How to manage stress around the holidays

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McKinnon Plaza and the University Center in the winter. Snow covers the ground.

The holidays might be known as "the most wonderful time of the year," but they can bring along stress and anxiety.

In this Q&A, UM-Flint Counseling and Psychological Services Counselor Kayla Bueby offers context and recommendations for coping with stress and mixed emotions during the season:

Why might people deal with stress and depression around the holidays? 

Whether you are excited for the holidays or dreading them, increased stress, sadness, and anxiety can certainly be part of your emotional experience around this time of year. People can experience exacerbated levels of challenging emotions during the holiday season as they may have conflict, disagreements, or strained relationships with family and friends that take center stage when we are making decisions about who we spend our time with celebrating the holiday itself.

Holidays can also be difficult for folks who have lost a loved one as family gatherings tend to be popular during this time and these gatherings can be a stark reminder of the loss that they have experienced. There's no "right or wrong" way to feel during this time. The most important thing is that you feel what you need to feel and respond to yourself with kindness and compassion as you do so.

What are good ways to cope with mixed feelings that arise during the holiday season? 

There are so many wonderful ways to cope with feelings. As long as the coping skills are healthy and helpful, they can be whatever you would like. Here are some frequently utilized and recommended ones: 

  • Share your feelings with a trusted support person
  • Journal about your feelings and experiences to assist with processing and healthy reflection
  • Stay active–go for a walk, go to the gym…whatever makes sense for you!
  • Get creative–express your feelings through creative outlets like art and music
  • Set boundaries–it's okay to say no to seeing people!
  • Plan ahead of time for alternative activities or events that bring you joy during the holidays
  • Utilize deep breathing techniques
  • Let go of what is not in your control
  • Develop a plan to celebrate the holidays in honor of those that you have lost (What would they like to do? What things did they enjoy? Can you incorporate this into your holiday schedule in memory of them?)

Is it common to have these kinds of feelings during the holiday season? 

Absolutely. Holidays can bring up a range of emotions ranging from excited and happy to anxious and sad, and it's not uncommon for people to experience more than one emotion during this time depending on their circumstances. 

What are some resources that can help? 

To help build greater awareness of their emotions and to develop stronger healthy coping skills, UM-Flint students can explore the self-help resources within SilverCloud. Students can also complete anonymous mental health screenings to assess their symptoms and see what options might be most helpful for them at that time. Students are welcome to contact the UM-Flint CAPS office for additional information about or assessment of mental health concerns. For UM-Flint students who are in crisis, they can access crisis counseling services 24/7/365 by calling the Department of Public Safety and requesting to speak to the CAPS Counselor On Call. Additionally, students can text the National Crisis Text Line (741741), call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) if they need immediate support.

Why might it be important to seek help with these kinds of feelings? 

All of us will experience challenging emotions throughout our lives and therefore we will all need help from time to time. Seeking out help can look like developing a coping or self-care plan, talking to trusted support people, or engaging in counseling for significant concerns related to mental health. Without seeking out ways to process these feelings in a healthy manner, sometimes challenging feelings can linger and persist which can cause the development of more serious mental health concerns. 

Any other tips and tricks? 

You always have the right to say no to gatherings, people, and events that you aren't willing or able to attend for whatever reason. Setting boundaries can be hard, but you are ultimately in control of how you spend your time and energy. 

Lindsay Knake is the Communications Coordinator for the UM-Flint Division of Student Affairs. Contact her with any questions, comments, or ideas about the DSA newsletter, social media, events, and communications.