Holiday stress: 7 reasons students don’t feel merry and bright about winter break

Eight in 10 college students say winter break will improve their mental health, but 50% also say going home is stressful.

Here’s a big winter break paradox: A holiday stress survey finds that most students feel supported—and also stressed out—by their families.

Eight in 10 college students say that spending winter break at home will improve their mental health. But half also say they are stressed or anxious about seeing family during the holidays, according to a new national survey of more than 1,200 college students by TimelyMD, a telehealth provider. Here are the top seven sources of stress:

  1. Family interaction: 49%
  2. Travel: 41%
  3. Finances: 38%
  4. Illness: 31%
  5. Dealing with grief: 26%
  6. Being away from college friends and relationships: 24%
  7. Being around hometown friends: 21%

Overall, the report’s holiday stress findings show that most college students need some time away from campus. “It’s not ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ for everyone,” TimelyMD notes. “While some students welcome the familiar surroundings of home, family and childhood friends, others find them triggering.”

Students who identify as LGBTQIA+, for example, report slightly higher levels of holiday stress. Some 60% of students in this community are worried about going home for the holidays compared to 51% of students overall. And nine in 10 non-binary students are more anxious about spending time with family home than are female (55%) and male (44%) students.

About 70% of students said they were currently experiencing a mental health issue while 44% reported feeling more stressed or anxious this fall than they were this time in 2021. Some 60% said they had taken a mental health day this semester.

A bit of good news is that more students are opening up about their mental health. Two-thirds of the students surveyed said their family knows they are having mental health struggles and most of these students have received support from family to seek counseling or other professional treatment.

Campus leaders, professors and other campus staff should encourage students to give themselves a “mental health reset” by engaging in self-care over the break, said Seli Fakorzi, TimelyMD’s director of mental health operations. Winter break should give students time to “recharge, relax and reconnect with people” they care about, Fakorzi advised.

Students surveyed said they plan to cope with stress by spending time with family and friends, playing video games, watching TV or movies, exercising, practicing mindfulness and going to parties.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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