The months that follow graduation can feel tough, as students make the adjustment from university life to the ‘real world’. With almost half of grads surveyed by the City Mental Health Alliance admitting their mental wellbeing declined after leaving university (49%), post-university mental health issues are increasingly common – but they’re totally normal, too.
Therapist Frances Trussell, MA, PgDip, BA, C.Hyp, MPMH, and author of You Are Not Your Thoughts: The Secret Magic of Mindfulness, says the changes in environment and anticlimactic nature of graduating can easily lead to negative thoughts.
“It’s unsurprising that many graduates experience ‘post-university blues’,” she tells Cosmopolitan UK. “With the combined grief of the passing of a momentous time of life and the pressure to ‘get serious’ and make big decisions on their next step, it’s common.
“Many can experience a loss of identity and a scramble to reinvent themselves as they transition from student to the working world. In great contrast from the independence and excitement of heading into freshers’ week – returning home to live with parents and face questioning from well meaning relatives over ‘what’s next’ can mean many graduates land with a bit of a bump.”
As well as this change in environment, Frances says it’s very natural for job applications, scrutiny from family and friend and trying to figure out what you want to do, to add to feeling low.
“The process of applying for jobs and the vulnerability of opening up to scrutiny in interviews can raise anxiety in all of us, particularly the inexperienced,” the therapist continues. “The added pressure of the debt caused by large tuition fees can leave graduates particularly susceptible to stress.”
If this feeling of graduate blues sounds familiar, it’s imperative to try and pin-point the severity of your low feelings – are they mild, moderate or severe? Are they impacting your energy levels, mood, appetite and sleep?
Once you’ve worked out where your graduate depression might fall on the spectrum, there are a number of things you can do to try and help you feel better.
5 ways to try and combat post-university depression
Try to put things into perspective
Leaving university can feel like losing your status, and with that comes a potential lack of structure and purpose – and student debt. But Frances advises, “it’s important to keep things in perspective and recognise that there’s a long working life ahead of you”, not only to pay off what is an investment, but to work out what you want to do every day.
Recognise your strengths
It’s so easy to fall into a slump of feeling rubbish about yourself, which isn’t helped by possible job rejections. Make a list of all the things you count as strengths – whether about your personality or your skill set – to help put yourself in a better headspace.
The NHS notes that exercise can boost your energy, improve your mood and reduce stress, and people who take part in regular physical activity have a 30% lower chance of developing depression in the first place. In some cases, your doctor can even offer exercise on prescription to help alleviate your symptoms – regular exercise will have more of an impact than a one-off effort, so if you can get into a daily routine, it’ll work wonders.
The chances are, you’re not the only person in your friendship group feeling this way. Reach out to family, friends, fellow graduates – share how you’re feeling with others who might relate. The chances are getting how you’re feeling off your chest with help before they’ve even had a chance to respond.
Be kind to yourself
“My advice is, be kind to yourself, recognise that most pressure is self created and embrace not knowing what life will bring but be excited for the possibilities,” Frances adds. “Now university projects are over, make yourself your new project and focus on developing a growth mindset.”
This post first appeared in Cosmopolitan UK
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