Perhaps this will sound familiar. You have graduated from the academic portion of your life and have moved on to the next phase. You are somewhere in your 20s or 30s. Maybe you are working a first job, a job that pays the bills, or if you’re lucky, the start of a career that excites you.
However, you sometimes have feelings of unease, dissatisfaction, or even distress. You may even feel some of the signs of burnout. This can be confusing if you’re previously used to a packed schedule with assignments, deadlines, and externships. Now your work is contained to the work day. If you have evenings and weekends to yourself, why aren’t you feeling relieved?
Why aren’t you feeling free?
The school-aged years of life from preschool through undergraduate studies tend to be pretty predictable. They are structured segments of life that have distinct start and end points. Your learning may be geared towards passing an exit exam or finalizing a thesis. It may sound familiar then that when this structure ends, a sense of uncertainty sets in. Why? This next stage of life has no set graduation date or stepping-up ceremony. The destination is a little less clear. This can feel distressing as such a stark contrast to the past two decades of your life when milestones were not only clear but on a timeline.
If you’ve measured your self-worth in the past by grades, or productivity, you may find that you’ve thrown yourself into your work. School life may have been all-encompassing but now that you’re working, you are unsure of how to establish this work/life balance everyone is always talking about. If you’ve been so structured in time management because of the academic calendar and now are feeling a little lost, you may not be sure what your next destination is.
So how do you enjoy the journey, when you’ve been ingrained with focusing on the destination?
Here are a few things that a therapist would recommend while navigating this new stage of early adulthood.
Develop Self Awareness
Patterns are like well-worn paths. You take them so often that you can get them from start to finish as if on autopilot. You may not even realize what your patterns are. Or that you can trample a new path. Developing self-awareness can help tease apart what patterns feel ingrained and worn. While highlighting those that feel valuable and unique to you. Why do you do things the way that you do? Is there anything you want to do less of? More of? Ask yourself where your excitement and your fears come from. That self-awareness will make these next steps even easier.
Explore your Identity
School was a busy time. It may have also been a time when a lot of other people told you what you needed to do and when. In early adulthood, you can explore what matters to you. What brings you joy? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you rest and rejuvenate? What are three of your most cherished personal values? Your answers to these kinds of questions may inform your relationship choices, and help you develop meaningful hobbies/outlets.
Evolve Your Self-Care Routine
Self-care looks different for everyone and while it has the word routine in it, self-care does not always mean doing more. If you’ve been looking towards that destination for so long, you can enjoy the journey by doing less. End your work day when you’re supposed to. Turn your phone off sometimes. Don’t go out just because someone asked you to. Learn to intentionally say “no” to what is not a good fit for you and “yes” to what is. More on this below. Self-care can also look like caring more about what foods you put into your body and the exercise you do. These are important components of overall mental wellness too.
Build Your Coping Skills Toolbox
When you are stressed, what do you turn to? Think about the current tools in your toolbox. This could range from a hobby to talking to a friend, to journaling, or watching your favorite tv show. Determine where you cross your own line from regulated to dysregulated and make a list of all the things that make you feel regulated and safe. These are where you find your coping skills to fill your toolbox.
Your classes may have been at any hour of the day or night during college. It is totally normal that it feels difficult to make a hard boundary between when you are productive and working, versus restoring and relaxing. Leave the office when your work day ends with purpose. Take your lunch break to restore yourself during the day. Let friends and family know what you can and cannot commit to rather than feeling obligated and regretting it. Saying yes to something you don’t want to do is saying no to yourself, or something you’d actually enjoy doing!
Like all journeys there will be pit stops for sightseeing, and maybe even some bumps along the way you weren’t expecting. Increased self-awareness, a developed identity, personalized self-care routines, and coping strategies along with setting firm boundaries will help immensely at times when the journey gets tough. Your sense of self and your need for restorative care may even evolve as time goes on. Letting go of that ingrained habit of focusing only on the destination will make that process of growth much more fruitful and impactful as you go on.
Begin Counseling in Scotch Plains or Branchburg, NJ
Our caring therapists would love to assist you. We offer support from our Scotch Plains and Branchburg, NJ-based therapy practices. In addition, we also provide online counseling to the residents of New Jersey. To start your counseling journey, please follow these steps:
- Contact Brave Minds Psychological Service
- Meet with a caring therapist
- Start overcoming procrastination
Other Services Offered in Scotch Plains and Branchburg, NJ
At Brave Minds Psychological Services. For adults, we provide EMDR Therapy, couples counseling, postpartum counseling, and birth trauma therapy. As well as counseling for anxiety, trauma, and food allergy anxiety. Our services extend beyond adults. Our caring counselors provide mental health services for teens and children. This is why we offer treatment for teen anxiety, social phobia in teens, child sexual abuse, child anxiety, and more. Prefer building a support network with group therapy? Our therapists also offer several options for group therapy. Our services are offered in person at our Scotch Plains and Branchburg, NJ offices and through online therapy in New Jersey.