This end of term holiday is likely to be quite different from previous years. Many students who had planned to go home or travel won’t be able to, and some will be quarantining to be able to spend time with loved ones. Some will be spending the break in Ottawa for the first time ever. For many students, this is a festive time typically spent with extended family and reconnecting with friends. Instead, they may be trying to make the best of smaller gatherings or connecting with their loved ones virtually.
So how can we enjoy this break at the end of a stressful and unusual term? Here are some tips you might be able to use or suggest to friends or colleagues who are struggling.
- Acknowledge loneliness. Loneliness is a normal human experience. Like a compass, loneliness points to the need for meaningful social connection. While it’s important to seek out human contact to meet these needs when possible, it can also be helpful to acknowledge that some of our needs are likely to go unmet at this time and to recognize that we’re not alone in this; it’s a shared experience.
- Acknowledge grief. Recognize that the end of term experience is likely to be different than what we expected and what we’ve had in past years. Furthermore, this loss may be compounded by others we’ve experienced over the year. If we’re feeling grief, it can be helpful to allow ourselves space to process our losses and be good to ourselves. Recognizing feelings can help to reduce their intensity.
- Limit alcohol or drug use to cope. While it’s understandable that people might consider drinking or using more as a way of coping with these changes, this can compound heavy feelings. Monitoring consumption of substances, setting healthy limits and focusing on other ways of coping can help avoid this problematic cycle. This holiday season may also be a good time to expand on the coping strategies you currently have by trying out some new ones.
Watch our webinar on coping strategies and addiction to become more self-aware.
- Practice self-care. Often what we most need when we’re going through stress and change is to be compassionate with ourselves. One of the best ways to do this is through acts of self-kindness. This may involve fitness, meditation, pampering ourselves or ensuring we get enough sleep and eat healthy food. If you’d like tips on ways to be more active, you can now book physical activity counselling telephone sessions, to take a break from Zoom and walk around while receiving support.
This wellness and self-care webinar could also help you identify acts of self-care that work for you.
- Talk to yourself with compassion. In addition to treating ourselves well, let’s look at how we talk to ourselves. Being harsh or demanding by saying things to ourselves such as “What’s wrong with me?” or “My friends look like they’re having a good time. Why can’t I?” can make it harder to cope. You’d probably never think it helpful to say these things to people you care about who are going through challenging times. Unsurprisingly, they’re unlikely to help you. Acknowledging your feelings and talking to and treating yourself as you would another person that you care about can go a long way. Learn more about self-compassion from Dr. Kristin Neff.
- Don’t isolate. Just because you probably will have to follow restrictions on social gatherings doesn’t mean that you can’t find ways to connect safely with friends and family. This might involve phone calls, texts or video chat but it can also involve doing activities together such as an online fitness class, a virtual dance party or a movie watching evening or, if safe, bundling up and meeting people you care about outdoors at a distance.
Watch our webinar on staying connected while physically distancing for more ideas on how to connect with your friends and family.
- Give yourself breaks from screens and social media. You have likely been spending more time than usual looking at screens. Social media can compound feelings of loneliness and grief. The end of term break can be a good opportunity to reduce screen time and give your eyes and brain a break. One of the best ways to reduce screen time is to come up with enjoyable ways to spend time that don’t involve screens. This may give you opportunities to reconnect to hobbies such as arts and crafts or making music. It can also be helpful to notice how you feel after spending time on social media.
- Keep expectations low. Feeling internal pressure to be happy and festive or to make this end of term the best experience ever can make us miserable. Try to let go of striving to make it “just like last year.” Focusing on small moments of joy can be more fulfilling and take the pressure off.
- Reach out for support. Crisis lines such as Good2Talk are there to support people who are struggling during the holidays. It’s okay to reach out if you’re having a hard day and especially important if you’re feeling suicidal or are concerned about your alcohol or substance use. Go to the Counselling Services website for more resources and services.
If you would like some help to navigate the resources available to you or would like to be support by a peer through this process, the Wellness Hub website chat will be available throughout the holiday period.
Counselling Services also has a YouTube playlist with virtual programming support that you can access 24/7, 365 days a year.
And congrats on finishing your semester! You did it. Have a nice, restful break. You deserve it.
Here are some additional resources:
Crisis Line (1-866-996-0991)
Tel-Aide Outaouais (Gatineau 819-775-3223) (Ottawa 613-741-6433) (Toll-free 1-800-567-9699)