The lights are up in your dorm. Your mom’s holiday care package arrived yesterday and you’re sipping your peppermint mocha out of the Starbucks holiday cup. You should be living the holiday dream, so why are you still stressed out?
“I am anxious to get home. Being away from home right now is pretty hard because when I think of Christmas I think of family, but with finals and all that coming up it is easy to stay distracted,” said Barrett Coughlin, a freshman at Kansas State University.
Coughlin, who went back to her native Arizona for Thanksgiving, has found that returning to school after the mini break brought up a lot of emotion.
“It’s really hard. I felt like I was being ripped away from my family and friends. I had just gotten over being homesick and the feeling came right back,” Coughlin said.
It didn’t help that Coughlin returned to a packed schedule of class work, projects and finals.
“I think it [school between Thanksgiving and winter break] is one of the most stressful times for students, as they’re trying to finish out the semester and they’re trying to concentrate on finals and final projects, and of course the holidays are also on the horizon,” said Jane Morgan Bost, a psychologist and associate director at University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center.
While the upcoming holidays can provide a goal for students to work toward, they can also produce additional stress.
“The holidays are stressful in themselves. I’m constantly filtering my thoughts into before and after categories — things I’m allowed to think about before finals and after, because frankly, there isn’t enough time for both sets at the same time,” said Olivia Najor, a junior at Michigan State University.
A 2006 study by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research reported that 68% of Americans feel stress “often/sometimes” during the holidays.
Bost has a few tips to make it through the next month alive:
• Do fun things: During finals week you may be spending a lot of time studying in isolation and at home you might be stressed out by family dynamics, but don’t forget to take some refresher breaks. Bost recommends scheduling some time into your days to take a walk or see a movie with a friend. These moments can re-energize you and put you in a better mindset when it’s time to return to the stressful situation.
• Take a mini vacation: When you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, Bost recommends taking a minute to get out of your head. Close your door, turn off the phone and computer and just visualize yourself in a place you love. Spend a minute just focusing on something completely different than what you’ve been stressing about. The University of Texas Counseling Center has a library of video, sounds and breathing exercises you can use to help take off on your “vacation.”
• Find positives: Maybe that peppermint mocha is extra creamy today or snowflakes are starting to fall outside. Take a few moments to tally up all the great moments you’ve experienced. This exercise will not only put you in a better mood, but it might also make you appreciate the holiday season a little more. People sometimes get so caught up in the frustrations of their life they forget to just be grateful. Spending five minutes or less jotting these ideas down can make a huge difference in your mood.
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