Dec. 23, 2019

How to get a handle on the holidays

UCalgary Wellness Director Debbie Bruckner shares her tips for the winter break
Holiday snowman
Snowman Unsplash photo by Nathan Wolfe

For students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty and staff, coming off of a busy academic semester has its own set of struggles. Add to that, a doubling down of sorts: entering into holiday mode. For Debbie Bruckner, senior director, student wellness, access and support, Student and Enrolment Services, that kind of juggling can be quite stressful, and combined with the holiday season hype there’s a real possibility our mental health might experience strain. Because of this, Bruckner suggests a few areas to address that could help lead to a better sense of calm over the holiday season.

Acknowledge that it might be a difficult time

The holidays can be a very difficult time for some. It can emphasize feelings of loneliness, sadness, disconnection or otherwise. It can also signal an anniversary. For example, if there has been a loss, recent or not, feelings of grief could come up in more intense ways during this time of year. Christmas in particular can also be a strange time for people from cultures who don’t recognize it as a holiday.

For all of this, Bruckner emphasizes the importance of self-compassion, and allowing those feelings, when they come up, to be recognized and to hold space for them in ways that serve you. Doing a check on well-being over the holidays might also be an idea: How have I been sleeping? Have I been active? Am I eating well? Do I need to connect with my spirituality or to a close friend? Sometimes doing a self check-in on what might be missing can really help pinpoint what needs attention.

Connect to community

Resilience is as much about connecting to oneself as it is about connecting to one’s community, says Bruckner, and both can be real protective factors for mental health and well-being. Reaching out and connecting to others could be what helps you through a rough time over the holidays. Bruckner emphasizes that this can look different for everyone; maybe it’s a co-worker you feel close to, or a long-lost friend living in a different country.

Having supportive people in your circle and connecting to those you feel safe with can be really helpful during this time of year.

Create new traditions that serve you

With the bustle of holidays, a number of expectations arise: what needs to get done and off a to-do list, what yearly dish or baking you feel pressure to produce, who you feel you should make time for. This, coupled with the inevitable comparison that comes with social media scrolling over the holidays, can create pressure for some idealized holiday experience. For this, Bruckner likes to pose a question and a challenge:

If there were no expectations, what would you like to do over the holidays? You don’t have to spend the time the way you see others spend it. You can make your own traditions.

This could be as simple as getting out for a walk or reading a favourite book. Or maybe it’s working purposefully on creating new memories to replace ones that cause difficulties, like for example, previously held traditions that might trigger bad memories.

Need to talk to someone? Use the resources below over the holidays, available 24/7.

First and foremost, being open and honest with friends and family about your feelings should be a priority. But maybe your need to connect is more immediate. Student Wellness Services and Staff Wellness will be closed Dec. 24 to Jan. 1, but supports are available should you need to talk to someone. Check out the resources below for the right one for you.  

Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line

Mental health concerns for Alberta residents. Call 1-877-303-2642.

Distress Centre

Speak to a highly trained volunteer, who will actively listen and provide additional resources if needed. Call 403-266-4357 or visit them online for chat information.

Homewood Health (for faculty, postdocs, and staff)

Get immediate crisis support or initiate counselling services by calling 1-800-633-1142 (select option #1 for crisis).

Kid’s Help Phone (for young people who need support)

Call, chat or text 24/7. Visit online or call a counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.

Wood’s Homes Community Resource Team

Connect with someone by calling 403-299-9699 or 1-800-563-6106. Text 587-315-5000 between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. Find information on no-cost walk-in counselling services.

For information on resources available on campus, check out the Campus Mental Health Strategy’s Get Support section of the website. The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential. Find support and connect to the strategy.