7 Tips for Dealing with the Anxiety of Graduating High School
By Leigh Perkins | Last Updated: May 11, 2022
After 13 years as a student, you’re finally approaching that glorious milestone – high school graduation! You’re thrilled, right? Except that you’re probably stressed out of your mind and terrified of the transition to adult life and college. Welcome to the roller coaster of senior year. Just remember two important points: You’re not the only one and you’re going to be okay. Take a deep breath and follow our 7 tips for dealing with the anxiety of graduating high school.
Tip No. 1: Manage the Melodrama
If you treat every experience in the weeks leading up to graduation as “The Official Last Time,” the melodrama of simply standing in the cafeteria line can start to feel like a real burden. You are not required to create an Instagram story for the official last time you drink at the gym water fountain or feel the pressure to speechify at your last band performance. Forcing meaning into what was mundane just two months ago does not mean you’re going to miss out on the memories. You’re not unappreciative or antisocial if you don’t create a commemorative TikTok routine to say goodbye to your French teacher. You’re simply sparing yourself (and your French teacher) the pressure to perform an unnecessarily emotional ritual.
In the final few weeks of being a high school senior, you may also feel a great deal of pressure to commemorate and celebrate with classmates and extended family. But this is your life. If an unrelenting event parade weighs on your nerves, scale back your parents’ and friends’ expectations. You are entitled to set your own pace for end-of-year banquets and graduation parties. Show up for those things that really matter to you and politely decline the events you suspect will be energy drains and drama dens. An impromptu conversation at the lockers can sometimes create lasting, truly moving memories.
Tip No. 2: Sleep Early, Sleep Often
Maintaining your GPA, prepping for AP exams and cramming in as much high school fun as your day can hold can leave you in a deep sleep deficit. The teenage brain and body require a minimum of nine hours of sleep every night. Missing out on those Zs is an anxiety magnet, contributing to high-risk behaviors, depression, and other disorders. As graduation approaches, do yourself a favor and go to bed earlier, stay in bed longer, and drop into a nap whenever you can. It’s the most powerful antidote to anxiety during cap-and-gown season.
Tip No. 3: Laugh About It
There is a reason that high school seniors make for such compelling coming-of-age characters: They’re awkward and wonderful, beautiful and monstrous, disturbing and hilarious. Invite some friends to binge The 8 Best Movies About the End of High School. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll cringe. You’ll see that happy endings are possible for any anxious kid teetering on the edge of adulthood.
Tip No. 4: Do What Makes You Happy
You’ve spent the last few semesters trying hard to accrue accomplishments. That’s a stressful endeavor. You’ve done all you can. Now is the time to keep anxiety at bay by losing the agenda and simply signing up for a class, joining a group or learning a new hobby for the sheer joy of it, not to add to your college brag list.
Extracurriculars were never intended as a showcase for high-stress multitasking. They were intended as a pathway for service, community, friendship, and multidimensional learning. So tutor someone or weed a garden or build a parade float. But do it only if it diminishes your stress, not adds to it. Having fun should be, you know, fun.
Tip No. 5: Flirt with Electives
Let’s say your first semester of AP Physics required two tutors and five all-nighters and you still only pulled a low B. Is there any law that says you have to take the second term? If switching to a creative writing class or a digital design course would do good things to both your stress level and your GPA, what’s stopping you from flirting with fun classes for a single term?
Talk to your advisor to make sure it doesn’t affect the path to your top-choice college or any scholarships. If you get the green light, let go of stress and get elective-happy your last semester.
Tip No. 6: Make Healthy Your Default Mode
When life gets hectic or overwhelming, many teens turn to unhealthy habits as a form of comfort, avoidance, or excitement, often in the name of “fun.” But the self-harm of overeating, drinking, using drugs, and even binge-gaming Elden Ring is no cure for anxiety. These escape hatches can actually be anxiety traps. You are much better off coping with the hubbub of senior year with healthier methods. Counter stress by automatically reaching for a fix that actually works:
- Exercise daily, preferably outside.
- Practice meditation.
- Listen to music.
- Reach out to your social support system.
- Feed yourself wisely – fruits, vegetables, high-quality protein.
- Stay hydrated.
Tip No. 7: Prep for Your Next Act
The scariest thing about graduating is also the most exciting thing about it – you’re going to be starting a new chapter of your life soon. What an amazing chance to reinvent yourself and build the life you’ve always wanted.
Getting organized (even in the midst of the chaos that is senior year) can be a reassuring, calming exercise. If college is in your future, make sure you have applied to the schools that make the most sense for you, your budget, and your future career. Schedule campus tours so you can get a feel for life as a student at your top-choice schools. Complete all documentation necessary for classes, housing, scholarships, and financial aid.
Your to-do list doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety. In fact, ticking things off systematically – especially the senior-year tasks making you most anxious – can bring a swift and productive end to pre-graduation stress for high school seniors.
If you have questions about applying to USF, connect with the Office of Admissions. They’ve got all the answers to your college questions, delivered with zero anxiety.
About Leigh Perkins
Freelance marketing writer Leigh Brown Perkins firmly believes that building new skills and chasing new ideas should be a lifelong quest for all of us.