I Don’t Have Time for Stress: How Students Can Manage Their Mental Health During the Holidays

Being a student is stressful enough. Being a student during the holidays can be a recipe for disaster. So what can students do to help manage their mental health during the holiday season to avoid getting overwhelmed and overrun by stress and anxiety? Guest blogger Claudia Vernon, Coastline College Director of Student Mental Health Services, shares her wisdom and techniques for a (mentally) healthy holiday break.

stressed man sits at desk looking over papers, possibly working on an assignment, holiday decorations in the background

What would you do for a million dollars? Sleep poorly for a month? Live with financial insecurity? Spend countless hours with someone intolerable? Suffer the loss of a loved one again and again? Be infected with an illness? The reality is that you wouldn’t do any of these for one million dollars because you already do it for free every holiday season. It’s truly amazing what you will bear during the holidays that you would consider unsustainable the rest of the year. Whether you deal with difficult, unhealthy relationships (family), have increased obligations or social engagements, overextend your budget, or hold to unrealistic expectations, you end up in the same condition: STRESSED OUT!

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Being a student is stressful enough. Being a student during the holidays can be a recipe for disaster. The added stress of the holidays can be so overwhelming that you may engage in maladaptive behaviors. Maladaptive behaviors prevent you from participating in various aspects of life. You can only address and manage what you know. Therefore, it’s important to identify how stress affects you. If you are unaware of how the added stress of the holidays affects you, take some time to self-reflect. Below is a non-exhaustive list of common manifestations of stress in students. Do you find yourself doing any of these?

  • Become avoidant to tasks, duties, or needs.
  • Emotionally shut down or dissociate. You may find that you don’t or can’t feel anything. You seem to not be yourself and/or lose interest in activities that used to interest you.
  • Lose motivation.
  • Procrastinate.
  • Engage in risky behavior.
  • Experience poor sleep.
  • Emotionally dysregulate. You’re unable to manage any intense emotion.
  • Become more irritable, less patient, more judgmental, or less forgiving.
  • Feel sad, tearful, or blue.
  • Overextend yourself, can’t say “no”, or have poor boundaries.
  • Increase use of substances.
  • Self-injure.
  • Lose track of time when gaming.
  • Have poor eating habits or poor relationship with your body or food.
  • Isolate.
  • Become ill.
  • Excessively daydream.

melancholy woman sits on a sofa, looking off into space, rest her head on her hand

Now that you’ve identified how stress affects you, you can take steps to mitigate or prepare for your stress. Afterall, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Know your limits. You don’t have to always say “no” to yourself or others, rather, practice saying, “later”. You’ll be more successful delaying a maladaptive behavior than you will trying to evade one. Validate your feelings and acknowledge the benefits and consequences of your stress. Be honest with yourself and allow others to lovingly express their observations of what is stressing you. Prioritize your physical and mental health by creating windows of rest and relaxation, eating healthy, moving your body, interacting with nature, and planning.

As stated earlier, being a student during the holidays can be stressful. With a bit of foresight, you can begin to reduce your stress and not feel so overwhelmed about what looms in the coming weeks. So, try this simple exercise for a more successful and stress-reduced spring semester.

  1. Make a list of what you need to get done before the semester begins. i.e., register for classes, make appointment to meet with an academic counselor, buy materials needed for college (or find out what you need to know about assistance programs to help you obtain the materials you need), plan for childcare, transportation, and financial costs. Speak with your employer about adjusting your schedule, peruse your college’s webpage and familiarize yourself with the many supportive programs available to you.
  2. For each item you have listed, add the name of a person who can support or encourage you to complete that task. The more support persons you have the better. Have them check in with you or call on them if you find yourself procrastinating, doubting your choices, unsure of your options, or avoiding your tasks.
  3. Reward yourself after completing each task. Rewards are most effective when they are small and frequent.

Mental Health Awareness @ Coastline

Stress is unavoidable and in small, controlled doses, stress is beneficial to your body. However, you can quickly overload your body and find yourself not coping well. Under these circumstances or situations, a quick calm down is needed before you can decide on how to proceed. Try these tips and suggestions.

  • Remove yourself from the stressful situation.
  • Cool your face or back of neck with ice or cold washcloth. Swish ice in your mouth for 1-2 minutes.
  • Take a walk.
  • Smash ice against an outside wall.
  • Count to 100 while tapping your fingers in succession.
  • Curl your toes as tightly as you can for 10 seconds then completely relax them.
  • Breathe.
  • Download a calming app or visit Coastline’s Mental Health Awareness webpage for calming exercises.

relaxed woman dressed cozily in a flannel and jeans sits on sofa with coffee looking at her laptop thats sitting on the coffee table in front of her

It’s important to recognize that you can control and manage your stress with a bit of preparation and planning. It’s also important to recognize that even though you put these tips and strategies into practice, you may continue to feel overwhelmed. Know that you are not alone. Seek out professional help. Coastline College has experienced mental health therapists available to you free of charge. Simply call (714) 241-6005 to make an appointment for an intake session with a therapist. Have your student ID ready, as you will be asked to provide this. If you would prefer to have Coastline Student Mental Health Services contact you, please fill out a Mental Health Services Inquiry Form and we'll be in touch within one business day to schedule an appointment.

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