by Dr. Bernard Luskin
Most students are very excited about getting their degrees and moving on to the next stage of their lives. Many, however, will be even more relieved than excited. Homework, deadlines, and grades are traditional stressors and commencement generally signals an end to that stress. Once those stressors are gone, it may prove difficult at first to adjust to what would then be the graduate's "new normal."
In today's world, many college graduates are in their 30s and beyond and the boom in online learning has thrown open the door to learning for adults. Additional opportunities, however, may also create an environment for added anxiety.
Post Commencement Stress Disorder (PCSD) is a condition emerging from a diagnosis of symptoms affecting new graduates facing the task of choosing, changing or pursuing a career beyond the protective bubble provided by the traditional college campus. Anxiety and stress result from experiencing a mixture of excitement and fear of the unknown.
Symptoms of PCSD:
Feeling you are not in control of your life.
Feeling a lack of support after commencement.
Feelings of failure if new graduates are unable to find work in their area of specialty in a reasonable length of time.
Sleeplessness and irritability.
Avoidance of normal, everyday activities.
In short, graduation can be stressful. For those insulated by traditional programs, today's younger graduates are being challenged to put their degrees to work in a world experiencing significant unemployment and social change. For older adults with complicated lives, including families and other obligations, their generation is now experiencing a host of new challenges.
Whatever the causes of PCSD, the "three easy steps" that can be helpful to any graduate are:
Make a plan - I suggest that you map the first six months that follow graduation. You may choose to take a vacation or start an internship for the summer or do something else. No matter what it is you choose to do, having a plan of action can help organize your thoughts and reduce the stress of PCSD.
Keep priorities in perspective - Remember that you are not alone. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, there will be 1,781,000 students graduating this summer and the good news is this year according to the NACE job outlook spring survey, companies will hire 10.2 percent more graduates in 2012/13 than in 2011. Let's hope that this becomes the case.
Confront the future - Take a mental snapshot of where you are today and where you want to be by the end of the summer. Include your hopes and then envision your expectations for the end of the year. You may or may not know what it is you want to do in your career but that should not stop you from making a plan and taking action. Generate some positive action and the positive feelings will follow. Stay active by doing tasks such as updating your CV, joining a gym or a club and doing the activities that make you happy.
For those affected by PCSD, no matter how bad you feel or how discouraged you become, you should do something every day to reach your goal of getting the job you want. A phone call, a connection, a networking event or using social networking are all viable ways to let your friends and associates know what you are looking for and what you are qualified to do. No one will knock on your door and hand you the job of your dreams - that is something that you will have to make happen on your own.
I remember feeling somewhat detached and sad when I graduated from my doctoral program. Wonder why anyone would feel sad after such an achievement? That's just it. After working toward a goal for nearly 10 years, achieving it can be a letdown. Sometimes you don't feel any different - even if you thought you would. And, once you achieve a goal, it's time to look ahead for a new goal. Ambiguity, not having a new goal in mind, can cause the most stress.
Many graduates feel post-commencement anxiety. This reaction is normal and presently common, especially because of the uncertain job market. Take control of your emotions, allow yourself to feel blue, but then work your way out of your blues by focusing on your positive factors, including pride in what you've achieved. Next, consider new goals and a new plan to reach these new goals. Accepting new challenges is the prescription to motivate you out of the graduation blues.
Dr. Bernard Luskin, is CEO and senior provost of Touro University Worldwide.