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College Students Face Many Holiday Stressors

The period between November and January poses an additional amount of stress and emotional strain on college students, who in addition to facing holiday blahs, also juggle completing final exams and research papers before the semester closes.  These issues are further exacerbated for students by their distance from home and the reality that they may have to spend the holidays on an empty campus – far from relatives.  

Alonzo Bynum, a senior marketing major from Chicago told the Informer, he has learned to get over the isolation and overwhelming stress he faced being stuck out-of-town for the holidays, by simply filling his days with as many distractions as possible leading up to Christmas.  When campuses all but shutter for holiday break, keeping busy proves vital to being emotionally healthy.

One year I was snowed out of Chicago and could not get home,and another year I made it home to Chicago and then was unable to get back in time for classes, so I’ve stopped trying,” the American University student said.  “I had a few teary moments the first couple of years but came to the realization that I needed to focus on classwork and research, volunteering, and making use of the time.  I still feel the stress, but not the sadness.”

Silvio Weisner, director of the George Washington University – University Counseling Center, told George Washington Today that international students and those living far from home may experience isolation and loneliness during winter breaks, in much the way Bynum explained.  

There also is extra pressure during the holiday season to be “merry” and family-oriented. However, some students have family situations marked by loss or interpersonal conflict and face the prospect of returning home to disharmony,” Weisnersaid.  “Further, for students from fragmented families, holidays can be stressful because of having to divide time between two or more households. Financial concerns may also be stressors for students and their families during the holiday season, which is traditionally a time for traveling and gift giving.

The latter was the case this year for Trinity University juniorAlicia Knight who said her family could not afford to pay for her trip home to Alabama for the holidays.  She said the financial burden arose as her younger brother, a freshmanenrolled at Grambling State in Louisiana, also wanted to come home.

He’s younger, he’s not coping well living away from home, and it’s his first year, so they chose to fly him home.  If I’m honest, I feel some kind of way about it because he could drive or take a bus, so that we both could come home,” Knight said.  “The sadness or loneliness may come, but right now, I’m more angry.  Maybe the anger will get me through this because at this point, I don’t know if being around my family would be a positive thing.”

For the break, Knight plans to spend a few days with a classmate’s family in New York, which she said will allow herto have some fun and get a break from both the isolation of the campus and her family.

Weisner said that the taking breaks at the close of the semester and re-evaluating the season can be helpful in keeping back the blahs.

It’s important that students also take periodic breaks from studying or stressful family situations, either alone or with the support of others. Finally, taking a new perspective on the holiday season can be effective. Remember, soon the holiday season will end, and a new year and a new academic semester will begin,” he said.

Weisner advised that students who experience accompanying symptoms such as sleep disturbance, poor appetite, difficulty concentrating and fatigue that become disruptive or cause intense subjective distress — consult with a medical or mental health professional.

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