The holiday season is here! For many, this brings to mind turkeys and football, Christmas trees and twinkling lights, frosty windows and a happy family inside passing around wrapped boxes from Santy. This is a beautiful and special reality for some people, however –cue record scratch noise— for many, these days stir up more than cookie dough, with stress and anxiety in the mixing bowl. If for you these festivities fall a bit short of simply smiles and sugar cookies, you are not alone. Here are some ways to manage the holiday heebie-jeebies.
Set Personal Goals.
Most of us college students are used to a go, go, go, schedule. We bustle from class, to work, to meetings, and knowingly or not, it can be easy to sink into a mindset that our productivity is what gives us value. Especially in the United States, we live in a culture that prides itself on hard work well done. This constant on-the-move attitude can make it almost impossible to relax and take a break when we are given one for the holidays. Taking time off can make us feel like we're not living up to our full potential or our own expectations because we're bombarded by the thoughts of what we could or should be doing.
If this sounds familiar, one good way to combat this mindset is to set personal goals during your break. These goals could consist of things like catching up with an old friend, reading a book, doing some creative work, going to the gym, or working a bit. Setting and accomplishing goals is a great way to make you feel productive, even when the tasks completed have nothing to do with school.
On the flip side, sometimes when we are accustomed to an active schedule we cling to our break time and can sometimes turn it into something that isn't healthy for us. If you have some things that you would like to do over your break, but you struggle with staying motivated, setting personal goals can also help get you out of this rut and get you going. Having these goals or a schedule for each day of your break can give you just enough incentive to boost your productivity and get your engine going.
Learning to Sit in the Stillness.
Along with this need to be productive, many experience a sense of restlessness if tasks aren't continuously being done. Although this stress can help us to get work done when it needs to be done, it's important for us to recognize that some time off is healthy and makes us more productive in the long run.
Our breaks are time to take a break. If we allow ourselves to become consumed in being productive and checking things off of our list, we can begin to measure ourselves up to a standard of "am I doing enough". Once this becomes our mindset, we often put too much on our plates, and therefore ironically impede our ability to be our best because we are juggling too much.
Learning to sit in the stillness means training ourselves to carve out time to ourselves. This is time for us where we are not allowed to be checking our emails and where we must pry our eyeballs off our to-do lists or our planners. It is a time reserved for us, to practice setting our minds at ease.
We must remember that our brains are like a muscle. Professional athletes are successful because they take recovery days. No one can function training hard every single day. Our muscles need time to recover, and eventually this helps them rebuild and become even stronger. This is true for our mental health. We cannot thrive sprinting through each day. We need those days of self-care, of recovery, to give ourselves the necessary reset to succeed in the tasks that are important to us.
My mind isn't easily quieted and so I often skip this important me-time. I'm used to my days being planned out, and so in order to make sure I set aside moments for meditation, I schedule my time for myself. I'm used to my days being planned out, and so I carve out a few hours each week of time to myself where I will put away the laptop and break out the self-care activities.
If you're like me, the thought of sitting in silence sounds nearly impossible. Because obtaining my zen takes a bit of effort, I utilize guided meditations like the Headspace and Calm apps. These apps walk you through meditation. If you aren't down with a lot of silence right off the bat, they guide you by giving you things to focus on during the silence and they allow you to begin at a 2 minute meditation, or a five-minute meditation where you can work your way up to longer periods of time.
These moments of meditation can be just what you need to decompress and recharge if you have a loud or hectic holiday celebration that can get exhausting.
Balance your plate.
Cookies, pastries, and pies, oh my! The holiday season is tasty. With all of these scrumptious flavors at hand, you should enjoy yourself. This is a time to find balance, not to feel guilty. There are only so many times a year when you will have pumpkin pie freely available to you, or when your grandma is making her special lumpy mashed potatoes. It is a time to find a healthy balance.
Nutrition is a vital component to our health and with good nutrition comes moderation. It wouldn't be healthy for you to only eat sugar cookies from October to December, but you must realize that a few days of overindulgence is not going to ruin your body, your metabolism, or make you gain a million pounds.
During the holidays, you should treat your body in a healthful manner. Avoid self-shaming or feeling guilty if you have an extra roll at supper.
Expect the Expected.
During this season, things won't always happen as you thought they would or perhaps as you wanted them to. Your turkey may come out of the oven dry as a raisin, or your aunt may ask for the hundredth time why you don't have a significant other yet.
A good way to be prepared for these sticky situations is to keep your expectations realistic. Trying to expect the expected is a good way to avoid disappointment. This isn't to say that you should anticipate things will go poorly, but if you know that your aunt is a little too inquisitive about your love-life, assume she may ask about your current situation so that you have an action plan for your response. This way if it happens you can think, "okay I knew this was going to happen and I'm not going to reactive negatively because I'm prepared for this situation".
Another tip is that if you know certain situations during your holidays may be a bit draining, consider scheduling a bit of time for self-care after these experiences so that you can recover.
Set Budgets for Yourself.
This time of the year can be an expensive one. Many people are obligated, or you feel called to buy presents for others, and lots of people have to meet travel costs to be with family or friends.
Making a budget is a good way to manage the financial burden of this time and mitigate this source of stress.
Although it can be tempting to ignore the price tag in pursuit of the perfect present for everyone you know, we must keep our health in mind and remember that no gift is worth sacrificing our financial security.
