Ask NJCU students what images come to mind when they think of the “holiday season” and you’re likely to hear about shopping excursions, decorating, parties, family gatherings, religious observances, cooking, and gift exchanges. However, for many of us, holidays can also be draining, disappointing, lonely and tense. Inability to be with loved ones, financial worries due to increased spending, family conflicts, increased demands on one’s time, and not having enough personal space can all contribute to stress overload.
Being realistic about one’s expectations, setting limits, and using good decision-making strategies can all help reduce stress overload. Here are some specific things you can do to help keep the “holiday blues” in check:
- Don’t aim for “the best holiday season ever.” This is a set up for disappointment.
- Be practical about what you can and can’t do. Make sure what you commit to is truly manageable, given your daily school, work and personal obligations. Since the holiday season coincides with the busiest time of the semester, make sure that you are managing your time in a way that sets you up for academic success (Guideline: Each week, set aside 2 hours of study/homework time for every credit hour you’re enrolled in. That means if you’re enrolled in 12 credits, you should be spending an additional 24 hours on your schoolwork every week).
- Break larger tasks down into smaller tasks, and pace yourself.
- Plan a holiday budget and stick to it. In addition to gift expenditures, account for the “hidden costs” of extra transportation use, celebratory foods and beverages, charitable donations, extra phone calls to friends and family, greeting cards, and postage. Consider some festive activities that incur little spending, such as attending public school concerts, walking or driving around to view holiday decorations in your neighborhood, or going to New York City to enjoy store window displays.
- Spend time with supportive people. If you’re unable to be with loved ones, reach out to others who may be in the same position and make a plan to keep each other company.
- Watch your alcohol intake. Remember that alcohol is a depressant, and excess drinking will, in the long run, leave you feeling tired and down.
- Do something for others who are experiencing misfortune in their lives. Helping others gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, distracts us from our own troubles, and helps us to recognize the things we are grateful for in our own lives.
Take care of your body. It may be tempting to overindulge in holiday treats or to skip workouts, but healthy eating and exercise plans are great buffers against stress.
Celebrate the holidays in new ways. Developing fresh traditions can be as enjoyable as participating in old ones. Change is a part of life; even when we don’t choose it, we can empower ourselves by taking an active approach in adjusting to the transformation.