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Post-Graduation Stress

After years of work, you have completed all requirements and been awarded a degree. You receive the diploma, enjoy the festivities, and then you…
  • Notice that you are feeling scared about the future or even sad
  • Have trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Become less interested in socializing with your friends and family
  • Wonder why this is true when you have just made such a great achievement

It can help to know that these emotions, and other stress symptoms, are a common phenomenon among graduates. It catches many by surprise that achieving a goal can be a letdown when the next life steps are not yet clear.

Mental health professionals acknowledge that many grads experience anxiety or depression during the big transition from student to employment. Dr. Bernard Lushkin, a licensed marriage and family therapist, finds it helpful to view these symptoms as a normal reaction to change by calling it Post Commencement Stress Disorder, or PCSD. Although this is not an official medical diagnosis, it can help recognize stress symptoms and navigate this new chapter in your life.

PCSD Symptoms

Lushkin lists these common symptoms of the anxiety many graduates experience with this transition:

  • Feeling constantly worried and fearful about the future
  • Feeling a lack of support after commencement
  • Feelings of failure if the new graduate is unable to find work in their area of specialty in a reasonable length of time
  • Experiencing shortness of breath, rapid heart rate or shaking while at rest
  • Not feeling in control of one’s life and having a sense of powerlessness
  • Sleeplessness and irritability
  • Not wanting to go out or socialize or withdrawing from normal everyday activities
  • Numbing feelings with alcohol, recreational drugs or overeating

What are the sources of post commencement stress?

Commencement, the very word creates expectations of grand new beginnings as one life chapter comes to an end and another begins. These expectations for success in the working world come both from graduates themselves (internal expectations) and family and society (external expectations).

This yardstick for success can create a fear of failure and pressure for measuring up. When months pass without landing a job, graduates can experience hopelessness and shame about their inability to translate their degree into a job. The added factor of high unemployment has created more stress and uncertainty.

For many graduates, the first step after graduation is moving back home. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that 53 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are living with their parents or moved back with them temporarily during the past few years. Known as the Boomerang Generation , this trend has resulted in more multi-generational households in the United States now than at any time since the ‘50s.

Families seem to be adjusting to this trend with 78 percent of young adults saying they are satisfied with their living arrangements. Seventy-seven percent are upbeat about their future finances.

In addition to the stress of moving back home, recent graduates may feel the effects of Erik Erikson’s psychological stage of “ Identity vs. Role Confusion .” In this stage of life, young adults struggle between the desire to meet the expectations of their parents and figure out what kind of career they will have.

This can burden students post-commencement as they begin the job search and become someone their parents can be proud of. However, it’s important that graduates realize there is time to find the right path after college, and patience and perseverance are key.

How do parents feel?

Sharing family finances appears to have benefited both young adults and their parents, as 48 percent of “boomerang” young adults reported paying rent to their parents and 89 percent reported helping with household expenses. Parents who said that an adult child had moved back home because of economic conditions were just as satisfied with their family life as those whose adult children had not moved back home. A college degree does make a difference as adult children between 30 and 34 were only half as likely to still be living with their parents.

For parents between the ages 30 and 34, a college education meant that they were less likely to be living with their parents.

A sobering statistic from Pew: one-in-ten college educated adults between the ages of 30 and 34 are now living at home.

Even with these positive effects, it can definitely be difficult for families to figure out how to adjust to an unexpected living situation – parents and their adult child under the same roof. Murphy offers tips for graduates moving back in with their parents.

Financial and Future Uncertainty

Another source of stress for graduates is student debt as graduates wait for their first job. The need to rely on mom and dad for spending money can be demoralizing and lead to arguments. It is important to talk with your parents about what financial support is reasonable and possible as you search for jobs.

Ron Hatfield, former WVU Extension Financial Management Specialist, offers additional online financial management tips for graduates.

Many graduates feel generally anxious about the unknown future path. It is helpful to recognize that endings and beginnings of life transitions are always a little scary and anxiety provoking. The sense of a lack of control over one’s life predicts higher levels of psychological distress.

Student life is quite structured with goals chunked out in semester long segments, and the shift to considering one’s entire future can be daunting. The modern world of electronic job applications can be impersonal, as it is common to get no response from many job applications submitted online.

Check out these tips for new graduates.

Author: Eric Murphy, former WVU Extension Service Agent—Families & Health, Monongalia County

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