The Student’s Guide to (Mentally and Mindfully) Surviving Winter Break

updated Sep 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

When you’re in college and finals and term papers are taking over your life, winter break just can’t come soon enough—that is, until it does. You’ve taken your last exam, turned in your last essay, and you’re on your way home for the next four to six weeks after being away for an entire semester, and then it happens—reality sets in, and you remember that winter break isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Sure, the whole taking a break from schoolwork thing is great, and getting to eat home-cooked meals and see old friends? Even better. But there are also a lot of factors that can make coming home for the holidays (and beyond) super stressful. If you’re struggling, don’t worry—here’s how to get through it all.

How to deal with…

People you don’t want to see

One of the most obvious issues of heading back to your hometown for an extended period of time? Running into people you don’t really want to see. Sure, on your campus there are probably people you don’t particularly like that you might run into from time to time (or all the time, depending on how small your college is) but it’s a special kind of weird feeling to be back in the town you grew up in all of a sudden and seeing people who hurt you in the past.

The only way to truly avoid everyone you don’t want to run into is to stay home 24/7—but that’s definitely not recommended. It’s not healthy or fun, and it’ll make coming home for break even worse. Emotionally prepare yourself that you might see so-and-so at the grocery store, or at a bar, or at the movies, and don’t let it keep you from going out and running errands or having fun. Remember that you don’t have to talk to anyone you don’t want to, and if someone you’d rather avoid approaches you to say hi, all it should take to get out of it quickly is letting them know you’re in a hurry or running late for something. And if someone you don’t want to talk to messages you and asks to see you, don’t feel like you have to respond—only do what feels right for you.

Having too much time on your hands

The thing that always frustrated me the most about being home on break from college was feeling bored all the time. I grew up in a town where there wasn’t much to do and I didn’t have many friends to hang out with, so I wound up spending the majority of my time at home—again, not recommended. For the first few days, being home with nothing to do is great because you get to relax and catch up on sleep post-exams. But then, you start to miss being on campus where there were always activities and events to go to, even if they were just game nights with free pizza planned by your RA.

The key to survival here is lining up things to keep you busy. Contact the friends you do want to see, and try to make as many fun plans as possible. You can also use this time to save up money by getting a part-time job, or give back to your community by finding a cause to help out and volunteer with. Or, if you have the money saved up, try to spend some time traveling, even if it’s just taking a mini weekend road trip. You can also take this time to work on a hobby you’ve been dying to try, like learning to play guitar, or trying out a new craft project. Anything to pass the time will help make it less boring, and as long as you prioritize your time, you’ll still feel relaxed and refreshed when you head back to campus for the spring semester.

Not feeling as independent

Winter break usually means that in one fell swoop, you go from living on a college campus surrounded by friends with no parental supervision, to being back under your parents’ roof, living by their rules. Sometimes it doesn’t feel much different—maybe your parents don’t have strict rules and you still have a lot of friends back home waiting to go out and do fun stuff, but that’s not always the case. If your parents are strict, or there’s just not as much to do (or maybe you’re used to walking everywhere on campus, but you need a car to get around your hometown and you don’t have one) it can feel like a huge blow to your independence.

This one’s a little harder to overcome than the others, but you’ve got a few options. First, try talking to your parents about what your life is like on campus (leave out any details about parties, you know, just for good measure) and see if maybe they’d consider extending your curfew or letting go of some of their old rules. Just be sure you approach them not from a place of frustration, but from a place of gratefulness and honesty and love—they’ll be more likely to hear you out that way. If transportation is an issue, see if you can work out a schedule with them to borrow the car. And again, try making plans with friends so you can get out of the house more, or at least see if friends who live nearby would be willing to give you rides occasionally.

Being away from your college friends

When you live on a college campus, you spend most of your down time with the friends you make at school—you hang out in each other’s dorms (which are an easy walk down the hall or across campus) and go to meals together, and often you see each other every day. So, when you suddenly find yourself miles away for weeks on end, you can feel a little distant and start to miss them. Not only does going take you out of your usual routine, it can get lonely, too.

The good news is, you’ve got technology like Skype and FaceTime to get you through it. Set up regular video chat dates with your closest friends so you can keep in touch beyond texting—actually seeing their faces and hearing their voices will help a lot. Plus, it’ll be one more thing to do to keep you busy when you’re bored.

General family drama

If going home for winter break (or just for the holidays in general) doesn’t leave you facing even the tiniest bit of family drama, consider yourself lucky—you can skip this section! But for a lot of people, going home and being around family for an extended period of time isn’t always 100-percent fun all the time. If winter break also means trying to avoid arguments or cope with family issues, it can make you dread the journey home a little bit.

For this, you have two options: You can either confront your family about the issues at hand, or you can avoid discussing anything that might make your stay uncomfortable. You’re the only person who can decide what’s worth tackling and what’s worth keeping quiet about, so your best bet is to really think it through before you head home. Make a mental list of anything that might come up and cause tension, and really think about how you want to handle it. If anything that you’d prefer to avoid discussing for now comes up, do your best to politely dismiss it—and if you do have to confront any issues with your family, make sure that, again, you do it from a place of love and thoughtfulness, not one of anger or frustration. Make your points, but try to keep the peace in the process so you can actually maybe get somewhere with it, as opposed to isolating or hurting the people you care about.