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UAB Shares Mental Health Tips During Graduation Season

As graduation season closes, many recent graduates battle with the mental health challenges that arise from entering adulthood. (Provided)

By Micah Hardge | UAB News

As we come to the end of graduation season, UAB’s director of Student Counseling Services shares several ways for recent college graduates to improve and maintain their mental health. Graduating from college is one of the biggest milestones in a young adult’s life. While a time for celebration, the postgraduation buzz is sometimes short-lived for many due to the realities of what comes next: finding employment, getting into graduate school, relocating to a new city, fighting imposter syndrome in a new career, comparison to others or simply trying to figure out what the best next move may be.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As graduation season closes, many recent graduates battle with the mental health challenges that arise from entering adulthood and dealing with the first period of their life that does not have a blueprint.

How can a recent graduate maintain their mental health in an already uncertain season? Angela Stowe, Ph.D., director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Student Counseling Services, offers several useful tips for recent college graduates to keep in mind as they work to maintain their mental health and the next round of life’s transitions.

Remember The Basics

Not having a strict schedule or people to answer to can make figuring out a new day-to-day routine challenging for new graduates. Set a daily schedule and routine of simple tasks to complete to help transcend the major changes a graduate experiences and ground them to a sense of normalcy.

“Build a daily schedule where you maintain a succinct routine of simple tasks, such as making your bed, getting dressed, walking your dog. Find the things that ground you,” Stowe said.

She also recommends setting out time out to do things that one loves to do, such as a hobby, exercise or activity. Doing something that brings joy is a great form of mental health support.

Utilize Your Network

Whether graduating with a specific plan or without, relying on family, friends, and undergraduate connections and mentors for guidance, emotional support and financial advice is often a major tool in maintaining good mental health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, connecting with family and friends can help decrease stress and support a person’s overall mental health. Stowe suggests reaching out to people who are supportive and good advocates for that graduate and their future.

“Having a support system and a network of connections can help combat those feelings of being alone and lost,” she said. “You are not the first nor the last person to experience the things you are dealing with.”

Set Healthy Social Boundaries

Establishing healthy boundaries with family, friends and most importantly on social media outlets is essential to taking care of one’s mental health, Stowe adds.

Every college graduate feels the pressure of the question “So what are you doing now” or “What’s next after graduation?” While many postgraduation questions come from a place of genuine curiosity and hold a positive intent, these questions can have a negative impact on a recent graduate who is still figuring things out. Setting conversational boundaries with family and friends in a respectful manner can offer a form of protection to one’s mental health.

“For example, you can say something along the lines of “Thank you for asking; however, I am currently keeping my next steps to myself at this moment in time until I am ready to disclose,” Stowe said.

Setting boundaries with social media usage and expectations is also important. Social platforms like LinkedIn, a prominent professional networking and social communication website, can be a useful tool to build a professional brand, network and discover career opportunities. However, considering many posts on LinkedIn showcase the extravagance of the various career opportunities people are receiving, some students and recent graduates have found that LinkedIn can have a negative impact on their mental health.

As on every other social media platform, negative thoughts associated with the postgraduation journey can form from watching others post about their successes.

“Remind yourself that no one is posting their failures,” Stowe said. “Monitor your feelings and limit your usage if it becomes too much. Managing that relationship between yourself and social media is crucial to taking control of your mental health.”

Manage Expectations

Graduates must set realistic goals and expectations while giving themselves grace when faced with adversity. Realistic expectations can look like understanding that applying for a job does not guarantee employment, or that rejection may very well happen. Accepting that not every opportunity will favor a specific person can be hard to acknowledge but is critical to protecting one’s mental health.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to your mentors for advice and even coaching. Know that they can be a resource on resume tips, interview skills and even job opportunities as you navigate finding the job or opportunity that best fits you,” Stowe said.

For those who enter their first role postgraduation, many young professionals find themselves battling imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is linked to internal feelings of self-doubt in one’s knowledge and abilities regarding being in a position or a team environment. Stowe encourages graduates to remember that they are not going to have all the answers — expect that, even with a degree, there is still a learning curve to any job, and trust in your skills.

Celebrate Successes

Do not shortchange accomplishments. Stowe believes that celebrating how much has been accomplished thus far is warranted.

“Remember to be kind to yourself,” she said. “We are often our own biggest critic. Trust the process, and be proud of how far you have come.”