Written by Debra Alper
With the weather getting warmer and the days growing longer, there is no doubt about it: Spring is in the air. For many students, in the coming weeks the chirping birds and blooming daffodils will be joined by another springtime mainstay – the cap and gown. Graduation season is here, and as the streets around the Center for Anxiety offices fill with antsy graduates and their beaming parents, their emotions are often palpable.
For many, graduation is a time of hope and excitement, expectant with possibility. But as anyone who’s experienced a major transition knows, optimism can at times be tempered by fears and worries of what lies ahead. Indeed, any drastic change in one’s life can bring a cacophony of negative thoughts and emotions that, for some, are hard to manage.
So what is one to do when the walk across the stage to receive a diploma feels less like a buoyant sprint, and more like an Alpine climb?
First, do as all climbers do, and be sure to breathe. Take three deep breaths and remind yourself that anxiety around graduation is common and that you are far from alone.
Next, formulate a short-term plan. Just as any climber must plan his ascent, you too can prepare for life in the weeks post-graduation by mapping out your next moves. Whether you choose to look for work, begin a job, or take a much-needed vacation, having a plan of action is an important way to organize your thoughts and reduce stress. In creating your own plan, stay focused on the specific choices before you. Much graduation related anxiety arises from the misconception that the choices one makes now determine the course of the rest of one’s life when this is seldom the case. Life is long and the path is often winding. In fact, according to the US Department of Labor, the average American goes through 11.3 jobs over the lifespan! Thus, it is far more important to focus on the moment and enjoy the ride than get caught up in one’s eventual destination.
Finally, take some time to look around and enjoy the beautiful view. Anxiety about “what comes next” need not prevent you from enjoying the unique place you are in now. Enjoy this time with friends, free of the tests and papers that have likely filled your last four years together. And don’t forget to indulge in self-congratulation and celebration! After years of hard work and perseverance, you’ve certainly earned it!