Usually the holidays are a time of merriment, but college students are extremely susceptible to the holiday blues.
There are specific factors that are unique to students. Academic, environmental, social, and family pressures intensify for during the holiday months. Many students don’t have proper coping mechanisms or support systems to deal with the added stress properly.
Academically, students face the end of the semester finals and research papers. For freshmen this is likely the first time they will experience the end of semester chaos. In itself, that isn’t anything abnormal. But then you add in the holidays and stress increases.
The weather outside is frightful. Environmentally, things have taken a drastic shift. The warmth of summer is long gone, replaced by less sunlight and lower temperatures. SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder affects as many of 20% of all adults. Depression, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and loss of drive are all symptoms of SAD.
Money problems. All of us experience the social pressures and expectations to give gifts to others over the holidays. College students usually have limited budgets, which means they cannot give all the gifts they would like. Being unable to exchange gifts adequately can diminish self-worth and generate guilt.
Family issues. Going home for the holidays can be a happy time. But, not everyone has a smooth family dynamic to go home to. All families are complex in their own way, each producing their own stress levels. In some cases returning home can bring up thoughts of loved ones that are no longer with us. Also, not everyone has the financial means to travel, so going home isn’t always an option. Seclusion and loneliness over the long winter break can result from this isolation.
You’re not a kid anymore. Thoughts of Santa Claus don’t run through a college age student’s mind like it did when they were 8 years old. More mature and contemplative thoughts are present during the holidays. Even though it is a natural progression, this can complicate things. Students are at the age where they have established strong friendships and experienced independence as a young adult. Being torn between family vs. friends is common. There is constant pressure to spend money and time with everyone.
So how can you help? Know the resources available. Many colleges and communities offer support. Know what food banks, social activities, support groups, mental health professionals, and suicide preventions are accessible. This support can help a student return from winter break recharged and ready to rock their academic goals.