You’ve graduated.

Congratulations! Now for the rest of your life. It can be a daunting prospect coming out the academic world and into the ‘real’ one. For some, graduating was the hardest part. For others, the real challenge is yet to come. It’s not easy finding and keeping work, navigating the bills and contracts of adult life as well as trying to balance your professional and social time. You may even be preparing for further study or travel abroad. It’s a lot to have on your mind, so it’s no surprise that many graduates get stressed. When going through a significant life change, we’re rarely fully prepared. When something doesn’t go to plan, we can often lose our cool, develop anxiety or even get depressed. It’s important to keep check of your mental health and know what steps to take if you’re struggling. In this article, we’re going to talk about how small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in post-grad life.

Keep Active

The evidence is in: exercise reduces stress. Even just taking a walk improves our mood. You don’t necessarily need to hit the gym to the see the results, although that’s a good option. You can take up running, join a local sports group to get social, or even work out at home. It can be a productive way to get out the house, see nature and possibly meet new friends. On a purely chemical level, exercise releases endorphins, a feel-good chemical. Exercise is also a boost for the chemicals Serotonin and Dopamine, which are responsible for motivation, feelings of reward and stable moods.

When navigating the busy post-grad world, it can be difficult to squeeze in scheduled exercise. You might even have landed your dream office job, but all that sitting isn’t good for the body! After all, experts recommend that adults do 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week. If you can get into the gym and play a game of football a couple days a week, you’re doing great. If not, remember that brisk walking and cycling are a good form of exercise and can be done every day as part of a commute or a day of errands.

Remember: The hardest part is starting! Once you’re in the rhythm of regular exercise, it becomes more natural to keep it up.

A man running in a natural landscape. Getting out and exercising is proven to help your mental health.

Eat Right

After a night out clubbing and drinking, you and friends get a taxi back to campus and order as many large pizzas as your student loans allow. Remember those days fondly? Unfortunately, as you may have learned next morning, you can’t keep those habits up. Basically, we need to eat good to feel good.

If you get into a new job, it can be difficult to juggle your eating habits. Buying food out everyday can be expensive. But not eating lunch is going to drop your energy levels and thus your work performance – and give you low mood in general. Bringing lunch to work is often the best option. That means buying good food for the week and preparing your meals in advance. If you can get into a good habit with making lunches, you can be confident you’ll have the fuel needed to keep up with your work and you’ll be in control of what you’re putting in your body.  But what food should we be eating to improve our mood?

You’re probably sick of hearing about your ‘5 a day’. But you’ll definitely be sick if you don’t eat your fruits and veggies! Vegetables are an essential source of nutrients that you should be including in your main meals, and fruit is great for a healthy snack on the go. Make sure you’re getting protein and good fats as well. We all know that the only thing worse than being miserable is being miserable and hungry.

Some classics symptoms of a depressive mood include low energy and motivation. By eating right and consistently, you’ll have more energy to take on those tasks you were putting off, and the right head space to get productive with work and exercise. If you’re finding it difficult to focus and you’ve got a blinding headache, you might need to keep an eye on your hydration. Bring a bottle of water with you everyday and drink it frequently.

Basically, drop the sporadic junk food ordering and instead make consistent balanced meals and stay hydrated. It won’t solve all your problems, but it’ll make a lot less of them.

Two people cooking a healthy meal together. Home cooking with good ingredients is a sure way to improve your mood.

Have a Chat

University is a social place. People live together on campus and rent together off-campus. There are societies for every interest and every person. There are pubs, clubs, and creative spaces. It can be a great place to form friend groups and maybe even romantic relationships. But before you know it, you’re pushed out the door with a certificate in your hand. Your university friends find work scattered across the globe, with only the thin thread of social media to keep you in touch. Those daily hang outs become replaced with job applications, shifts and chores. Suddenly, you’ve lost all connection to your old friend group and are living the life of a Netflix hermit. It can be a tough transition.

Using social media to keep up can be great, but there is a dark side too. You’re not getting the face-to-face interaction necessary for social fulfillment. On top of that, you can quickly feel like everybody is living their best life while you’re living with the parents sending off CV’s! What people show on social media is selective: It’s meant to show them at their most desirable. Not browsing social media obsessively can only be good for your mood. It’s much better to go out and meet people in the world.

Easier said than done, right? University was a place heaving with sociable young people. It can be difficult to reach out socially once you’ve graduated, doubly so for those with anxiety. However, in many ways it can be a positive time to meet new people and forge new connections. The colleagues you work with everyday could be fun to hang out with in your free time. You could arrange a coffee date with an old friend. You could get into volunteer work and meet people from all age ranges. If you’ve moved back in with family after graduation, it’s a good time to reconnect with them.

Being a social person encourages you to take care of yourself. You get up, take a shower, get dressed and get out the house to meet someone – that’s a wonder for low mood. This helps improve your self-image. Chatting to a friend also lets you share what’s your mind, which is a form of therapy. If being thrown into post-grad life has had a negative effect on your mental health, it’s been shown that socialization enables recovery. It can be tempting to think that after graduation, your social life will never recover. In truth, it can be better than ever.

A man and a woman talking over a coffee in a cafe. Socialization with friends is important for your mental health.

Stay Positive

If you’ve read this far into the article, you might be a bit overwhelmed! ‘I have to go running, quit pizza, and embarrass myself by interacting with new people’? In truth, people rarely improve their entire lives overnight. It’s a process. You can start small with your goals: Walk to work, eat a banana, phone a friend. Once you realize that you can reach these small healthy goals, you can build more confidence and make bigger changes.

When applying to work, it can be easy to have your confidence knocked by rejection letters. It can also feel jarring to come out of a three-year course and find that you aren’t using your degree in the way you wanted. Remember that finding a career can be a slow process. It’s uncommon for graduates to simply drop into their dream role. It can take a varied employment and volunteering history in many fields for people to find their calling. Not knowing what you want to do as a career isn’t a failure – it’s the standard!

Working life can often seem like a dash from Point A to Point B. It’s a good idea to try and find some time to simply observe the world and take stock of the judgements you make about it. It’s a practice known as mindfulness, and it’s increasingly encouraged by mental health professionals. While on a walk, during a work break or simply at home, put down any distractions and just focus on the world around you. Observe your thoughts as if they were passing cars without becoming overly engaged or distracted. Pay attention to the sensations of your body at rest. For people used to a busy lifestyle, it can be difficult at first. With practice, you will find yourself becoming calmer and more in tune with your present reality. It can lead into meditation, which can reduce work stress and improve well being.

By making some of these lifestyle changes and keeping a positive outlook, you can make that step into that post-grad world far less stressful and anxiety inducing and far more engaging and enjoyable.