Health for the holidays

Lauren Rogus, Staff writer

Lakers, it is that time of year again: The time where people have family celebrations, decorated trees, a menorah of candles lit in a window. It’s time for the holidays. It can be stressful going home, so Judy Smith, Ph.D., Counseling Center director, gave some tips and tricks on how to get through the stressful holidays.

I am stressed because my parents keep giving me rules and do not let me assert my independence or let me see my friends. What should I do?
Dr. Smith: “One way to reduce the normal stresses that can arise between expectations and schedules is to discuss some of this before coming home. This is especially important for freshmen who have become used to having more autonomy, and their parents who are still adjusting to this. Talk with your folks about their plans that involve you over the break, and your plans. It is also good to take some chores and not just sleep and watch Netflix. Tell your parents that you are sleeping the first couple days to sleep off final exam fatigue.”

As a college student, I do not have much money and I am feeling pressured about buying/giving gifts. What can I do?
Dr. Smith: “Some ways to reduce this pressure can include: letting family and friends know that you are a ‘poor college student’ and so won’t be able to give gifts in the way you would like. If you want to gift exchange with friends at college or at home, propose fun, low-budget ways to do this. This could be coming up with a few dollars budget and picking friends’ names out of a hat and then guess by the present you got who bought it. For family, a gift could be just time and helping. If you like to bake, then make up holiday sweets for the family with the understanding that you will take some plates of those as gifts.”
What if I want to be home, but can’t be?
Dr. Smith: “Find and reach out to people who will be staying on campus. Set up some fun activities while others are away. Try to get out of your room and away from Netflix long enough each day to walk, visit others, get off campus, go to the gym, or carpool to grocery shop. Find out what community agencies could use your volunteer help. Plan ahead of time with your family about how to stay in touch during the season. Arrange to Skype and FaceTime.”

What if home just is not a good place for me to be right now? What if the family situation is just too stressful or toxic to spend a month there, or to be there at all?
Dr. Smith: “Make arrangements to remain in your campus housing for all or most of the break. If you decide to return home briefly, do so in a way where you control your transportation in case the visit does not go well. Arrange to go home for part of the break with a friend from campus. Enjoy the opportunity to get to know their family and holiday traditions.
If you feel you can’t remain on campus during the break, or with a friend or relative, out of concern that your parents would be too hurt or upset, consider these three ideas. Be upfront with your parents about why you feel it is better not to come home this time, and perhaps have another family member trusted by your parents also get involved in explaining this. Or, arrange for a holiday season job in Erie so that you can legitimately say that you have a work responsibility that won’t permit the visit home, and point out the advantage of you earning some money to help with college expenses. Another option could be to set up an informal practicum or academic experience in Erie that would help family accept that you need to remain on campus.”

What if I know it would be better not to go home, but need to do so anyway?
Dr. Smith: “In this case, try to set up supports back home that will keep you busy and occupied outside of the house, yet will also be acceptable to your parents. Examples could be getting a job for the season, signing up for volunteer work, or spending time with a relative who needs help around the house for a weekend or week. You can also offer to do things that will help your parents but will take you out of the house. For example, taking siblings to activities, doing the grocery shopping, shoveling snow at a grandparent’s home, etc. Finally, decide before you go home who your trusted supports are that you can talk with during this stressful time at home. This could be a relative, friend, counselor or other. Call, meet and/or talk with these supports as needed.”

The holiday break is also a good time to get some rest and relaxation before the next semester. Thus, Smith suggests some relaxation tips: indulge in an occasional nap and long soak in the tub, take time each day to get up and move around, take time to wind down and have privacy as needed, and find fun ways to get connected with your favorite people in a meaningful way.