Christmas isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be…

christmas border with text saying 'ho ho ho...help!

Not everyone has the picture perfect Christmas scenario to head home to at the end of term. Here are some survival tips for the highs and lows of your vacation.

For many people, the Christmas adverts showing happy families unwrapping presents and being merry and bright together instead of making them feel full of cheer, fills them with dread for the Christmas season ahead… The forthcoming holiday can cause a mixture of complicated situations and emotions, such as family and relationship conflict, anxiety around relationships, worries about food, coping with grief, or feeling that everyone else is having a great time and you’re missing out. All these feelings are valid, and you’re not alone in feeling them. Even if you look forward to the holidays, it’s normal to experience periods of stress or difficulty.

We asked Rachel and Tilly, two Mental Health Advisers at Kent’s Student Support and Wellbeing who offer specialist support to care leavers and students who are estranged from their families, what are your tips for coping with complicated feelings during the holidays?

Make a plan, take control 

What are the main issues you will face? Loneliness, or overwhelm surrounded by too many people? Think through the days that might be particularly difficult and plan extra support and connection, or breaks from the busyness. One positive thing about the lockdown was the much broader possibility of meeting online for activities so you could plan catch ups with your university friends, or someone else who you feel safe with. If you want to escape/ learn/ relax online without a known group, you could look up things to join in with via Eventbrite, searching by your interests.

Set your intentions

Whether it’s sleep, how you eat, how much you drink, where exercise plays a role, or whether you engage in certain conversations, set your intentions in advance so you can feel more in control in the moment.

Identify your coping skills

What makes you feel better when you’re struggling? Taking a nap? Going for a walk alone or with someone else? If you’re staying on the Canterbury campus, or nearby, you can sign up to Just Walk right up until 24 December to be matched with another student who want to meet and go for a walk locally. Do you want to stay busy and make new friends at Kent? Check out the College and Community Life calendar for details of what’s on til the end of term and beyond, including games and puzzlues you can borrow over the holidays. Does meditation help you? You could connect with the Mindfulness Society before the end of term and check out their resources and recorded meditations during the holidays,  or check out some free mindfulness apps. Would curling up with a comfort book, or a pick me up playlist help? You can borrow from Templeman and Drill Hall Libraries, including fiction and digital media. Think about it in advance so you can have those things ready to reach for when it’s all getting a bit much.

Don’t compare – live your holiday the best way you can

Try not to compare your experiences, feelings and relationships to others’, and instead allow yourself to be present in your life without judgement.

Find support

It’s okay to not be okay during the holidays and reach out for support when you need it. Student Support and Wellbeing offices are open after the end of the university term until Tuesday 21st December, and then closed from Wednesday 22nd December until Tuesday 4th January 2022. During this closure, there are lots of emergency contacts available to support you wherever you find yourself during vacation.

Our mental health partner organisation, Spectrum Life, is available for crisis support throughout vacation. Spectrum Life provide in-the-moment emotional and practical support for emotional distress or concerns about your mental health.

For expert information tailored to students from Student Minds, check out the Christmas resources on the Student Space website, which provides also provides telephone, email, webchat and text support. There is more information about Christmas and mental health from the charity, Mind.

The charity Rees Foundation works to ensure that people leaving care have support networks in place, and are not left alone to tackle life’s challenges, and run some ‘Let’s Connect’ projects, connecting people with other members of the care experienced community.

Hang in there, it’s temporary!

Whatever your vacation experience, remember that it won’t last forever. We’ll be posting on the Student Support and Wellbeing socials throughout vacation, so follow @UniKentSSW for more advice, information and community, and our expert mental health team will be back on the Kent campuses from 4th January.

Wishing you all courage this season!

Written by Natalia Crisanti, Student Services staff, 29.11.21