How to cope with graduate panic and reduce the pressure of having to look for a job

"We can’t measure our worth by the opportunities we have after graduating," says Brooke Schwartz, a licensed psychotherapist based in California.

Finishing university and terrified by the thought of not getting what you want in life? Not sure exactly what it is you want? Feeling like the weight of your entire future is reliant on your next step? That is graduate panic, and you are not alone.

Schwartz explains that as graduation season approaches, students are beginning to come to terms with a role transition.

"There’s the role and identity change of 'I’m taking on a new, different identity and maybe even an identity I don’t know yet. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what identity I’m going to have,'" she says, and this can cause stress and anxiety.

According to a study undertaken by the Higher Education Policy Institute in 2020, 28 per cent of graduates feels more anxious about entering the job market than excited. Whether you are coming to the end of an undergraduate, master's or doctorate degree and starting the process of searching for a job, that sense of panic is normal.

While the change in environment and identity for graduates can cause feelings of panic and anxiety about the future and the process of finding a job, talking with The Roadblock Coach, Mhairi Todd, indicated that building a structure is the key component to help combat those feelings.

To figure out where to start and how to combat the overwhelming emotions about your future, Todd advises breaking down the process into achievable goals.

"It’s about controlling the controllable and making sure that you are setting goals that are the right ones. When you leave university, and you say, 'I’m going to get a job', the goal is not to get a job because that will be the happy offshore of 50 million things that you do. There will be so many things that have to happen to get you to that point, you set them as your goals," she says.

Working on individual elements of the job-hunting process can help reduce the pressure of finding work. Schwartz and Todd both explain the benefit of working on more manageable tasks which contribute to your future in small increments. This will make the process of taking your next step much less daunting.

Centred around self-compassion and forgiveness, the advice from many professionals is that accepting and recognising your feelings of anxiety and panic is the first step to understanding and processing them. Schwartz explains that the first thing she tells her clients, regardless of their situation, is to lean into the feelings of fear and panic.

"A lot of times, our emotions communicate different things to us. Fear might signal there is something you really care about, and you don’t know if you are going to get it," she says, advising that you should accept the presence of those emotions rather than immediately trying to problem-solve.

Todd also explains that making space for your feelings is crucial to understand and process them.

"Trying to push them down will only make them worse. Creating a safe space for them to come out and say, 'I am going to explore this for an hour, and then I’m going to get a Starbucks, and it is going to be fine'," says the life coach.

Whilst accepting your own emotions is the first step to processing them, both experts explain that it is also important to set boundaries with others to allow yourself to work through how you are feeling at your own pace.

When applying for jobs, it is inevitable that you will face constant questions about your future and how your search is going. This can sometimes exacerbate the pressure you feel to have everything together, so setting boundaries with family and friends will let you figure out what you want to do without the input of other people’s opinions. Schwartz advises telling those you trust that you will approach them if you wish to talk about your plan after graduation, whilst Todd suggests having some prepared statements, even if it’s to simply divert the attention to those who are asking the question instead.

Setting these boundaries and focusing on yourself is also important when considering your wider ideas of success.

"There are societal measures of success that you will be brainwashed with when you are in the working world. Success is relative, it is about you," says Todd. She explains that figuring out the last time you felt proud of yourself and understanding what it was that made you feel proud At that moment can help highlight how you can measure your own success.

Making decisions about your future or even your present should be about what you want, so focusing on your feelings and processing them in a healthy way is vital to learning how to cope with graduate panic and remembering that you are free to change your mind at any stage in your career is important too. As a graduate, you may feel as though your next move will define your entire future, but both Todd and Schwartz explain that being open and willing to experience different things and learning from them about what you do or don’t want is okay.

No matter how you are feeling about graduating or entering the working world, practising compassion and forgiveness for yourself can go a long way to combat the wave of emotions you may be feeling during the process.

Are you currently job-searching? Let us know how you deal with the stress in the comments!