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Post College Depression is Normal, and Here’s Why

Life after college is thrilling… and depressing. Here’s why (and how to cope).

You probably envisioned your post-grad years as a scene out of Emily in Paris–a fabulous apartment, polished outfits, and powerhouse career moments. It’s the stuff we all daydreamed about while not paying attention in Statistics. But maybe we should have paid attention, because the probability is that you’ll experience some form of post college depression.

Really, it’s not our faults. After all, our professors inflated our egos into believing we’d be CEO by 30 (friendly reminder: they were paid to say that to justify our astronomical tuition bills. We’ll take another loan payment delay, please and thank you).

And life after college feels especially disappointing when juxtaposed with all of the euphoric moments that come with graduation. Think: senior week, graduation ceremonies, texts and phone calls (and checks) from relatives expressing how proud of you they are, a job offer…
Post College Depression - graduation

But then, the highs stop and reality sets in. You might find yourself alone in your crappy apartment with the dust of parties past, wishing your college besties were still your roommates. Perhaps you moved to a new city where you don’t know anyone and your only social interaction is the security guard at your office. Or maybe you moved back in with your parents and are relegated to the carpool lane.

Pick your poison… each post-grad scenario comes with its own set of challenges. Once you’ve maxed out your credit card at HomeGoods on decorations to make your childhood bedroom “more adult,” you have to sit in it. And think. And that is hard. 
Post College Depression - lonely woman

What is Post College Depression?

A lack of clear direction + social media comparison = the post-grad blues.

1. A lack of direction

One of the hardest adjustments to the “real world” is the lack of a clear direction. Throughout your whole life up until this point, you’re progressing from one grade to the next, or earning a spot on a sports team, or getting into college, or moving into a new dorm, or getting a summer internship.

These set milestones keep your momentum going and allow you to feel in control. But once you graduate, it’s up to you to keep your life moving in the right direction. And deciding which direction that will be can feel paralyzing.
Post College Depression - two one way signs

2. Social media comparison

Thanks to social media, anxiety skyrockets during this time period. This could be anxiety about any number of things: making new friends, starting a new job, the apartment burning down because  you left the hair straightener on. Okay, let’s be real… the last one is here to stay.

A lot of this anxiety can be directly attributed to the social media content we consume daily.

We’ve all seen the LinkedIn post from our fellow classmate who’s bragging about how impactful and thrilling their job is (it’s not). Or the glamorous travel photos that girl from your Lit class posts all over Instagram (she can’t afford that trip). Even the massive friend groups you come across on stories can be triggering (they don’t all really like each other).

Seeing how “well” everyone else is doing while you’re struggling, quite frankly, sucks. Which is why it’s worth noting that literally everyone feels this way, no matter how cool their job is or how many friends they have to invite to their birthday party.
Post College Depression - checking social media

A Few Tips to Cope with  Post College Depression

When you feel yourself sinking into a post grad blue-dom, try these tactics.

1. Remember that you’re not alone.

So much of what makes the post-grad experience lonely and discouraging is feeling like you’re the only one who’s struggling. Especially since up until this point, you and your peers were all going through similar experiences… and now one person is giving birth while another is still getting blackout drunk on a Thursday.

In times like this, it’s important to remember that everyone is going through a massive transition, and is likely facing some element of struggle–they’re just not sharing it. If it’s not their job, it’s their relationship. If it’s not their relationship, it’s their friendships. If it’s not friendships, it’s their financial situation. Everyone you know has something going on–and that’s true no matter how old you are.
Post College Depression - stressed woman

2. Limit your time on social media.

Social media kinda sucks. Depending on who you follow, you might leave an Instagram binge feeling inspired or depressed.

Most of us follow a lot of people who make us feel crappy about ourselves. Whether they are aspirational fitness influencers, small business owners who are crushing it, or a college peer who’s living the #ThatGirl lifestyle, there’s plenty of room to compare your life to someone else’s. It’s easy to forget that this is a sliver of their (off-camera) messy and real lives.

The worst part is that we’re often really bad at identifying social media exposure as the cause of our bad moods. Have you ever seen a photo of someone that makes you feel down on yourself, signed off social media feeling low, and forgot what caused that shift in mood? Because same.

Here’s a hot tip: monitor how much downtime you’re spending scrolling through Instagram. Unfollow people who make you feel bad (yes, even if you were college acquaintances). Hide stories you don’t want to see (time to cleanse your ex off your socials), and take breaks from even looking at all.
Post College Depression - social media accounts

3. Focus on making decisions that foster personal growth.

Everyone follows their own path after college. Instead of worrying about catching up with your peers and modeling their paths, worry about the direction you want your life to take. It’s way cooler to focus on your own interests and passions, anyways.

Personal growth can include…

  • Taking care of your physical health
  • Learning how to cook
  • Going to therapy
  • Reading
  • Pursuing cool hobbies
  • Learning valuable skills for your career
  • Fostering good relationships with the people in your life
  • Making regular time for self care

While the lack of clear milestones may make it hard to make decisions, the best thing you can do for yourself is to just make a decision. Pick a job, try a new city, pursue a new hobby. Making decisions–even if they have to be re-routed in the future–helps to give us the sense of direction we’re missing after college.
Post College Depression - drinking water self care

Final Thoughts on Post College Depression

Life after college is thrilling. You have new opportunities, a newfound sense of independence, and complete control over your future.

And, it’s normal if some of that excitement is bogged down by post college depression. Next time you’re feeling down on yourself, remember this is a phase and you’re not in it alone.

By Jess Lohr

Jess is a Cambridge-based, Syracuse-born twenty-something who loves coffee, dogs and stalking Zillow for her future home. Her favorite ways to kill time include strolling through Boston’s cobblestone streets, socializing over a glass of wine, and reading finance books (if only 22-year-old Jess were like this).

She has spent the past 4+ years working in Consumer Insights, and when she’s not working on her 9-5, you can find her pursuing her most recent side hustle as a dog sitter. Jess is co-founder of Adultescence, a podcast and lifestyle website with the mission of helping post-grads navigate adulthood.

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