Grad School… Now What?

22 Jun

Grad School… Now What?

Anxiety, coping skills, Depression, School

Written by: Kimberly Moore, MSW

When we walked across the stage to receive our graduate degrees, we were not the same individuals who had begun graduate school in the years prior. We have grown intellectually, professionally, and socially. We no longer view the world in quite the same manner as we previously had. We have grown accustomed to having our lives being scheduled and goal focused. We plan our lives around classes, field placements, and assignment due dates. We forego social and family events to focus on our studies and feel guilty when we don’t. But what happens after it all comes to an end and we are left with a void. Once the excitement of finishing this long journey begins to fade, we are left feeling like we’re wandering in the dark blindfolded. In our final semester, no one discussed the “post-grad” depression that we’d soon encounter.

For many of us, our immediate entering of the professional workforce upon graduation lessens the feelings of this “post-grad” depression. Our goals now become focused on improving our professional lives. We may seek opportunities to diversify our professional selves and acquire new skill sets. We may jump at opportunities to work on special projects and other tasks. We may even unconsciously over extend ourselves in the workplace. This behavior may be our mind and body’s way of attempting to return to the once homeostasis state of balancing our overextended lives.

As a recent Master of Social Work graduate, I find myself struggling with this “post-grad” depression. At least six days of every week for over the seven years of my educational career was scheduled out. I always had somewhere I needed to be or there was something that I needed to be working on. My life was rarely my own to do as I wished. My form of self-care was staying up later that I should have been to watch my favorite television shows. The completion of my educational goals has left a void in my life that I now strive to find positive and constructive ways to fill.

The first way I’ve begun to fill this void is by reconnecting with family and friends. Many of whom I only saw on holidays or other special occasions while completing my education. For me, this brings the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself much like I felt with my cohort of MSW students over the last few years. This time spent running around with my two young nieces or relaxing with friends and family allows me to stay present minded and cast aside the stress of my workday.

The second thing I’m doing is reading, which has always been something I loved to do. Unfortunately, the last few years my reading consisted primarily of textbooks and journal articles. There were only a handful of times that I read something that I wanted to read and not that I needed to read. Now, I’m reading for fun. My current reading list includes several books that I’ve always wanted to read but never got around to it like Jurassic Park for example. I’m also reading books to build my therapeutic knowledge about topics like narrative therapy and working with transgender youth. For me, getting engrossed in a book transports me to another place and time and all the stress of my day-to-day life falls to the wayside.

I’ve also began to focus on my passion: writing. I’ve loved to write non-fiction and fiction stories since I was very young. I’d fill notebook after notebook with my writing. As a graduate student, I wrote all the time, whether it was in-class notes or lengthy papers. However, it was rarely ever about a topic of my choosing. Now, I write at my discretion with no deadlines or stress about the graded product. I’m also doing tasks to fuel my creativity like journaling. For example, one of my journal provides writing prompts as a starting point. Journaling not only fuels my creativity but allows me a private space to vent my stress, fears, and worries.

My advice to those currently battling this “post-grad” depression is as follows. We all feel like we have this ton of extra time in our schedules now, but our lives don’t need to be as hectic and strenuous as they were while we were in school. Don’t fill this extra space by becoming overloaded at work or jumping back in the academic world. Instead use this extra time to reconnect to those we value around us and ourselves. Do something that you’ve been wanting to do like read a good book, attend a concert, or learn to cook a new dish. Do something that fuels your passion and creativity. Whatever you choose to do with this new-found time, make sure its something that makes your body, mind, and soul smile.

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