How Graduation or Retirement Can Increase Anxeity and Panic

by on May 21, 2013

sad dogSuffering from stress or even a panic attack may seem like a plausible reaction to submitting a big class project or an important presentation at work. But folks may also be inclined to suffer from those same panicky feelings when they’ve completed their studies or are primed to leave the job behind to enjoy their golden years.

Yes, graduation and retirement can both be stressful transitions that fill you with fear, dread and panic – instead of the relief and joy we may think we’re supposed to feel after such life events have come to a close.

About Graduation: ‘Post Commencement Stress Disorder’

No, we’re not kidding. The stress following college graduation has become widespread enough to merit its own fancy name of Post Commencement Stress Disorder, or PCSD. Psychology Today writer and Luskin International CEO Dr. Bernard Luskin says the rite of passage known as commencement can bring up some scary feelings indeed.

Those nasty things called expectations may top the list, with graduates fearing they may not live up to what their family, educators or even society expects of them after they’re unleashed on the world with degrees firmly in hand. They may not live up to their own high hopes or goals. They can compound their fears and anxiety by wondering if they’ll perform up to standards once they get a job – or even if they get a job.

The economy still stinks, and the rise of online learning has made degrees more accessible to a wider audience. That means more competition but not necessarily more available jobs. Graduation also means leaving the protective “bubble” of their contained and safe environment and heading out into the big, bad world. 

“Fear of failure and inherent shame are several of the consequences if one does not meet the internal or external definitions of ‘success’ after commencement,” Luskin says.

Symptoms of PCSD can include:

  • Feeling like you have no control over your life
  • Sleeplessness and irritability
  • Feeling like you have no support system
  • Feeling like a failure if you can’t find work in your field
  • Avoiding everyday activities

About Retirement: No Catchy Name but Potential for Depression

While some may view the daily grind of work more of a pain in the neck than anything else, embracing retirement can result in a physical and mental decline. A study published by U.K’s Institute of Economic Affairs and the Age Endeavour Fellowship looked at 9,000 adults aged 50 to 70, comparing the retired with the non-retired.

The average retired adult was:

  • 60 percent more likely to suffer from at least one diagnosed illness
  • 40 percent more likely to suffer from depression
  • 60 percent more likely to be on medication
  • 40 percent less likely to rate themselves as in “excellent” or “very good” health

Working comes with a host of benefits people may not even realize are advantageous to their physical and mental wellbeing, according to Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

There’s the money, of course. But there’s also the identity people feel with their profession and the instant social network a workplace creates. Exercise is another benefit, with some honestly living such sedentary lives that a major chunk of their physical activity comes from commuting to and from work.

A BBC interview included retiree Nell McFadden, who was plagued by depression after her retirement. While she admitted “all that lovely time” spread out in front of the retiree may seem like a blessing at first, “all that lovely time can be a complete nightmare.” 

What You Can Do

The initial period following either graduation or retirement can start off with a bang full of glee. But once the reality sets in, the creepy feelings can start creeping your way. You can take action that helps to reduce your anxiety, stress and risk of falling into a deep and ugly funk.

Get off your duff. Retiree Nell McFadden got out of her own depression by filling her time with activities she enjoyed. Getting involved with career-oriented activities can help beat the blues following graduation – and it may even open a few doors for a new job.

Have a game plan. Sitting around in front of the TV does not cut it as a plan. Setting up a roadmap with goals and activities does. The game plan should supplement your activities and give you a clear idea of the direction in which you want to head and the things you need to do to get there.

Have a budget. Money might be an issue following graduation or retirement, but it doesn’t have to be a big, horrible issue. Budget to meet your needs, taking into account the decreased income you may experience. Graduates may have a spate of time off or get a job that doesn’t pay what they had hoped or expected. And retirement plans typically pay less than the regular paycheck retirees had been earning.

Focus on the positives. Yeah, we know. That’s much easier said than done when you’re in a funk. So start focusing on the positive before you dip too deeply into that funk.

“Please remember that everything you focus on expands,” Psychology Today writer Bernard Luskin says. That means if you focus on the positive, your positive outlook will expand accordingly. Focus on the negative, and you can begin your depressive descent.

Know you are not alone. A giant study surveying 9,000 people found retirement can be tough for many. Graduation sends enough people into a downward spiral that the condition merits its own catchy name. Others are suffering just like you, which can at least help you feel you are not all alone in the world. And just as others had suffered, others have also overcome.


Photo Credit: Daniel Pascoal via Compfight cc

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