“Young adults may find themselves faced with a host of new and frequently very different values, norms and expectations that will challenge them daily – from making career and course choices, lifestyle and values, independent living, financial realities, and emotional independence,” says Mark Rainier, the head of counselling and career services at Massey University’s Manawatu campus.

Struggling with the responsibility of making choices that feel like they could affect the rest of your life can be overwhelming, and Melanie Shaw, a Lifeline clinical specialist, and Miriam Sessa, a Kidsline coordinator, say that there is often the pressure on school leavers to ‘get it right’ with big decisions.

For those who have a clear idea what career direction they want to take, the anxiety and stress might arise from the pressure of getting the marks to get into the course they want. For those who are unsure, anxiety and stress comes from making a decision they’re not ready to make.

Dr Elizabeth Du Preez, a psychologist for Change It, adds that young people are often caught off guard dealing with the daily demands of living, from shopping to washing, cleaning the flat and cooking, while finishing assignments or attending to deadlines.

“They can struggle immensely with time management and procrastination – underestimating the time it will take to complete tasks and overestimating their own capacity to stay on top of things. They usually find it difficult to balance their new sense of freedom with the new set of responsibilities that come with a job or full time study.”

Preparation, not procrastination

But accepting there are some potentially tricky times ahead is the best way to stop them from taking a toll on your new life outside of school. Du Preez notes preparation is the key.

“Make sure that all the basic needs are taken care of: accommodation, food, and finances. This might take a bit of planning in the six months leading up to their transition into study or full-time work but is well worth the effort. After these things have been secured, focus on making time for play time, connecting time, time in, down time, and sleep time.

“School leavers are often used to parents and schools organising their lives for them, but they should gradually take responsibility for scheduling and planning, so that they can include most of these activities on a weekly basis.”

Signs you could be stressed

Rainier points out that feeling anxious is normal and doesn’t always mean there is anything wrong. But sometimes it can interfere with your ability to engage on campus, or in the work place, so early getting professional assistance is important and healthy.

“If it persists or is unusually strong then seek guidance – most university counselling services have self-help websites and free counselling services that are confidential. Difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, headaches, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and lack of energy might all point to unhelpful levels of distress, and it is usually best for students to make contact with the services before they feel overwhelmed by their emotions.”

Talk it through

For those who don’t have access to tertiary counselling services, there are many websites and phone apps that can provide information and tools to promote wellbeing and mental health awareness. If you’re not really sure of what to look for, you can access information and complete some self help tests on the Lowdown website (www.thelowdown.co.nz). Most importantly, talk about it.

“Seeking help is mature behaviour and does not indicate a weakness,” says Rainier.

The cure: be more awesome

“The challenge is to make the most of the time to meet new and different people and try out new and different activities. It is a time to question what you have always taken for granted and to look at yourself afresh. To do this, it is important to remember some really basic self-management strategies such as regular exercise, hygiene, a balanced diet, and appropriate sleep. Just because others around you may behave excessively, do not assume that you have to mimic that behaviour or that the majority of students/young people are doing the same thing.”

Shaw and Sessa also add that you might like to speak to a counsellor, GP, call a helpline, visit websites, or talk to a good friend because starting a conversation about what is happening for you is the first step towards getting the support you need.

Parents can help

For many parents watching their children grow into adulthood and having to deal with the responsibilities that come with an independent life is a tricky time. While they may feel it is time to ‘let go’ and allow their children make mistakes and learn from them, it does pay to be on the lookout for signs of depression like sadness and hopelessness, irritability, anger or hostility, tearfulness, or frequent crying and a loss of interest in activities.

“If you’re unsure if your teenager is depressed or just ‘being a teenager’, consider how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different the teen is acting from their usual self,” says Shaw and Sessa.

“It is to be expected that teenagers behaviours will change as they face the challenges of their new roles so it is important to note what is ‘normal’ behaviour and what is a concern, so any change that appears to be lasting for longer than you would expect needs to be addressed. Keep the communication lines open with your teen and talking things through in a calm, open and honest way is a good starting point to address any potential concerns.”

Where to get help

By Erin Boyle


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