Transitioning into The Real World: How Graduating College Can Affect Your Mental Health

“Real courage is holding on to a still voice in your head that says, ‘I must keep going.’ It’s that voice that says nothing is a failure if it is not final. That voice that says to you, ‘Get out of bed. Keep going. I will not quit.’” – Cory Booker

Change is something that happens to us all and is inevitable, we all go through it at some point in our lives. Whether it be a good change or bad, big or small, whatever the case is each situation affects us differently. We’re all different when it comes to dealing with a change in our lives. Some of us handle it with grace, as if nothing new has happened at all and we’re able to continue with our day-to-day lives. On the other hand, some people find it difficult to cope with the change and must take a step back to really consider what is going on in their lives.

When it comes to dealing with change, for me, I find it hard to adapt most times because I’ve grown so use to the way things were. I felt like I had this set schedule that wasn’t ever supposed to change and once it did I felt like my entire life was a mess. I would have to take whatever the change was that was happening in my life, sit back and evaluate it within to help me get accustomed to it and see it as an everyday occurrence going forward.

One event in our lives that seems to be a big transition for us, myself included, is graduating from college. It’s a moment we wait for as soon as we step into our first class Freshman year, already counting down the days until we get to walk across that stage.

The road to get there was not easy. There were many obstacles and moments for me where I felt like I would never get there. I had many mental breakdowns, especially during the last few months of my senior year when everything I did in class counted towards my gpa. It got to a point for me where I was getting upset over the fact that I didn’t get the second highest honor chord to wear for the ceremony because my gpa was just shy of a few points.

It wasn’t until I graduated college that I saw a change in my mental health. I found that I was a lot more prone to getting panic attacks and was made more aware of my anxiety. While I was in college I never had the time to focus on my mental health because I was always so busy with school work, papers, and presentations. Then on weekends I was going home to work only to come back and repeat the process over.
You would think that being in school and always being busy would have the opposite effect on my mental health, but since it became a routine for me I got used to the idea of not having to worry about it. I knew it was still there, but it wasn’t bad enough for me to have to take the time to focus on it. However, once I transitioned out of college and into the “real world,” I couldn’t cope well, and I still find myself having a hard time here and there.

When it comes to change I’m not the only one who starts to experience these feelings. There are many life changing events a person experiences that can affect your emotional health in various ways. These can lead to strong feelings of sadness, stress, or anxiety. Even good or wanted changes can be as stressful as unwanted changes. Research shows that your body responds to the way you think, feel, and act. When you are stressed, anxious, or upset, your body reacts in a way that might tell you something isn’t right. I am familiar with these feelings and they started occurring once I graduated college because of the big transition. Regardless of it being a good thing, it still bothered me knowing my normal routine would become disrupted.

So, how do we improve our health when change occurs? Here are a few things to remember and practice to ensure that you can conquer anything that comes your way.

Express yourself

If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or sad to the point where it is causing physical problems, keeping those feelings inside will only make it worse. I can relate to this a lot. I tend to keep my feelings bottled up to the point where my boyfriend sometimes has to literally shake me to get them out. He knows I will keep them inside and if I just let them out I will feel much better. It’s okay to let your loved ones know when something is bothering you. However, keep in mind that your family and friends may not always be able to help you deal with your feelings appropriately. At these times, ask someone outside the situation for help. Try asking your family doctor or a counselor for advice and support to help you improve your emotional health.

Learn to balance your life out

Try to focus on the things that you are grateful for in your life. Don’t obsess over the things that lead you to have negative feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to feel happy when you’re stressed, sad, or anxious. It’s important to deal with these negative feelings while also focusing on the positive things in your life as well. I try my best to take the time to stop what I’m doing when it gets to be a lot and focus on other things. I’ll spend time with my friends or family who I know will always put me in a good mood and help me live a balanced life when things get hard.

Keep calm and carry on

Learning different methods of relaxation can help keep your mind and body at ease when you are feeling the opposite of that. Meditation, listening to music, yoga, and even exercise are useful ways to bring your emotions into balance. I always find that when I’m feeling stressed or anxious about something I’ll put my headphones in and listen to some music until I feel calm and ready to continue with whatever I was doing.

One of the most important things to consider as well: take care of yourself. It’s your body and health and you must do whatever it is to make sure that you are okay. No one else can tell you what to do because only you are living through this every day. I try to remember not to push myself too much or else I’ll just feel terrible. I pace myself and make sure to have a regular routine, eat healthy and maintain a sleep schedule. Even by doing this and keeping up with it I find myself feeling ready to get through the day.

So, yes, change happens, and like anything in life we must learn to get through it. That doesn’t mean you have to let the change consume you or affect your mental health. I know going through something is hard, especially when you must deal with mental health too. If you just remember to stop, take a deep breath and look around at everything your life struggles may not seem or feel all that big anymore.

Written by: Kirstie Devine