complete, and seek out assistance if you need it. Implementing some structure in your life in the form of a daily routine can also be useful during this time. If you find you are feeling overwhelmed, break a goal or task in significantly smaller chunks.

4. Embrace Discomfort. No one enjoys sitting with their feelings of discomfort, but there are times when this becomes necessary. Know that you are allowed to take the time you need to process the rapid changes you are experiencing after leaving a place of safety and comfort. Allow yourself to let the loss, joy, anger, fear, sadness, grief, or other emotions take up space in your life. These emotions will pass with time and it is common to feel this way when venturing into the unknown landscape of adulthood.

5. Allow Time for Exploration. Life involves experimentation to identify what fits and does not fit for your experience. Ultimately you are the expert on yourself and can trust in your own impressions and feelings about your next steps. Sometimes choosing a road that ends up being a “dead end” path helps you to recognize that the other road is a better fit for you. Everything is a learning experience if you allow it to be. Give yourself permission to explore, make mistakes, and to change your mind.

6. Reach Out for Help. If you or a loved one is struggling with the weight of post-graduation stress, counseling can be a helpful tool to process your fears. Know that you are not alone and having someone validate these feelings is valuable.

Written by Katie Hughes, LMHC at Sage Wellness in Gainesville, Florida. She specializes in helping individuals and couples create more balance and health, navigate their identities, and create more satisfying relationships in their lives.

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