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The Post-Graduate Blues and How to Fight Them

27/04/2015 10:22 BST | Updated 23/06/2015 10:59 BST

So, you're about to graduate. Congratulations! I'm proud of you. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, though, but as much as this feels like the final hurdle, it isn't. And that's what makes the Post-Graduate Blues so painful. You know you should be on top of the world, but something just won't let you feel it. Those mild worries you had about what you were going to do after you finished your degree are suddenly the realest consideration you have to make, and if you still don't know, the pressure you will feel either from others or yourself (or both) is going to weigh you down. You'll probably end up moving out of your university town and back home, or else scrimping for the cash to enable you to stick around. Your friends and coursemates all seem to be sorted, with plans to jet off to China or Peru and then start the Masters you'd have loved to do if you had the money. In fact, everyone seems to have it together except you.

Then, next thing you know, washing and feeding yourself becomes a chore as the days blur into one and you haven't got the money to do anything with your time. You stop feeling useful, or functional. University is an all-encompassing bubble in which responsibility is low and aspirations can be as simple as finishing your course, and that's all you need to achieve at that point. Once the bubble pops, Spotify discounts and student nights become job applications and Netflix marathons as a way of making it feel like you're at least achieving something.

That's the problem with the Post-Grad Blues, though. You replace the pressure of exams and dissertations with the pressure of the job hunt, and if you're lucky to succeed there, then it's onto the flat hunt. You never get a break. You never allow yourself to take a breather and say, 'I did it.' You worked dog-hard for three years to get your certificate, and you should be allowed to take it easy and pat yourself on the back for a little while. It's silly to pretend you're not in the real world, but you've earned some time off from acting like it. To a lot of people, that's all university is anyway - time off from the real world. But you know better. You know the stress and the pressure to do as well as you can and the fear of failing and the prospect of never amounting to anything and the constant reminders from the media, the government and your parents' friends that you probably just wasted 30k to end up in the dole queue like everyone else are all so, so real. People spend a lot of time criticising students and it's easy to internalise that. 'Welcome to the real world' is utterly facile when the only world you've known for the past three years was university, and that's just come crashing down around your ears.

There is no advice in the world that I can give you that will make the next few months easier; everyone takes it in their own way and at their own pace. But having only just got out of the slump myself, these are the things I learned:

1) It's okay.

I know. You don't know what's the matter with you. You're supposed to be thrilled with what you've got, but you can't stop thinking about what comes next. You get the job, you still feel the same. You get the flat, you still feel the same. It's horrible to feel like you're ungrateful and can't be happy, but it will get better. The adjustment that you have to make from student to fully-fledged adult is a lot bigger than we realise, and you will settle in.

2) Breathe.

It's okay to take time for yourself. It's okay to spend time doing things that you want, taking breaks from the job-hunt and the flat-hunt as and when you need. If you want a job and a flat, especially in London, it's competitive as hell and you absolutely do have to put in a lot of work. But you're allowed to relax too. Read that book you never got round to amidst your course texts, see friends you haven't seen in months.

3) Think about what you need right now.

People are insistent on you seeing the bigger picture. Ten year plans and careers. It's okay if you don't know what you want to be doing further down the line. What's most important is you, and that ultimately means thinking about the here and now. If that means taking time out to recentre, you do that. If that means taking a job that's less than perfect to enable you to get the money to move into your own place, so be it. If that means commuting long distances to enable you to work with an organisation that is your dream, that's what it means. If you want to do it, and you can, then do it.

But don't let anyone coerce you into doing something you don't want to do. Internships feel increasingly like the only option for graduates lacking experience, but in practice often result in you doing lots of work for little to no pay with nothing at the end. Don't be ashamed for wanting payment for your labour. It's okay to sign on in the meantime.

4) Don't be afraid to ask for help.

And finally, the big one. It feels like you're the only one struggling, but you're not. Your friends and graduates across the country are all going through the same motions. If you feel able to open up, you never know the conversations it can lead to. Talk frankly with parents, tutors and yes, even your doctor if the feelings get worse, about what you're going through and try to identify ways that they can help you, and you can help yourself. Your feelings are totally legitimate. And whatever happens, you did great.