Easing the Stress of Graduation

Every spring, as the school year draws to a close and graduation looms on the horizon, I think about the theme of life transitions — times when one era of our lives is ending and another one is about to begin. I think of all the emotions that arise like excitement, anxiety and fear, and sadness, to name a few. I’m also aware of how perplexing and challenging it can be to be at a point in your life where you are experiencing many of these feelings simultaneously. Then, since I am a therapist, I switch into thinking about ways to ease the difficulty of transitions for others

The first step in easing the stress of transitions is to recognize that major transitions are tough, reminding yourself that it’s okay to feel the above mentioned and other emotions. There is no one “right way” to experience or feel about change. Similarly, it’s helpful to remind yourself that thousands of other students are graduating each spring and that you are not alone in this process. If the negative emotions feel overwhelming at times, remember to use your go-to strategies that help you to cope like talking with friends, doing your favorite breathing exercise, going to your yoga class, taking a hike, etc.

If you are a person who feels a lot of anxiety around not having a plan for the future, then go ahead and make one, even if that plan includes allowing yourself to not have a plan for a while. Spending time actively planning and making decisions (even small ones) related to your next steps can help to reduce the anxiety of the unknown. If you’re graduating and unsure about a future career path it may be helpful to utilize resources like the Career Center. It’s also worth mentioning, that some services through the UO Career Center are available up to a year after graduation for UO alumni. So, even if you have a plan now and decide later that it doesn’t feel like the best fit, then this could be a resource for you in the future. This leads into another helpful reminder:  it’s okay to change course. The decisions you are making now don’t have to be permanent ones, even if they sometimes feel that way.

One of the most difficult aspects of life transitions is saying goodbye to important people in our lives. So, take some time to honor these relationships in whatever ways feels best to you. Whether that is having a goodbye dinner with friends, high-fiving with your classmate, sending an e-mail to your favorite professor, or crying it out with your closest friend, do so, and don’t be afraid to talk about your worries and fears around possible separation. I was recently reminded by a friend that sometimes goodbyes are just as important or even more so to those who care about us. Reaching out to them can allow them to say goodbye and to express their appreciation to you. Try to create these opportunities and attend events that you’re invited to by others. Goodbyes can be one of the most challenging parts of a transition, so allow yourself to grieve if that feels right for you.

You can ease the strain of saying goodbye by making a plan to stay in contact. Consider discussing a plan for phone dates/skype dates, sending each other messages on various forms of social media, planning a reunion or a visit, having a text conversation while you watch your favorite TV show every week, sending a random e-mail, etc. It often helps to ease the sense of loss to be in agreement about the next time you plan to be in touch.

Finally, take a moment to reflect about your time at UO. Transitions can be a whirlwind filled with emotions and things to do. Carve out time to reflect, center yourself, and think about what this era of your life has meant to you, and what you hope to create in the future.

Whitney Statham

Post-Doctoral Resident