Christmas, New Year, the January blues - these months can be fun but they can also be hard and unpleasant emotions can arise. Whether you’re going to see family but find that tough, whether you’re staying on campus and would rather be at home, or whether the winter darkness (in some parts of the world!) shifts your mood, we want you to know that the community is here to support you.
2022 has been an interesting year; restrictions lifting, campuses reopening, changes to governments, climate change, and civil unrest. It’s unsurprising that coming up to the end of the year, you may be feeling excited but you may also be feeling slightly overwhelmed.
With the holiday season approaching for some, you might be anticipating some challenging times. External situations, end-of-year assignments, and exam stress, alongside festive occasions and celebrations, can often escalate unwanted feelings. Below you can find a few of our top tips for getting through the holiday season, whatever it might throw at you.
Prioritize yourself and your needs
Gathering with the people you love can be a huge blessing, but it can also be pretty daunting and add extra stress and pressure to the holiday season. You may feel bombarded with plans or have to travel to multiple locations to ensure you see all the necessary people. Try to be open and honest with yourself and those you love about what will work best for you.
It may be that this year you pick two events you’ll go to rather than the usual four. It may be that you ask people to come to you this time instead of traveling to them, or you all compromise and meet halfway. Maybe this year you want to do nothing at all – that is okay too! Have a real think about what is going to work best for you and how you’re currently feeling and speak to the people involved to gauge their opinion on it too. They might also be relieved and favor a different Christmas this year!
If you are heading home and you’re not sure how you’re feeling about it, it may be useful to focus on what brings you and your family/friends joy. Are you looking forward to the change of scenery, a new walking route for a couple of weeks? Are you looking forward to the food, the decorations, or watching lots of films in one day? You could try and write some end-of-year gratitude lists before you leave campus.
It’s important to prioritize your needs - if you need a break from the busyness and the festivities, make sure you take one. Leave the party, take a walk, maybe don’t go to an event at all - if you’re dreading it. Take comfort in knowing that you are not in control of other people’s choices – but you are in control of your own. Try to remember that you have no obligation to spend time with people or do anything that may be destructive to your mental well-being.
Celebrate your own way
If you are unable or don’t want to celebrate in the usual way this year, why not gather with other people who are in the same boat? You could meet with friends for a Christmas dinner, and get the word out amongst your local student community, inviting anyone who’s staying on campus to connect over food and drink, or a fun activity in the local area. It may not feel the same, but sometimes the best thing you can do is connect with others around you.
Why not make new traditions that actually make you feel good? If something isn’t serving you, tradition is not a good enough reason to continue doing it. If spending an entire day with your family raises your cortisol levels through the roof, you could look to reduce the time you spend there and add your own traditions in for the rest of the day.
You could organize a hike with a friend, you could volunteer locally, or you could make your own food as a contribution to the day – food you actually like! If you aren’t excited by the holidays, and the old traditions are what is unnerving you, what is something you could introduce into that day that could help you look forward to it?
Even though the holiday season can be wonderful, try to remember that you are just finishing a term at university or college. It’s okay to feel very tired and it’s okay to want to do what you want. You have needs, and your friends and family will have them too. Be transparent and open - this way, you are inviting others to do the same, which means you can hopefully all enjoy the next couple of months at your own pace. The same can be said for finances. This year has seen huge increases in costs, and a lot of people are feeling the strains of the economic crisis. If the idea of buying people presents is bringing you a lot of stress - why not speak to your loved ones about different things you can do?
You could send emails instead of posting Christmas cards, you could do a Secret Santa, you could suggest gifts have to be secondhand, you could make gifts, or you could suggest you don’t do gifts altogether to alleviate the financial pressures we’re all facing. Also, importantly - if there are things that you need ahead of the festive season, (certain medication, food, supplies) bear in mind that some places may close for a long period of time - suss out those dates now so that you’re not going without.
If the holidays are generally difficult for you, try and remember that while you can’t change those around you, you can focus on strategies that help you to set boundaries. Every Christmas Day morning, I go for a run by myself before anyone else gets up. It gives me some peace and quiet and sets me up ahead of a busy day. What can you do to make sure you have some downtime?
Have a couple of coping tools for when you need a minute
Decide beforehand what strategies you will use to manage a moment that is emotionally charged or overwhelming. Escape to the bathroom with your device to cue up anything that might help make you laugh, calm down, or distract yourself in a tough moment. A scroll through TikTok, a guided meditation, relaxing music, or looking at a folder of your favorite photos. Remember - It’s okay to take 30 minutes to yourself if you need it!
You could also look to nominate a safe person - it could be a family member, a friend, or someone who knows what you’re going through and that you can make a quick glance at or reach out to if you’re struggling. You could also have a plan B if things aren’t working out the way you want them to - such as a friend coming to pick you up and take you elsewhere to watch a movie.
Below we have shared some further tips on physically and mentally alleviating the symptoms of anxiety, which might help if you are feeling really stressed about the holidays, or are perhaps prone to panic attacks. You could try practicing progressive muscle relaxation and mindful breathing to lower your overall tension levels.
Relaxation and breathing exercises
If you are feeling really anxious about the holidays, try practicing progressive muscle relaxation and mindful breathing to lower your overall tension and anxiety levels.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This technique can help you release the tension in your body;
Find a comfortable place to sit down.
Focus on your breathing, being mindful to take steady relaxed breaths. Inhale slowly, then exhale slowly.
Turn your attention to your right hand. Slowly, clench your hand into a fist as tight as you can, feeling the tension in your forearm. Hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat with the left hand.
Bend your right arm and tense your bicep as tight as you can. Hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat with the left arm.
Lower your eyebrows in a frown and then raise them as high as you can. Hold for a few seconds and release.
Squeeze your eyes tightly shut and scrunch up your face. Hold for a few seconds and release.
Open your mouth as wide as you are able. Hold and release.
Gently roll your head back so you are looking at the ceiling. Tense your neck muscles and release. Gently, roll your head back up.
Lift your shoulders up towards your ears, tensing your shoulder muscles as you go. Hold and release, dropping your shoulders back down. Next, circle your shoulders to release any leftover tension.
Take a deep breath filling your lungs and chest with air, hold for as long as you can. Release and exhale.
Tense your stomach muscles across your midsection as tightly as you can. Hold and release.
Hips & buttocks
Squeeze your buttock muscles together as tight as you can. Hold and release.
Tense the muscles in your thighs as tightly as you can. Hold and release.
Put your legs out straight and bend your feet towards you, tensing your calf muscles. Hold and release.
Curl your toes towards the floor, tensing your feet muscles. Hold and release.
Feel free to skip any of the steps if you have an injury in that area.
The aim of mindful breathing is to find a state of calmness, where we can allow thoughts to come and go without judgment.
Sit in a comfortable position keeping your back reasonably straight.
Gently focus your attention on your breathing, noticing your breath coming in and going back out. Don’t make any effort to change your breathing.
Notice any sensations in your body as you breathe, like your tummy lifting up and down. Imagine a balloon inside your tummy, inflating and deflating as you breathe.
Thoughts will likely pop in and out of your mind. It’s ok for them to be there, don’t judge them, just let them go and return your focus of attention to your breathing.
When your attention drifts off to something else, a sound, a thought or a feeling, simply notice and bring your attention back to your breathing. It doesn’t matter how many times this happens, just bring your attention back.
Try to practice mindful breathing every day for a few minutes as the more you practice the better you will get at it. Mindful breathing can help you feel present in the moment, and relieve anxiety and stress.
We hope that however you choose to celebrate Christmas and New Year, you know that the community is here to support you!