If we believe that college is supposed to be the best four years of our lives, are we unintentionally setting ourselves up for disappointment post-graduation?
For many people, post-grad depression is a real thing. It can creep up within days, or settle in a full year after college. While not a diagnosable mental illness, it’s still an important topic to explore, as it’s common to feel some degree of anxiety, loneliness or confusion when you’re not able to match the high-highs of college now that you’re in the real world.
For some, the prevalence of post-grad depression is a continuation of mental health issues during one's college years. According to a scientific study by Paola Pedrelli in Acad Psychiatry in 2015, "Among college students, mental health problems are not only common, but they often persist for several years...60% of those who had a mental health problem at baseline continued to report at least one mental health problem two years later."
This issue is a lot more common than one might think, especially among women. Shayna Schor, a Clinical Research Coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital of Psychiatry, says, "Mental health trends show that women are more likely than men to become depressed, and research tells us that women around childbearing have an increased risk. Mix that in with the stressors of a major life transition like graduating, starting a new job and adjusting to an independent adult life, and it's no surprise that many women in their 20s might feel more down more than [previously]."
If this feels like you, we’re here to detail some of the common symptoms of post-grad depression and how to handle them.
1. You feel extremely disorganized
Up until this point, you were a student your entire life, meaning that your daily schedule was always laid out for you. You managed to balance deadlines with ease, as you juggled classes, extracurricular activities and your social life.
Now, things are different. If you don’t yet have a job, you might not always set an alarm in the morning or have a rigid plan for the day. If you do, you might get behind on long-term projects or find yourself forgetting things easily.
While it was easier to have the motivation to stay organized in college since the consequence was a bad grade, in the working world the responsibility is 100 percent on you. You might not feel like you have as much control over your life since you don’t know what’s coming next, which is stressful.
To alleviate the chaos of disorganization in your life, make to-do lists your new best friend. By setting small goals for yourself each day and physically crossing them off on a list, you’ll feel significantly more accomplished and as though you have your life more together, at least a little bit.
Additionally, find things in your city that help provide you with structure. A Reddit user with the username derblaureiter found this particularly helpful, as she says, "Since I like structure, so far I have been getting involved in clubs, organizations, and institutions that interest me (e.g. concerning painting, running, and so on). That way I am exposed to individuals and given the opportunity to make friends outside of my job. In other words, I guess I'm taking the aspects I liked from college (like structure) and applying them to how I design my life."
2. Your motivation is diminishing
Do you find it harder than ever to get out of bed in the morning? Do you continually make excuses to avoid the gym and work towards a healthy lifestyle? These might be signs that you lack motivation for conquering the day and are stuck in a post-grad rut.
This especially applies to one’s entry-level career. If you are still desperately searching for a job, you might feel a sense of defeat, as though your college education failed you. If you have a job that you don’t like, you might lack the drive to push yourself creatively or do anything beyond the bare minimum requirements of your role.
As cliché as it is, it’s important to remember that things will get better, and while you may be in a rut right now, it’s normal to experience some frustration when it comes to the early stages of your career. Try thinking less about the day to day and more about the bigger picture. Wouldn't your future self want you to keep going with the job hunt and apply for more positions? Wouldn’t your future self feel accomplished having stuck with a workout plan that made you feel good? Focus on your long-term goals rather than the daily struggles that make you feel defeated, and you will sail past these deterrents.
When dealing with depression, it's usually easier and more realistic to set small, manageable goals for yourself, such as "I'll apply for two jobs today," or "I'll do some research on an industry today." This helps break things down and will allow you to prove to yourself that you're capable of tackling goals you set for yourself.
3. You're checking social media too much for your own good
Once you graduate, it’s easier than ever to compare yourself to your college friends. We immediately judge people’s post-grad lives based on whether they found a high-paying job, if they’re living in a big city and if they seem happy from the outside looking in.
Social media gives us the chance to stay in touch with college friends, but comparing yourself to others online can be extremely harmful to one’s mental health. If you’re experiencing post-grad depression, you might find yourself continually checking your Instagram to see how your peers are fairing in the real world and juxtapose their life with your own more than you should.
While diminishing your social media usage is easier said than done, you can reverse the effects of this behavior by changing your mindset. Everyone around you is trying to make their lives appear perfect through the lens of social media, primarily exposing their highlight reel. They don’t profess their deepest insecurities, their potential financial struggles or their sad days. Once you realize that everyone is dealing with their own problems, your issues won’t feel as unbearable. In addition, you can make an effort to check in with your friends more regularly IRL. We all post the highlights and major milestones online, but if someone reached out, we're likely to tell them how we actually got there, how hard it was and how many steps it took.
An anonymous recent graduate of James Madison University avoids making comparisons with others by focusing on the positives in her life. She says, "I'm getting to spend more time with my family, exploring bars in my hometown I couldn't go to in high school and don't have to stress about big tests or projects. It's great to look back and appreciate the great moments of your college life, but remember you have so many great things coming up in your future too!"
4. You're desperate for a support system
Not only is it difficult to make new friends after college, but it can be a culture shock going from a state of being constantly surrounded by people you know to being on your own.
It’s hard for anyone to no longer have a built-in support system within close distance. The same goes for your family if you don’t live in the same state—phone calls can’t compensate for face-to-face interaction with the people you care about.
If you don’t have college friends or your family close by, try creating your own support system in your new city. Your coworkers or boss can be a great mentor in helping you navigate your career and pushing you to be better. You can also attend networking events in your city to connect with others in your industry and grow your circle. The more that you’re able to increase your social bubble, the less isolated you will feel.
5. You feel like you're at a standstill
If you find yourself in the same situation for months, whether it's living with your parents or still struggling to find a job, it can feel as though the odds of escaping your rut are hopeless. No matter what you do to change things, it seems at though time stands still for you while it speeds up for others.
This can be especially frustrating if you had a great college experience, and then suddenly time moves so slowly. In this way, post grad depression can hit you right away if you're anxious for change and excitement in your life compared to your happy state in college.
Autumn Dube, a recent graduate of Emmanuel College, preaches the importance of giving yourself things to look forward to in the midst of all of the changes, or lack of, that take place after college. She says, "Even if you're not where you want to be, make plans each week or month that make you excited to keep going. Whether it's meeting up with old friends for coffee, seeing a concert or visiting a new city, give yourself fun reasons to always look forward to your future. It keeps your current state of mind more positive too!"
Post-grad depression can feel like a heavy weight when you've come off of the high that is college. However, the real world doesn't have to be as scary as it might seem. By changing your mindset, setting achievable goals for yourself and surrounding yourself with people who will lift you up, you'll find that your insecurities will begin to diminish.