It’s that time of year: graduation. It’s so much more than just a ceremony. It marks the end of a life stage, transition, and the start of something new. Kids and parents feel a combination of relief, pride, and sadness. This transition is especially hard for teens and young adults struggling with anxiety or depression. Help your grad by giving them the gifts of support, inspiration, and relaxation. I’m going to give you 6 ideas that combine celebrating with help.
“Congratulations to the Class of…”
People tend to focus on how exciting the next chapter is. There’s a lot of focus on graduation parties and summer plans. Adults want to know “what will you major in?” or “what’s next?”
Not enough people ask, “hey, how are you handling all of this?” New grads are often ashamed of the truth, “this is way tougher than I thought it would be.”
Transition + Change = Spikes in Anxiety and Depression
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough focus on how hard this phase is. Almost everything in their lives is about to change quickly, even if they’ll continue to live at home.
These are three key transitions that exacerbate anxiety and depression in the high school and college grads I see:
- They’ll lose structure and stability. In both high school and college, they had schedules, deadlines, semesters, grades, and other tangible markers of time and progress. Losing a high level of stability and predictability puts many people in a free fall. It’s part of why we see a spike in anxiety and depression in college freshman and new college grads in the fall.
- They’ll have to take on more responsibility. Although they had freedom in high school and college, most things were taken care of for them. For examples, school set up marking periods, grading systems, graduation criteria, exam schedules, etc. They had teachers, advisors, and parents monitoring them. Now they’ll have to make more decisions on their own. New responsibilities include taking out loans, choosing classes and/or a major, setting up schedules, looking for work, and/or living on their own. That’s tough for anyone, but even tougher for someone who already doubts what they can handle.
- Their relationships will change. Friendships and/or romantic relationships will shift. Some will end. The sadness and insecurity that comes with that is tough for everyone. It’s even harder when you’re already struggling with loneliness and low self-worth. Teens and young adults who struggle with anxiety and depression have an even harder time making new friends and finding a support network. They’ll also look at social media and feel that everyone else is doing better than them. This will make a bad situation worse.
Be Proactive in Helping a New Grad Who’s Struggled with Depression or Anxiety
For young adults who’ve struggled with anxiety or depression, these transitions can make symptoms worse and even send them into a flare. They like and need stability and are extra vulnerable when that’s taken away. We can’t pause life for anyone, but we need to make sure we’re a step ahead of them.
They will likely be too overwhelmed or sad to know what they need or ask for help early on. What usually happens is they hold it in because they see that everyone around them is “fine” (little do they know…).
Definitely celebrate a new grad’s accomplishment. Let them know how proud you are and cheer them on to their next life phase. However, if your grad struggles with depression or anxiety, it’s extra important to support and build up their emotional health and strength as well.
Here are 6 graduation gifts that are sure to please and make a real difference:
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- Photo books, albums, and scrap books: Create a collection of pictures, cards, letters, etc., that remind your grad of how much they are loved and everything they’ve accomplished. Encourage them to look at it often to remind themselves of how much positive they have in their life. You can include blank pages so friends and family can write in positive messages.
- Empowerment or Affirmation cards: These decks of cards have positive and empowering messages your grad can read daily. Using these cards is so much easier than having to come up with positive ideas on their own. You can even add a few home-made cards to the deck so that they can take in your inspiring words too.
- Gift cards for massages: If your new grad enjoys getting a massage, this is a great gift to help them relax. Massage triggers a relaxation response and they need that as much as possible. Purchasing a package of several massages is a great group gift. Your grad can use this gift during the summer and even away at school (check to see which massage companies have a location near campus).
- Gym membership: Give the gift of movement. Research shows that movement positively impacts people’s moods. This will help them learn about the mind-body connection and how important movement is to physical and emotional health. It will also help their bones, muscles, and general health since they’ve just spent most of the last 10 months sitting at a desk.
- Yoga mat and gift card for classes: Yoga is a win-win because it will help your grad practice movement and deep breathing at the same time. Both are key in calming the nervous system. They can also learn how to shift their attention from their racing thoughts to what’s happening in the present (i.e., mindfulness). Fast forward to fall: You can remind them how great they felt during those classes and encourage them to continue.
- Inspirational items to energize them and remind them of their strength: These are my favorite gifts to give. These gifts are winners because your grad can see, feel, and touch them. They can take these items with them anywhere. Since inspirational decorations and jewelry are trendy (and expected this time of year), they won’t draw negative attention. There is something very powerful about being surrounded by positive messages.
Remember, symbols and phrases can spark incredible feelings in us. It’s why a collection of words turns into a mantra and a bunch of lyrics becomes a fight song.
Support your grad’s transition by combining love with support. Get them a gift that will make a difference.
A HUGE congratulations to all of the new grads out there and the families and friends that supported them!
Wishing you and your grad strength.
Talk to you soon,
Bucks County Anxiety Center