How Are You Feeling About Life After High School?
Preparing “4 What’s Next”
By Rachel Papke & Leah Nelson
This time of year, many high school seniors have chosen their college, been notified of acceptance, and are now awaiting their high school graduation day.
The path ahead looks clear, but it’s unfamiliar territory.
Then, what if you are reading this and your path leads you to a different destination than college? Does that leave you feeling alone amidst your classmates and the college buzz?
Maybe you haven’t yet sat and felt how the unknown makes you feel—and that’s ok. In the frenzied flurry of homework, tests, applications, essays, sports, extracurricular activities, social media, and more, it’s understandable if you haven’t rested in that headspace yet to feel your feelings.
But, if in your quiet—non-busy—moments you find yourself feeling fearful, anxious, or alone, we want to help by sharing these four tips to help you get from here to there.
It is especially important to know how to tap into these skills as some of you go off on your own for the first time. This way, whatever direction your path may lead after high school graduation, you can feel more prepared “4 What’s Next.”
tips to help bridge the gap between now and next:
- Build your coping kit
What are the healthy coping skills you turn to, to help you feel better and manage distress? Gather your favorites to make a mental coping toolbox and practice using them regularly. Your kit might include things like counting to ten and taking some deep breaths, going to see a movie, reading a book, or spending time outdoors. What works well for one person might not work for another so it’s important to ask, “what works for me?” and to have a variety of skills for different situations.
- Know your resources
We all have times where it’s appropriate and necessary to reach out and seek or accept help outside of ourselves. You may call a friend to talk, ask your teacher for extra help, or see a therapist. Where can you turn for help now and will that change after you move on from high school? Think ahead and get familiar with what your support network might look like. Even if you haven’t experienced times of extreme emotional distress or crisis, doesn’t mean you never will. Most colleges have counseling professionals available on campus as well as other types of support services. There are also helplines and text/chat services for many issues you might encounter. Do your research so that if and when the time comes, you’ll know where to go.
- Take action to improve or sustain your mental health
We all experience differences in how we think, feel, and act to various degrees. Just like physical health, mental health isn’t something you have or you don’t, but sometimes you’re well, and sometimes you’re unwell. Just like when a person gets sick, you can’t always control or prevent the internal or external factors that can affect your mental health. But you can take action to support and improve your well-being no matter where you’re starting from. Practicing healthy coping skills and getting help when you need it are ways you can do this.
- If something isn’t working, try something else
Sometimes the first method of coping you turn to doesn’t bring much relief and that’s ok! Not every coping skill works for every situation and even if the coping method you selected helps a little bit, if you’re still feeling significant distress, you may need to do more or try something else. Try not to get discouraged!
This is a very important point, “try not to get discouraged.” What works for you one day, may not work a few days later. You are a growing, adapting human with a tremendous amount of untapped potential to share with this world; the world that extends far beyond your “now.” With each passing day, you’ll adjust to the “next” phase of your life, and on the days where it’s a struggle, we hope you will refer back to these tips to help you.
These tips are adapted from our “4 What’s Next” high school program. To learn more about this program, please visit 4whatsnext.org.