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How to Cope with Graduation Anxiety

 To the Graduate:

Congratulations on making it to this point! I know there are likely a mixed bag of emotions that are present for you. No more homework, exams, uncomfortable desks (well, hopefully at least), you are DONE! But then, at the same time, what now?! I imagine this is the point that for many graduates, the realization that adulthood, AKA big responsibilities, are around the corner. And while school prepared you for a lot, you might be feeling unsure or anxious figuring out how to cope with this big stressor of the “real world” ahead.

Pretty soon, you will be faced with a new routine, new environment, new people and other newness that you might not have anticipated. New is scary, but new can be exciting too! For many, this will be the first time not being a student since about age 5, maybe longer. This can be quite a jarring way to look at this accomplishment. However, do not fret. Below are ways you can help yourself navigate your emotions and feel empowered!

  1. If you find yourself fearing the unknown, practice mindfulness. Allow yourself to be present in the here and now. Feel your feet on the floor, the sun on your skin and taste the graduation cake in your mouth. Bring yourself to this very moment, there is no room to be stressed by the future when you are in the here and now.
  1. If you find yourself saddened by the idea of leaving family and or friends, take time for reflection. It is okay to sit in that sadness, running from it does not make it disappear (sorry to say!). Think about what you value in your support network and times that you hold onto. Now plan for reunions, phone calls, holidays, etc. Distance does not mean these relationships can not be maintained! 
  1. If you find yourself wondering if you will “succeed”, practice safety messages. These are mantras such as, “ I will be able to do hard things”, “I can figure it out”, “I can keep myself safe and comfortable” or even “I have the help of others if I need it.” Reminding our anxiety that there is no actual life or death threat we are facing helps bring down our anxious somatic response. It will be ok if you do not get “the best job” or into “the best program.” You might be disappointed, and that is okay! But reminding yourself that you will physically be ok and are not in harm’s way is important!

4) If you are missing your favorite teacher/professor or that fun club you joined, allow yourself time for mourning. How do you grieve losses? Some people cry, some conduct a closure ceremony, some surround themselves with support while others spend time alone to process. Whatever your style is, allow for that. Allow yourself to feel, and feel it deeply and judgment free. You are moving forward with life and leaving behind something that shaped you. HOWEVER, similarly to the death of a loved one, we carry a piece of what we lost with us. 

You will always have your kindergartener self in you, in times where you just want to be goofy, or times where you need an extra hug from a loved one. You will bring your 5th grade self along as well, where you feel on top of the world, like you have it all figured out. You will carry your 9th grade self with you, the self that is insecure but curious. The self that wants to please, will do what it takes to fit in. Then, you will take your 12th grade self with you. The senior who is sure of themself and at the same time unsure of their future. You will take all these versions of yourself with you, each self shining at different moments as you build yourself in ways your kindergarten couldn’t conceptualize. 

Sit back, breathe deeply, and enjoy the road ahead. 

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