‘Tis the season…for stress?
As the holiday season descends upon the world, college students everywhere are hit with a wave of stress. Between traveling home for a short Thanksgiving break, finding the perfect gift for all your friends and family around Christmas time (while staying within a reasonable budget), and, of course, dreaded finals week, how is anyone supposed to keep their sanity?
Dr. McNaughton-Cassill, Psychology professor at UTSA, explains how the holidays can stressful for anyone. “I think the biggest problem is the conflict we feel between wanting to have a Hallmark Channel holiday and the reality of our everyday lives. Most of us feel pressed for time, low on money, and stressed about our social lives and families, before we layer on all of the holiday expectations.”
Particularly for college students, the average holiday season stress is only multiplied with academics. Final exams, papers and projects start to pile up when all you want to do is nestle down with a cup of hot cocoa and have a holiday movie marathon.
The tease of Thanksgiving break followed by the sucker punch of final exams, along with winter break on the horizon, can cause a stomach ache of emotions. You’re coming back to school off of a turkey high, nervous about doing well on exams, yet excited to finally go home to relax and catch up with family and old friends. These pent up emotions can bring all kinds of stress to college students.
“I think that the gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas is particularly tough for college students. After the long weekend it is tough to buckle down to study, and when finals finally end, you have very little time to get ready for the holidays,” McNaughton-Cassill says.
The holiday season causes homesickness to everyone and becomes a major stress level booster, especially for college students that are away from home for the first time. Memories of home and family traditions begin to swirl in your mind and leave you wanting nothing more than to go home and participate in all the fun.
Overall, everyone just wants their holiday season to be perfect. But as everyone knows, perfection is near to impossible.
Despite knowing this, we still yearn for that picture perfect holiday that we expect every year, only to be deflated when it never happens. We all seem to want the impeccably delicious Thanksgiving meal, with the perfect winter weather and a bright and exciting New Year’s Eve to kick off the new year.
While dreaming for a great holiday season is certainly not a crime, it becomes a problem when you’re pressured by this universal idea of a “perfect” holiday.
In reality, Thanksgiving meals can be hectic and not always the impeccable meal we wish for; New Year’s Eve usually ends with the “same ole, same ole” party with your friends, and as we all know, Texas winter weather is nothing short of bipolar.
We know these holiday flukes are bound to happen, but why do we always expect it to be different every year?
“I put a lot of blame on the media,” McNaughton-Cassill explains. “It is so easy to look at magazines, movies, television shows, ads… showing beautiful people in beautiful homes having effortless holidays. For most of us (we believe), relaxing and enjoying ourselves more and worrying less about doing everything and making it look perfect and easy, would actually enhance the holiday season.”
This sense of a perfect holiday season only adds to stark difference of the hard-hitting reality for college students: long study nights, low-budget dining and crazy family events. This unnecessary perfect-holiday pressure only adds to the already high stress levels of a college student.
With all this stress, how is one supposed to cope with everything?
The solution: Don’t think about your stress. As hard as it may be, you can’t let your stress control your holiday season or it will fall flat.
Thinking about your holiday woes all the time will not do anything to get rid of them, if anything it will just add more stress and make woes into a bigger deal than they already are.
“It all comes down to how you think about your situation,” explains McNaughton-Cassill. “If you spend a lot of time focusing on the things you don’t have, you are likely to be unhappy. However, if you step back and look at your expectations, your past history and your values, you can make conscious choices about where to focus your time and energy.”
In other words, you can’t always control the situation you’re in, but you can control how you act upon it. In even simpler terms, that final exam coming up is inevitable, but procrastinating on studying for it until the night prior can easily be avoided.
As with anything, this idea of taking control of your stress can still be a major struggle for anyone. For many students, they have so many stressful events going on in their life, they do not know where to even begin managing it.
If you have trouble though getting yourself together for the holiday season, there are plenty of helpful resources available to you.
“It also helps if you realize that you can’t change other people’s behavior, only your responses to them,” points out McNaughton-Cassill. “Finally, communication helps. Talking to your roommates, friends and family can prevent conflict and also help you cope more effectively. Students should also know that they can get free psychological help at the Counseling Center on campus.”
Overall, the holidays are unavoidably stressful, but that doesn’t mean you have to succumb to the complete chaos that comes along with them. Keeping a good perspective on your situation in life will help you keep you a calm, collected feeling and will help remind you who is in control of your life — you.
To find out more about how to manage your stress, visit the UTSA Counseling Center or www.utsa.edu/counsel.