Grappling graduation fears

Graduation time is fast approaching many of us! It’s a time of celebration, but can also be a source of worry.

I want to tell you a bit about my past graduations, and how my anxiety and stress affected it, and some of the things I now know and try to do- this may help some of you who may also be fretting about graduation.

Lets firstly go all the way back to 2012. This was the year I graduated with my BSci in Biochemistry from Lancaster University. I was 22 years old, just graduated with no job lined up, no ideas about what I wanted to do in my life, and living back home with my family.

Bachelors degree graduation

You absolutely can not tell in this picture, but I very nearly didn’t graduate on this day. I had been worrying a lot about the graduation process before hand- what was it going to be like? How would my friends be after not seeing them in such a long time? I also remember worrying a lot about the fact that I wanted to simply celebrate with my family and not go out and get drunk with friends (something I never enjoyed at Uni).

All these thoughts and fears made it near impossible for my family to say the words “on your graduation” without me feeling a wave of dread wash over me. I managed to get so worked up that I had a horrid migraine which started about 5 days before my graduation. On the day, I remember my Dad pulling me to one side and asking if I was going to be ok to graduate or if we needed to leave before my ceremony. I had made myself that ill through worry, which still annoys me.

Having said all that, when I look back at the day all this time later, it’s funny, but I mainly remember the good in that day- the joking with my friends, the pride on my Mums face, the laughter when I couldn’t figure out the best way to go pee with all the robes I was wearing! The celebration was the most important part of that day, not my anxiety.

Fast forward 2 years to 2014 and I was about to graduate with my Masters in Research from the University of Bath. I felt good in the run up to the event, but the day before I struggled. Anxiety again seemed to get the best of me, I remember sitting and struggling with a lack of appetite. I remember saying to my Dad, I almost wish I hadn’t bothered coming.

Master graduation

This is anxiety. It can creep up, and turn fantastic exciting events and twist them into something scary and uncomfortable. Luckily for me, I managed to resolve my anxious thoughts on the day of my ceremony, and I had an amazing time with my friends and family.

Now, I am less than a week away from my PhD graduation, and memories of my previous graduations have come back, but this time I feel less anxiety and more excitement. I am looking forward to celebrating becoming a Dr with my Family and I feel excitement when I think about flouncing around with my fancy robes!

Graduation is a really exciting time, but some of you reading this with anxiety may also (like I have in the past) have a lot of anxiety and apprehension about the event. So I want to let you know, graduation can be a nerve-wracking experience for some- there is a lot of new stuff going on, it may highlight things about your stage of life which you haven’t sorted out yet and bring up those fears. Don’t bottle up those fears, share them with your friends and family- you will probably find that your friends are just as worried about tripping over their robes on stage as you are! Talking about these things, joking about them and putting them in perspective help me realise the silliness of my anxieties, and then make me less worried about them- try it yourself!

Remember this day is about you, about what you have achieved, and how far you have come. Take time to celebrate all your achievements, and do what you want to do and what makes you feel comfortable.

And finally, it is perfectly normal to be excited and anxious before big important events, and often the symptoms of anxiety can be similar to excitement… Don’t let your expectations and fears of the day overtake, it will all be ok in the end, and you will have some amazing memories- even if like me, your day started off ‘wobbly’ at best! Challenge that anxiety, beat that anxiety and show everyone who is boss at your graduation!

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