So you just graduated college. You’ve gotten your diploma. It’s gorgeous. Everyone you know is thrilled to have finally graduated college, but you feel the exact opposite.
You feel empty. You feel anxious. You feel depressed- and it all frustrates you because it makes no sense. If this sounds like you, then you could be suffering from post-college depression.
Now don’t freak out. It’s a problem millennials are facing at a disturbing rate. I went through my own bout of post-college depression from the summer of 2013 all the way through this past summer. That sounds like a long and difficult journey, and it was, but if I can beat post-college depression you can too!
The following paragraphs will define the symptoms and causes of post-college depression, as well as the strategies I used to make sense of my quarter life crisis.
Post-College Depression: Signs and Symptoms
The first thing you need to know about post-college depression is that the signs and symptoms are different than clinical depression. Post-college depression is a sustained feeling of hopelessness, loss of identity, & confusion towards one’s life that is caused by the weight of transitioning from college life to the “real world”.
This is also known as a quarter-life crisis. All of our school lives our goals are structured for us. Do X assignment by Y date and receive an A by including all of the characteristics of an A paper. This basic structure drives virtually all classes across all disciplines, from high school all the way through college.
We define our progress by our grades all of our lives, and then we lose that key metric when we enter the real world. This throws a millennial’s self-worth for a loop.
I was an A and B+ student all of my life. It was the main driving force for my self-worth and I didn’t know how to measure my success anymore. I started to feel like a failure.
Graduating college creates a void in your life. Some of us embrace (myself included) embrace the Hedonistic lifestyle so deeply in college that we throw our systems for a shock after graduation.
Many turn to a substance to fill this void. For me it was cigarettes. It seemed like everyone smoked cigarettes in college. So many of my friendships started from being the “smokers” in a group of non-smokers.
Once I left college I noticed I knew less people who smoked. What was once a small group of friends bonding over a bogie became a sad and lonely smoke session. It became a tool of alienation rather than socialization. It took me a while to realize I was addicted to cigarettes because I miss the social smoking of college.
I realized my addiction to cigarettes was more psychological than physical. It was because I was lonely. This post-college depression symptom isn’t complete withdrawal from human contact. I was starved for communication with people my age when I moved back home. It didn’t help that I didn’t keep in contact with anyone from high school. My hometown was a prison of familiarity and stagnation.
I worked hard to break out of my comfort zone in college to build a thriving social life, and then college ended and my socialite persona ended with it.
Confusion towards the future is the third post-college depression symptom. I was originally going to school to be a high school English teacher, but I realized that wasn’t my passion halfway through Junior year. I graduated with a B.S in English and a minor in Communication Studies.
While I loved all my classes in college, I found myself constantly second-guessing my choice after graduation. I felt like it was a “waste” and found resentment growing in me like a cancer. I had no idea what career paths existed for someone with my degrees.
Addiction, loneliness, and confusion towards the future are the three most visible symptoms of post-college depression. The following three tips are what I used to address these symptoms.
Beating Post-College Depression
I can’t take credit for this strategy. I’m convinced the only reason it’s working is because it was given to me by my psychotherapist. I’d highly suggest seeing a professional to help you work through your post-college depression. Here’s what my therapist suggested.
I started going to bed at 11 PM and waking up at 6:30 AM every day, and that structure gave me a framework to make a daily schedule. Before this I would go to bed late, wake up early, and pound coffee until I felt like I could function. You’d be surprised at how little you need caffeine when you get a good night’s sleep.
Make a Meal Schedule
Another tip that’s worked wonders for curing my post-college depression is scheduling my meals. Every morning I write a rough plan of when I’m going to eat and what I’m going to eat. This helps me avoid my problem of emotional eating when I feel anxious. It also helps me keep to day’s other activities.
Have Daily, Weekly, Monthly, and Yearly Goals
There are hundreds of great books and blogs with advice on goal-setting. The advice my therapist gave me is choose the best system that works for you, and for me it’s setting goals in these four groups.
I set my monthly goals on the first of every month and my weekly goals on the Sunday that starts each week. I then pick three daily goals each morning that i put on my calendar. I then review which daily and weekly goals I’ve hit at the end of the month, and “grade” myself.
I re-added the structure that defined my success in school through these three steps, and it’s helped me take control of my life again- I hope they can help you do the same.