"I don’t think I’d have been in such a hurry to reach adulthood if I’d known the whole thing was going to be ad-libbed."
Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson is right about one thing: the future is unpredictable -- and most of the time, we have no idea what we're doing. Making things up as you go along as you go along is basically how we all function in the so-called real world. This realization can hit recent college graduates hard as they find themselves floating outside of their college campus bubbles for the first time in years. While the first year out of college may be one of the most exciting of your life, it can also come with its fair share of anxiety and uncertainty.
Last year the American Psychological Association's Stress in America survey revealed that Millennials are the country's most-stressed generation. According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, the class of 2014 faces an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, up three percent from 2007. And a 2013 report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University found that even if students do find employment, 36.7 percent of of them will be working jobs that do not require the four-year degree they just earned.
Whether you're about to move across the county, start your first job, backpack throughout Europe or panic about not knowing your next steps from the comfort of your parents' couch, this next year could be one of the most challenging transition years of your life. But you can take a more mindful approach to the unknown, and prep your mind and body to handle whatever life throws your way.
Here are 13 ways to maintain your health (and sanity) during this year of big change.
Adjust some of those college habits -- starting with your partying.
As much as you may have enjoyed "Thirsty Thursdays" as your weekly bonding ritual with friends, it might be time to give those party shoes a rest (at least during the week). Your body will prove less resistant to impending hangovers, and it's not going to be fun to deal with a full day of work when you have a nasty headache and are running on four hours of sleep.
There's nothing wrong with enjoying a midweek happy hour -- just remember that moderation will help you have fun without going overboard and affecting your career or your health. Who knows, you might come to find that you actually prefer a quiet Friday night in sometimes after a long, stressful week.
Remember: bedtime is not the time for Netflix binging.
"Lights out!" shouldn't exclude your glowing television or computer screen. There are a number of reasons to keep your screens outside the bedroom. Your designated sleep hours will begin far later in the evening than you planned, making getting up in the morning more miserable than it needs to be. What's more, the electric lighting can disrupt your natural sleep cycle, decreasing the overall quality of your sleep. If you must tune in, relocate to the living room couch and keep your bed a screen-free zone.
Create a routine that works for you.
You don't have to plan every part of your day down to the minute, but creating a loose structure for your week will make you feel organized and maybe even more at peace. You'll find that when you map it out -- work, chores, exercise, down time -- you suddenly have time for everything you need to do and even some things you want to do. And when you're out of college and in the working world, scheduling in down time is more important and necessary than ever before.
"Even those of us who absolutely hate routine still have some routine in our lives because it's human nature," says life coach Tammy Plunkett. "The human brain is actually wired for routine."
Take walks often.
Taking a walk around the block is a simple, no-cost, proven solution to many problems our stressed-out minds face, from burnout and fatigue to writer's block. A simple stroll can help increase cognitive performance, and walking in nature specifically is linked to lower depression rates.
A five-minute walk is also a simple way to give yourself a little mental reboot in almost any situation.
"By walking we move through the world not just physically, but also spiritually," Arianna Huffington wrote in a HuffPost blog on the virtues of a good, long walk. "Often by 'taking a walk' we mean that we're not walking to get anywhere in particular. But even when we are walking toward a destination, when we're walking to connect two places, the in-between -- the space, the interval -- can be more important."
Read for fun.
Just because the days of required reading are behind you doesn't mean picking up a book can't be enjoyable. It's easy to spend almost all your free time on a screen, and end up going for months without cracking open a good novel. Not to mention that reading helps you relax, sleep better and keep your brain sharp.
"Book clubs aren't just for old ladies," HuffPost Women Senior Editor Emma Gray wrote in a blog post about turning 25. "Once you've been out of the academic world for a few years, you might actually start to miss all of those lectures, discussions of 'structure' and arguments over prose. Book clubs are sort of academic, but they also allow you to read really awesome novels and drink a whole bunch of wine while talking about an author's possible misogyny. It's really a win-win."
De-clutter your home to calm your mind.
If you're feeling stressed out and your apartment looks like a tornado just blew through its single, tiny window, try de-cluttering your apartment to de-clutter your brain. Even if you think a little clutter doesn't affect you, neuroscientists from Princeton University have found otherwise. A 2011 study determined that being surrounded by excess "stuff" negatively impacts your brain's ability to focus and process information. So take a few minutes each day to tidy up; it'll prevent the mess from getting out of control and you'll feel far less stressed when returning . Plus, you're officially an adult -- it's about time your apartment shows it.
Invest in your relationships.
Relationships are two-way streets, and they only get more difficult to maintain as you get older. As tough as it can be to maintain long-distance communication, you must do your fair share of reaching out to keep those people as involved in your life as they once were.
"Keep in touch with your friends from home, call your friends from college (even if you’re so busy it’s absurd), and call your quirky family members to catch up," wrote CollegeCandy blogger Sarah Fudin on the Huffington Post. "Everyone wants to see you succeed and is always willing to open up their lives to help you live yours."
Discover the soothing power of meditation.
Meditation does far more for your mind than reduce stress. Taking a moment to sit in stillness and simply be in the moment is one of the best ways to get to know yourself from the inside out. In her latest book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder, Arianna Huffington suggests taking just five minutes to meditate each day. Giving yourself this pause helps you think more clearly, improve overall well-being and become more mindful in your everyday life.
Sometimes you have to disconnect to reconnect. Taking time each day to step away from your smartphone, computer and television screen will do wonders for your physical, mental and emotional health. By letting go of constant social media engagement and dropping out of those group chats, you'll remember what it's like to have a face-to-face conversation, taste your food rather than photograph it, and appreciate the beauty of nature as you walk around looking upward. If the idea of leaving all of your devices behind seems like too much of a challenge, just think of all the fun things you can do that don't require Internet access.
Find a means of exercise you enjoy, and enjoy it often.
We all know that to remain healthy, we have to keep moving. However, it's just as important to choose a form of exercise that you enjoy -- otherwise, you'll fall off the fitness bandwagon before you even get your footing. Explore your options, from a bootcamp class to mountain biking to yoga, to hone in on an activity that you genuinely enjoy beyond it's calorie-burning abilities. By focusing on a fond exercise memory, you will actually be more motivated to come back for more and make it a part of your weekly routine.
Learn how to cook.
Ramen doesn’t count anymore! Just because there isn't a dining hall or doting mother to prepare your meals for you every day doesn't mean you should order take-out every time your stomach growls. Learning a few basic recipes will make post-grad budgeting far easier, help you eat healthier without too much effort, and might even be fun once you get started. Take that weekly trip to the supermarket, keep the pantry shelves reasonably stocked, and start with basic, foolproof recipes to build your confidence.
Learn to just breathe when you’re feeling stressed.
Sometimes simply stopping to breathe is easier said than done, but there will be plenty of moments throughout the next year that will make you happy you learned how to do it now. When you feel the stress creeping in and your body physically tensing, pause. Sit still, close your eyes, and breathe in slowly through your nose. Try to release that breath at the same pace, and repeat -- a few times, for a few minutes, however long it takes for you to find your center. Counting your breath alongside the beats of music can be a helpful trick, too.
Accept that you have a lot left to learn – and look forward to it!
You aren't going to have the rest of your life figured out in this next year -- just a couple of the next steps. So spend your days experiencing life, learning as much as you can, and staying excited for what your future holds. With your health and sanity intact, you have a solid foundation that will last a lifetime.
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