What is supposed to be, for many, a time of family, friends, gifts, and celebration, can instead be a time of immense stress and expectations.
Students perhaps understand this more than others. The month between the autumn and spring semesters is considered a holiday, but there barely seems to be a moment when you can actually relax. Even if you have sectioned off a week to just chill out with family, at the back of your mind there is undoubtedly a little voice wittering on about deadlines, deadlines, deadlines! And then you spend the rest of your ‘holiday’ working on assignments, preparing for exams, and generally not relaxing the way you might deserve after a long semester of hard work.
“There’s a lot of pressure on these four weeks”
With mental health cases on the rise within the student population, and with many heading home burnt-out, with a nasty cold, and seriously wanting nothing but their own bed, it seems that there’s a lot of pressure on these four weeks. They are set up to be a time where you catch up with friends from home, with nuclear and extended family, while also balancing a part time job and university work ready for the New Year examinations. Overshadowing this can be the pressure to have a perfect Christmas, too.
You know what I am talking about. The perfectly decorated trees, perfectly delicious dinners, and perfectly stylish outfits. All over social media, there are people who seemed to have curated idyllic Christmas paradises. But you do not see the work that has gone into getting that perfect shot, and trying to mimic it can seriously wear you down, not to mention take the fun out of the season.
Beyond this, there is the pressure to get a gift someone will genuinely like, a conundrum made all the more stressful when the person in question is difficult to buy for, and/or if you’re on a tight budget. Sometimes the idea of not getting or giving anything sounds like a great idea.
“The perhaps inevitable feeling of being less Christmassy as you get older”
Plus, there is the perhaps inevitable feeling of being less Christmassy as you get older, or of the season not holding the fuzzy joy it once did. Perhaps it is being aware of the political strife occurring around the world as you sit down to eat some roast potatoes. Perhaps it is getting sudden flashes of deforestation as you toss some balled-up wrapping paper at your brother’s head. Perhaps you feel disillusioned by the consumerism associated with Christmas as you watch your bank account dwindle. These issues can certainly effect how you feel, and while there are plenty of ways to have a greener Christmas, it can still make you feel bad.
The meaning of Christmas has changed for some, and it can be a time of unnecessary stress, especially for those who do not or cannot celebrate. Christmas can be a really lonely time for some, and going home isn’t always something you look forward to.
We also need to remember that everyone is feeling stressed, and that you are definitely not alone. So keep in contact with each other, check in as the rain pours and the wind howls, and let your loved ones know you are there for them, as they are for you. You do not need to be perfect—no one is—and expecting a perfect holiday is only going to make you frustrated. Things will go wrong, but that is simply part of the fun.
So what can we do so ease this pressure?
The first thing is to understand that what you see online likely is not reality. It is the age-old saying, I know, but it is true. The majority of people are not going to put up pictures of their burnt vegetables, of presents destroyed by pets, or by the inevitable argument about race, gender, and whatever other contentious issue your older relatives feel is appropriate to discuss instead of passing the gravy.
“Do not feel guilty for holing up to study”
Equally, do not feel guilty for holing up to study, for working on that essay or doing a few hours of revision. Balance is key, and you cannot let others tell you that you are being a Grinch just because you want to prepare for exams or deadlines. Christmas can be for you, and you alone.
Take a week off. Turn off those email notifications. Sit on your couch and catch up on TV. Get a nice nine hours of sleep. Stare lovingly at your animal companions. Frolic in the snow (or mud, weather-depending). Curating Christmas is for professionals, and I for one enjoy my own festive take on the season much more than the one offered online.