As November begins and the holiday season approaches, the impending arrival of family celebrations are met with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. While many students enjoy seeing their families after a grueling semester, for others, family gatherings may be just as stressful as finals week.
During the holidays, 38% of people notice a rise in their stress levels, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association. Stress can derive from several sources, including the expectation to spend money, seeing relatives who may cause conflict, being reminded of sudden family changes, painful childhood memories, looming expectations to continue certain traditions and simply the pressure to feel merry and bright when not wanting to be.
For students returning to broken homes or difficult family situations, holidays can be extremely grueling and a constant reminder of the hardships their families face. Children of divorced parents may have to undergo two separate holiday celebrations or can find themselves in challenging situations, such as their parents trying to outdo each other with gift-giving. This season can amplify feelings of being caught in the middle.
When discussing the holidays with friends, be mindful that these months do not always hold endless joy for everyone. Offering support and a listening ear can help a rough time of the year become a little more bearable for those who struggle during the holiday season.
Debra Kissen, executive director of the Light on Anxiety CBT Treatment Center Chicago and co-chair of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s public education committee, recommends students plan ahead by identifying one’s personal stressors beforehand.
“Pick your top two or three predicted stressors and have one or two action steps to help mitigate that stressor,” Kissen said, in a Dec. 7, 2018, U.S News article.
Having plans on how to handle a stressor will make one more prepared to eliminate a troubling situation when it arises, as reported Nov. 20, 2017, by the Chronicle.
While seasonal stress is common, it is important to distinguish it from seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that is thought to be related to a lower level of the hormone serotonin due to lower amounts of sunlight.
Seasonal stress can interfere and make those happy holidays seem not so happy. By preparing in advance for future stressors, we can stay one step ahead of our tensions and keep winter break merry and bright.
For Columbia students, counseling services are available through Student Health Services, 916 S. Wabash Ave., at no additional cost.