How Students Can Cope with Holiday Stress in Pandemic

Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Two students sit 6 feet apart from each other in a classroom while wearing masks and face shields
Students sit 6 feet apart from each other in a fall 2020 Physical Therapy class at SF State. Photo by Paul Asper.

As seasonal stresses increase for students during the holidays, they face additional pressures this year while sheltering in place. A Healthy Minds Network survey conducted this spring found that the rate of depression among college students had increased in the pandemic. Two-thirds of students reported their financial situation has become more stressful; about one-third said the pandemic caused their living situation to change.

This month we met with Leslie J. Shin, clinical counselor and outreach coordinator for SF State’s Counseling and Psychological Services. She identifies triggers of stress for students at the end of the semester, along with tips on how to cope.

“Despite your best efforts, you may feel yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious or stressed,” she said.

SF State offers free mental health services to all students. If you would like to receive mental health information, visit the Counseling and Psychological Services website. To schedule a virtual appointment with a mental health professional, call 415-338-2208.

If you are experiencing a life-threatening crisis or mental health emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room for immediate help.

What triggers holiday stress for students?

Students attending college far from home, such as international students who may not be able to return home during the winter break — especially due to the pandemic this time — may experience increased isolation and loneliness.

There is also extra pressure during the holiday season to be merry and family-orientated. However, some students may have family situations marked by loss or interpersonal conflict, and face the prospect of returning home to disharmony. ...

When returning home for the holidays was something exciting in the past, staying at home with the family since mid-March has been a new, stressful adjustment and a struggle for many students. With a COVID-19 surge again, the current restrictions also affect people’s gatherings and celebrations of holidays, which definitely increases our stress.

How can students cope with holiday stress?

When you have difficult conversations with family, try the following tips.

Create some ground rules, like no shouting or [raising] the voices. Ask questions of each other so you can understand each other better. Set a time limit to talk about any sensitive topic or any sensitive subjects. Examine your assumptions about what others are saying. Work out a compromise, being OK with being wrong and understand the emotional component you and others have. ...

In general, self-care is critical for managing stress, and this is especially true during the holiday season. Self-care includes getting enough sleep, eating regular well-balanced meals, staying hydrated and engaging in exercise or other physical activity.

Spending time with friends and loved ones — even virtually — is really helpful. Limiting alcohol, caffeine and other drug use is another important tip.

Also, stimulating the senses by taking warm baths, listening to music and seeking out humor are great ways to cope.

Additionally, it is important to take periodic breaks from studying or from stressful family situations, either alone or with the support of others.

Taking on a new perspective on the holiday season can be effective, too. Remember: soon, the holiday season will end and a new year and a new academic semester will begin.

— Story and video by Christinna Bautista

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