The Senior Freak-Out: How To Deal

T-minus one semester.

The countdown to graduation has begun: you’ve started saying things like, “This is the last first day of school!” and “This is my last midterm!” or “This will be my last spring break vacation EVER!” It's definitely a bittersweet feeling because, well, who doesn’t want the continuous comfort of college life? Yet, after years of attending classes, you are more than ready to book it to the finish line. The only problem is, you have no idea how to function without your “student” title once you throw that hat in the air. At this point, graduation certainly seems far away but that still hasn’t stopped you from having an occasional panic attack here and there.  

Freaking out yet? We thought so. Attention Class of 2013: take a breather because Her Campus has your back.

Your homework days are numbered.

Rebekah Meiser, recent Ohio University graduate, said, “In many ways I felt ready to be done with school, stop attending classes and finally have a salary. At the same time, I was terrified I would't find a job, would struggle to pay my bills and school loans, or would lose touch with the amazing people I spent the past four years getting to know and love.”

Unfortunately, senior freak-outs about life after college will occur regardless, but there are ways to deal with the hyperventilating sessions and sleepless nights. Read on to pinpoint what’s behind your senior stress, and how to feel a bit more relaxed.

Why you’re stressed: You don’t have a job

Like most seniors, you’re probably unsure of your employment following graduation, and therefore uneasy about your future finances. The question still lingers, will you even be able to find a job in this dismal economy? Relax, eventually you will.

“I am currently freaking out about having no idea what my plans are and how to make a decision,” said Niki Derosia, a senior at Western State College. “Trying to predict the future of the job market, grad school and my relationship with my boyfriend is driving me insane.”

It is perfectly normal to feel panicky and a bit anxious over what is to come over the next few months, but it is important to remember that there are other alternatives that are available after graduation. Although it is often expected that you’ll get hired immediately, finding a job sometimes takes longer than expected.

“It helps to remember that finding a job after college is just that—finding a job,” said Kathy Brock, the Assistant Director of Mental Health Services at Washington University in St. Louis. “If that job isn’t perfect or perfectly suited for you, there will be others. And if you can’t find a job right away, you will likely find a way to make things work until you do.”

Renee Welch, the Associate Direct at the Colorado State University Career Center, gives her tips on what to do if finding a job is your biggest concern.

  • Go to Career Services. Not sure where to start with the job search? By talking with a career counselor at your school you can get a better idea of what to do first. A career counselor can look over your resume and cover letter and provide you with the appropriate resources to search job markets.
  • Start networking. Remember all those internships you spent volunteering your time summer after summer and semester after semester? You never know, perhaps your old internship may be your new job! Read the Her Campus article on how to keep in touch with contacts from previous internships.
  • Have a realistic idea of how long it will take you to job search. Depending on the industry you are trying to get into, companies advertise jobs that they need filled within a few weeks after posting.
  • Think about your search criteria (industry, occupation and geography) and determine which part of your criteria may be more flexible. You might be able to increase the amount of job opportunities available to you if you are willing to relocate, for example.
  • Establish a backup plan (how will you adapt if Plan A doesn’t work out?). Maybe you want to take this time to de-stress from school. We know getting your dream job as soon as you graduate is your ideal situation, but if that doesn’t work out immediately (and if you have the extra money), go abroad!

Why you’re stressed: You don’t know where you’re going to live, or with whom

Shocking news: Once you graduate, you won’t be able to stay in that comfy dorm room you’ve grown quite fond of. Now you’re unsure of where you will be living in a few months and possibly will be  forced to move back in with the parents, or maybe even move to an unfamiliar city (possibly far away from any friends or family).

“Consider extending your college living experience and still live with roommates,” said Welch. “This will enable you to share expenses and be within the support of friends while job searching.” A website like Meetup is available to those moving to an unfamiliar city who want to establish a new network. If you’re in a sorority, get in touch with the local alumni group in the city you’ll be living in.  But if your plan is to live at home until you figure out your next steps in life, Welch suggests speaking with your parents about house rules and whether you are expected to pay partial rent/utilities.  Find out from your parents if living at home is an option. If it is then at least you know you won’t be out on the streets!

Why you’re stressed: You’re leaving behind your friends and family

This is you if you’re pursuing a job far away from your closest relationships (i.e., friends, family, boyfriend) or if you have friends moving far away (and you don’t know how to deal without them!). Dr. Brinkman suggests trying a five-step process that he calls “modeling,” which is embodying a behavior from someone or something else. Brinkman uses one of his patient's “model” of a mountain to demonstrate how to be steadfast and resilient (there's not much that can bring down a mountain, after all).

Step One: Ask yourself, “What do I want? What do I need inside myself to not be freaked out?” This could be something simple like certainty or an ability to “go with the flow.”

Step Two: Think of who or what has that characteristic. This could be an object (like the mountain), a fictional character, a famous person, someone you know or even an animal.

Step Three: This step, where you create an association, is the most important. (Check out this hilarious clip from The Office to see what an association is like!). To do this:

  • Close your eyes and with your fingers interlaced, squeeze your hands together.
  • Get inside what you are modeling. If you're modeling a person, for example, think of how that person feels, holds herself, thinks, what her attitude and outlook is, etc. Really concentrate and imagine you are that person. Do this for at least a minute.
  • Open your eyes and unclench your hands for about 10 seconds.
  • Repeat the process two more times. Add new things about that person and discover what makes her the way you want to be. Each time you go “inside” your model, squeeze your hands together and shut your eyes while you are concentrating.

“An association is made by either repetition or it can be made by intensity, so by closing your eyes and focusing, that's the equivalent of the intensity—putting all your attention into concentrating on it. And then, of course, you do three repetitions,” explains Brinkman. An association is sometimes temporary, like a certain song or smell triggering a memory, or slightly more permanent, like this one will hopefully be. When you squeeze your hands and close your eyes, you now have an association with your model and therefore, what characteristic you are trying to copy.

Step Four: For this step, said Brinkman, you have to project this into the future. So, if you are being the mountain, imagine yourself in the future going back to your hometown or starting a new job (or whatever you are worried about!) while still embodying the characteristics of that mountain. Think about how NOT stressed you are to be job searching or having to make new friends. Again, do this three times, concentrating for a minute (with hands clenched and eyes closed) and relaxing for 10 seconds in between. This will reinforce your association and link it to your future (and the underlying cause of your stress about graduation).

Steps 1-4 are all in one sitting, and take approximately 10 minutes.

Step Five: This is the ongoing process of calming down when your stress comes back. Each time you start freaking out, close your eyes and squeeze your hands together (when possible), which will trigger thoughts of what you modeled. You have to be mentally ruthless—force those thoughts out by thinking about the mountain (you’ve probably susbstituted the mountain by now with something for relevant to you).

Brinkman also advises to put your stress into perspective. There are two ways to do this: think of the bigger picture (what will this matter in 10, 15, 20 years?) and compare your situation to another situation of yours or that of someone else. Is this really worse than the time I broke my arm? What about in comparison to the stresses faced by someone who is homeless, or living in poverty in another country?

Brock says if you are doing all that can be done, like keeping up with and filling out job applications, there is not much else to do. Know that all things will end, for better or worse, and that you will cope with them as they happen. 

Happy graduating, collegiettes! 

Dr. Rick Brinkman
Dr. Kathy Brock
Renee Welch
Niki Derosia, WSC '11
Laura Hoxworth, UNC '11
Rebekah Meiser, Ohio University '11