The thought is what counts and those who love you would be just as happy with a gift that is within your means.
Being on break from school is an excellent time to reconnect with family or friends that you don't get to see often. Another way to ball on a budget is to spend time with these buddies in ways that don't require dropping a load of cash. Invite your friends to coffee instead of dinner, rent a movie and have a fun night-in instead of going to the theatre. These little ways of changing behavior will help keep the green in your wallet, and your financial stress in check this season.
Get That Vitamin D, Baby!
Time to talk about something we don't nearly enough: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D. S.A.D. is a natural bodily response to changes in the season that can make us feel down or depressed.
Season Affective Disorder often occurs during the holiday season because the change in season from summer to fall and eventually winter often means that we aren't spending as much time in the sun. For many of us, we experience a mood change during this time because with the changes to our exposure to light, leading to alterations in our circadian rhythm, the natural cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that the body goes through in a 24-hour cycle.
Due to less light exposure, our bodies also produce less vitamin D, leading to less production of our happy chemical, serotonin.
S.A.D. can make us feel depressed, with common symptoms including lack of interest in activities, changes in sleep, changes in appetite, feelings of worthlessness, and feeling lethargic.
Ways to combat S.A.D. are to get work on our sleep hygiene to regulate our circadian rhythm. Incorporating some sort of movement or exercise is helpful to this. Sometimes cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful when managing Seasonal Affective Disorder. We can also help by getting ourselves more light exposure! If possible, we should try to be outside more. Another way to get more light is to invest in light box therapy.
We can also get more vitamin D through our diet. Eggs, fish, mushrooms, and fortified foods such as milk and orange juice are rich in vitamin D. You can also talk to your doctor about vitamin D supplementation.
Break Out the Gratitude Journal.
The holidays can be a time where it's easy to compare our lives with those of people we know. We can compare our families to someone else's family or compare our experiences with those of others. It can be hard to look at people you know who are spending the holidays on vacation, when we are in our hometowns, or giving and receiving expensive gifts when we can't afford them, or getting engaged when that's the farthest thing from our mind. It can even be hard to look at some people having fun with their families when our family situations are a bit more tense.
When these opportunities to compare ourselves with others come around and we can begin to feel down about our situation, there is no better way to combat these feelings than with adopting an attitude of gratitude.
One way of doing this that I've found to be helpful is with a gratitude journal. Here you can write down things you're grateful for. This can be a physical thing, a concept, or an experience. I try to write down three things I'm thankful for at the end of each day. It helps me to reframe my mind to look for positivity.
A natural function of our brains is confirmation bias. Our brains search our environment for the things that we're looking for. Therefore, we have a positive mindset, our brains will naturally search for positive things to confirm what we had been looking for and we will find them more often.
In respect to gratitude, the holidays are a good time to not focus on what we want, but to be grateful for what we do have.
If you have a tendency to compare yourself with others on social media, consider adopting a social media cleanse and getting rid of it during this time.
Set Boundaries With Family and Friends.
During this time, remember that you have the right to set boundaries with your family and friends.
I'm blessed to have a family that I am able to spend time with. However, because during the school year I can't be home often, when I am home my family wants me to spend all of my time with them. I usually have some tasks to get done over the holidays, and so I set boundaries with my family by designating me-time where I leave the house and get my work done. This healthy boundary allows me to spend time with those that I love while also fulfilling my own needs.
Another way to set boundaries with family or friends during this time is to not be afraid to dictate what conversations you will or won't have. If you have a relative or friend who brings things up during the holidays that you don't want to discuss, set a boundary by saying, "we're not having that conversation", or "I don't feel comfortable when you talk to me that way." You have the right to say no.
You Can Have Your Own Found Family.
Because the holidays are traditionally centered around family, this season can be complicated and challenging for many of us. During the holidays, some people don't have any family to share them with, some people don't get to see their family, some people don't have healthy family relationships. Some people's families are changing. Not everyone gets a holiday homecoming straight out of a hallmark movie, for many of us, it isn't that simple.
If this is your case, remember that nothing says you have to spend time with your biological family. The holidays are a time to spend with those who make you feel loved and supported.
If you have good family relations, keep in mind that this is not the case for everyone. When the break is over and you return to school, avoid asking others "how was your family?" Keep in mind that not everyone has a good family situation and questions like these could make them uncomfortable or feel bad.
Keep in mind your friends who may not feel supported in their homes. For many people, college is time of great personal growth, but some people aren't supported in these changes. When they go back home for the holidays it can be hard to manage the pressures of feeling like they need to conform to their family's standards. Reaching out to these individuals to remind them that they have your support can be helpful.
Remember that this time can be very lonely to those who don't have someone to celebrate it with, so if you feel comfortable, consider reaching out to those who may not have a family or one that they can visit, and invite them to celebrate with your own family.
Foster a Mindset for Self-Care.
This holiday season don't forget to fill up your cup. Participate in activities that fill your cup and make you feel whole. Recharge your batteries and catch up on sleep. Prioritize your time and try to avoid overcommitting yourself. Don't be afraid to say no, this time is for you.
This season can be an amazing time. Enjoy yourself and take in what you can. If you're lucky enough to have a family or friends that you can come home to, be present with them. As a college student, you probably don't have a lot of opportunities to see them outside of the breaks that come with the holidays. Utilize this time for you and them. Don't worry about the schoolwork to come, or the things you should be doing. Be present with those you love and be present with yourself.