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Your first year as a graduate: managing your mental health

GradAustralia

Mental health matters – your first year in a graduate program can be a stressful. Here are tips on how to manage and where to get help.

Coping with stress

A healthy level of stress can keep you motivated and may even be a proportionate and manageable response to your new responsibilities. However, in an intense working environment, it is not uncommon for stress levels to rise. Once this happens, stress can fast become a negative force that saps energy and if left unchecked, often leads to burnout and other mental health challenges.

Coping with the stress of working life starts with building resilience. You can give yourself space to do this by implementing strategies to help you maintain focus and motivation, and achieve your goals. Some useful strategies include:

  • Time management – keep a list of tasks you aim to complete each day. This will help you break a sometimes overwhelming workload into manageable goals and gauge what you can realistically achieve.
  • Preparation – whether you are scheduled to attend a meeting with a client or present to your team, make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare adequately so that you can perform at your best.
  • Focus on solutions – accept that as a graduate, you will make mistakes. Ask your manager or team for advice on how to avoid repeating them.
  • Maintain a balanced lifestyle – to perform at your best, it’s important to look after your physical and mental health. This means eating well, exercising regularly, taking time out, reducing alcohol intake, being social and keeping a healthy sleep schedule.

Signs of anxiety and depression

It is vital that you treat your mental health just as you would your physical well-being. This means familiarising yourself with the warning signs of anxiety, depression and other conditions and intervening early if something is amiss. It also means learning the difference between a healthy (or proportionate) level of stress and its opposite, which can manifest itself as anxiety.

To help you identify any mental health red flags, below are some warning signs of depression or anxiety:

  • absenteeism or presenteeism (being in the office but being non-productive)
  • falling productivity and simple errors occurring indecision
  • bad decisions or rash decisions
  • poor morale and uncharacteristic lack of co-operation
  • complaints of aches and pains or tiredness on a regular basis
  • disruptive, interfering or domineering behaviour to other team members
  • alcohol or drug use or abuse
  • a general reluctance to socialise or participate in company activities
  • an unusually sad mood that does not go away
  • loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • lack of energy and tiredness
  • loss of confidence in yourself or poor self-esteem
  • feeling guilty when you are not really at fault
  • thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • moving more slowly or becoming agitated and unable to settle
  • having sleeping difficulties or sometimes, sleeping too much
  • loss of interest in food, or sometimes, eating too much.

Support

If you require support or know somebody who does, there are many resources available including several services that will provide immediate support. For example, BeyondBlue and Lifeline Australia provide rapid and anonymous support over the phone and online. The Federal government also subsidises selected mental health services, allowing patients with an appropriate referral (from a GP) to access Medicare rebates for up to ten therapy sessions a year. Your university may also provide counselling and support services.

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636

Lifeline – 13 11 14