By Mia Casey
If you’re studying you don’t need to be told that life can be stressful – chances are, that’s a reality you’re already dealing with.
Still, reports that over 70% of students are experiencing ‘high or very high levels of psychological distress’ were met with shock, with some blaming parenting techniques or rehashing the ‘millennials have it easy’ debate.
There doesn’t seem to be a single factor that can be blamed for these high levels of stress and anxiety in Australia’s students – and really, it could be a number of things. Where many are being told that buying a first home is now nigh-impossible, finding a job upon graduating can mean months of searching, and getting top grades at uni while also having extensive practical experience is essential for landing an entry level role, it’s no wonder that students’ mental wellbeing is suffering.
But is it all doom and gloom for students, especially those looking to enter the job market? And how can students themselves look after their mental wellbeing while studying and finding a job in a world so different from what their parents experienced?
Read more: Stop Letting Stress Get the Better of You
Is it all doom and gloom?
In answer to the first question – no. Companies are still hiring, and while recruitment methods may have changed in some instances (with places like McDonald’s using social media to recruit candidates), the demand for new talent is still there. The thing is, for many, it’s just shifted slightly. There is a new focus on digital literacy in the workforce; a skill that many of you who are currently studying have, or can more easily build than your predecessors (any UTS students heard of Lynda.com? Maybe give it a look-see if your digital skills are lacking).
A PwC report highlighted this key advantage for millennials looking to enter the workforce:
‘One of the defining characteristics of the millennial generation is their affinity with the digital world… This is the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of a key business tool than more senior workers.’ (PwC)
On top of this increasing demand for tech-savvy employees, more traditional application methods still hold true. Being able to network, write a professional resume and cover letter, and building your transferable skills from early on in your studies will still put you ahead of students who neglect to do so until they graduate. Plus, leaving job planning or skill building until the last minute can result in a lot of stress and anxiety, which you really don’t need when you’re about to finish your degree.
So, what can you do to not only look after your mental health but also plan for your future?
In answer to the second question, there are a number of ways to change how you think about your future and deal with stress:
There is no benefit to suffering in silence. If your workload is becoming overwhelming, your home life is getting you down, or you feel like you just need a break – talk to someone. Being anxious and overwhelmed is not a conducive mindset to achieving great results, so it’s time to look after yourself (and not feel bad about it!). Chat with your tutors and let them know you need some extra help, reach out to family and friends to tell them how you’re feeling, and reinforce that work-life balance you’re always hearing about by setting aside time to just relax or do something you love. UTS also has a great (and usually free) counselling service, and Batyr’s website has a huge list of contacts you can reach out to if you’re struggling.
Change the competitive mentality
When you’re staring down the barrel of a competitive job market with an overabundance of graduates vying for the same roles, it can be easy to get competitive. While it’s true that being competitive can be beneficial, tone it down during the job search process. One of the best times to work on expanding your professional network is while you’re looking for a job, and if you’re too busy trying to get ahead and ignoring the other talented people around you, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Obviously do your best, but don’t forget that you’re all in this together (cue High School Musical soundtrack), and start reaching out – you never know what opportunities your network may bring your way.
Even if you’re not looking for a job, looming external pressures can make it easy for us to constantly compare ourselves to others, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy. This often stems from the idea that university and success in general is somehow a competition, and when someone else achieves their goal, you’re somehow left further behind. Remember, as corny as it sounds (and boy does it sound corny), we’re all on our own paths.
"Someone will always have a higher jump or a more beautiful line"- Natalie Portman
Posted by Goalcast on Monday, September 26, 2016
As Natalie Portman put it: “You can never be the best technically. Someone will always have a higher jump, or a more beautiful line. The only thing you can be the best at is developing your own self.”
Break it down
Okay, I completely understand that the idea that studying, planning for your future and getting practical experience may seem panic-inducing, but it is possible. It’s all a matter of breaking each element down into smaller, more achievable goals.
For example, see if your degree requires any practical experience or whether an internship can count towards your course credits. This way you’re studying and getting practical experience at the same time – two birds, one stone! (If you’re not sure whether your degree allows internships, or you just don’t know where to start, drop by our office (CB01.04.13) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you out).
And when it comes to career planning, the first step is to simply evaluate what you enjoy doing, your strengths, and the places you’d like to work. Simple brainstorming and research like this can be done on the bus while you take notes on your phone, when you’re waiting in line at the RMS, or even while you’re getting your hair cut. To begin with you don’t need to make any huge and life changing decisions, just start contemplating your likes and dislikes and go from there. Then when you have a relatively clear idea of what you’d like to be doing, or even just your strengths and interests, swing by our office for a Drop-In Consultation after class one day and see what your career options are.
By breaking each step down into smaller, move achievable tasks you can complete throughout your degree, you not only minimise stress but you also remain actively conscious of and involved in planning for your future.
Lean into your interests
If you’re studying design and you find you looove using a particular software, learn more about how to fully utilise it, even if it’s outside of what your course asks for. Or if you’re studying law but you really miss the creative writing you did in high school, start writing again on weekends. Whatever your passion is, don’t let your degree or career stop you from pursuing it. Don’t let what you choose to study or where you choose to work pigeon-hole you into a certain set of skills or experiences. With technology changing the workplace so rapidly, you never know when these extra skills you develop will give you the edge over other candidates, or help you get even further in your chosen career path.
Further, more young people are even choosing to start their own businesses, which is often possible because they chose to follow their passions. These passions are often what can help keep us sane and engaged in the world around us when everything else may be falling apart. Look at what brings you joy and see if you can incorporate it into your studies, work, or even just a weekend every now and then. Essentially: do what makes you happy.
Look, there are always going to be articles and news reports telling us how difficult it can be to find a job, or that XYZ industry is dying out. Whether they’re true or not is an entirely different story. The demands for different industries change as years go by (anybody else remember all those articles saying there were too many teaching graduates, and now we don’t have enough?), so really it’s now more important than ever to stop letting these supposed portents of doom get to you. Figure out what you love doing and go for it! As long as you’re being career-smart and building your transferable skills, networking with those around you, and you know how to write a killer resume, then you’ve got all the ingredients you need to succeed. And if you struggle with any of these things, you can always drop by our office and we can lend a helping hand!
Featured image courtesy of Pexels.