Coping Strategies Students Can Use During College BreaksBy Joy Liwanag
College life, marked by rigorous academics and bustling social interactions, often takes a toll on students' mental well-being.
Surprisingly, the end of a semester, typically seen as a welcome break, can trigger feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and sadness for many students. As the familiar rhythm of college life gives way to breaks, students encounter a shift that may exacerbate existing stressors. Michael London, CEO of Uwill, notes a 46% spike in therapy appointments in November 2023, highlighting the heightened mental health challenges during this period.
The end-of-semester breaks, which can range from three to four weeks in December and January, bring forth unique stressors. For international students, unable to travel home during breaks, the isolation can be particularly pronounced. Additionally, factors such as academic performance, personal finances, family dynamics, and future plans can contribute to heightened stress. The extended summer breaks, often filled with jobs or internships, contrast sharply with the potentially isolating winter breaks.
Tips from Experts on Managing Mental Health During Breaks
As the adrenaline of a semester subsides, it's crucial for students to have a plan for maintaining mental wellness during extended breaks. Mental health experts offer valuable insights and strategies to navigate this challenging period.
1. Prioritize Sleep, Diet, and Exercise
Maintaining a routine, especially concerning sleep, diet, and exercise, is essential for managing mental health during breaks. These practices provide structure, preventing lulls that may contribute to anxiety. Micky Sharma from The Ohio State University suggests debriefing at the start of the break to relax and catch up on sleep, acknowledging the rebound effect after finals week.
2. Set Boundaries
While breaks may involve work or social activities, it's crucial for students not to overextend themselves. Michael Mason from the University of Virginia emphasizes the importance of setting boundaries, allowing time for mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional recharge. Avoiding "performative" wellness and being open about emotional states can contribute to a healthier break.
3. Maintain Social Connections
For students away from home, friends often become like family. The break disrupts typical social circles, making it important to stay connected with college friends. Text messaging, video chats, and social media offer means to maintain these connections. Katie Hurley from the Jed Foundation recommends making time for video chats to share break experiences with friends.
4. Detecting Struggles
Extended breaks provide parents with an opportunity to observe their child's mental health. Signs such as irritability, isolation, changes in appetite, loss of interest in hobbies, or neglect of hygiene may indicate mental struggles. While maintaining a balance between parenting and allowing autonomy, experts emphasize open communication and trusting parental instincts.
5. Encouraging Therapy
Parents are encouraged to support their children in seeking therapy if needed during breaks. Services like Uwill offer immediate therapy appointments, even during holidays. Recognizing mental health as a year-round challenge, colleges increasingly provide mental health services during breaks through campus-based or third-party services.
The end of a semester should not mark the onset of mental health challenges for college students. By proactively managing sleep, diet, and exercise, setting boundaries, maintaining social connections, and seeking therapy when necessary, students can navigate breaks more resiliently. Parents play a crucial role in supporting their children's mental health, striking a balance between involvement and autonomy. Ultimately, recognizing mental health as a continuous priority ensures a more holistic and sustainable college experience.