8 Ways to Enjoy Your Christmas Break (Even If Studying Is Stressing You Out)

But how can you do that if you’re distracted by stress over your studies? Maybe it’s that you’ve got much too much to do and the thought of having to go back to it all in the New Year is exhausting. Maybe you’ve not got much work set but you don’t feel you’ve got enough of a handle on your studies overall. Or maybe you’ve no real reason to feel stressed, but you spent so much of the past term in the grip of an essay crisis that “stressed about studying” is less a mood now than the default state of your existence.

Whatever the background, it’s hard to look forward to Christmas when you’re already expecting it to consist in equal parts of turkey, mince pies and stress. Here are our top tips for how to put your stress over studying and workload to one side and make the most of the festive period.

1. Guide the conversation with your family members

A girl holds out a Christmas present.
“Studying is fine, Great-Aunt Trudie. Why don’t you open your present now?”

One of the worst things about being stressed with studying over Christmas is that it’s often all your family members will talk about. You might have just managed to put that looming essay out of your mind when your great-aunt pipes up, “so, how are you getting on with your studies?” and reminds you of just how much more research and writing you have to put in before it’s done. Not wanting to respond, “I’ve handed in all my assignments late and I’m petrified of failing”, you maybe manage to mumble an “it’s OK” and escape the room. It’s not ideal for anyone.

It’s important to remember that – most of the time, at least – family members don’t want to pressure you or stress you out when they ask this kind of question. They’re just trying to make conversation, and regardless of how they express the thought, what they mean is, “I like you and I want you to know that I’m interested in your life”. You can help them out by guiding the conversation from the start, for instance by volunteering whatever you want to about your studies (“I was a bit disappointed with my latest essay mark, but my tutor’s been supportive”) and then changing the subject to something else that lets the conversation flow, e.g. “what was studying like when you were my age?”

And if you’re blindsided by an unexpected question, have an answer prepared in advance that gives the conversation a new avenue to go down: “my studies are going well, but to be honest I’d rather not think about all that when I’m on holiday. Have you heard that I’ve recently taken up painting?” Then you can talk about landscapes and the use of colour to your heart’s content

2. Make plans with friends in advance

Three students jump around in the snow.
Making plans with friends in advance can provide you with a useful escape route.

Catching up with friends old and new is an important way to relax and de-stress. At the same time, the process of organising things over the Christmas period can be a source of stress in its own right, especially if you’re hoping to get some studying done as well. That’s doubly the case if your friends are inclined to make plans last-minute, so that you’ll have just got your notes out and found the right page in your exercise book when your phone pings with an invitation to join friends at the cinema, or for ice-skating, ruining your concentration and making you feel like you’re missing out.

The best way to deal with this is to make plans to meet up with your friends with plenty of notice – perhaps before the Christmas holidays even start. That way, you might miss out on some spontaneous outings, but you know that you’ll get to hang out with your friends at some point over the holiday period, which will make the days when you have to skip socialising in order to study feel a lot easier. Plus your friends will undoubtedly appreciate you making the effort to organise things, especially if their own studies are also getting them down.

3. Follow the principles of mindfulness

Mindfulness is a technique that many people find useful for grappling with stress. It’s often used in the context of mindfulness meditation, which is about putting aside other thoughts and focusing entirely on what you sense and feel moment by moment. But the same principle can also be applied at times when you’re trying to separate a sense of stress from an occasion when you’re hoping to enjoy yourself.

At its simplest, it’s about focusing on what you’re doing in a particular moment and trying not to let your mind wander onto other things; so when you’re eating Christmas dinner, for example, mindfulness would suggest that you focus entirely on the deliciousness of the turkey and the contrasting textures of the roast potatoes, rather than letting your mind drift to an unfinished assignment, thereby avoiding getting stressed by it. The inverse is also true: when you’re getting some work done, mindfulness suggests that you should focus wholly on that, instead of thinking about all the other more fun things that you could be doing instead. If you can focus on whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing, you’ll be able to keep stress at bay and get through your workload quicker as well. Of course, it’s more easily said than done, but the internet abounds with sites and videos that will teach you mindfulness techniques if it sounds helpful for you.

4. Tidy your desk and organise your to-do list before the festivities start

A desk piled with books and a laptop.
Auntie Mabel might be tempted to “tidy” your notes.

Christmas can be a chaotic time, especially if yours is the sort of family where dozens of relatives descend, and you end up getting turfed out of your room onto an air mattress so that a distant aunt can have your bed. That influx of chaos makes it a lot harder to get any productive work done, especially if your notes have a tendency to go astray. Feeling like you don’t even know where to start with your studies is a recipe for stress.

Instead, try to get a handle on what needs to be done before the family arrives and the festivities start. That means tidying your desk, organising your notes and putting them somewhere where they’ll be both safe and accessible for the whole festive period (if need be, that might be the quieter house of a friend who lives nearby). It can also help for some people to create a to-do list; it might be so long that you stress about how much needs to be done, but it can also help to know exactly what tasks need doing, so you know where to start and how much progress you’ve made.

5. Take time for self-care

Girl in bath with orange slices.
Your parents might wonder where all the candied oranges went….

What do you think of, when you think about what needs doing over the holidays? You might think of the mountain of studying that you have to do; the presents that need to be bought and wrapped; the friends who you want to meet up with and who you haven’t seen in ages. Christmas is a time when we tend to focus on the needs of others, and it’s easy to forget your own needs in all of that. Yes, getting studying done is important, and seeing friends will help you de-stress. But there’s another thing you should make time for, and that’s self-care.

Self-care is the name that mental health providers typically give to the actions we take to look after ourselves. An act of self-care might be giving yourself an hour to read in the bath and relax weary muscles, or eating a delicious lunch, getting more exercise or finally doing an annoying administrative task so that you can cross it off your list. Self-care is about doing something that makes you feel better, whether that’s on a basic biological level (like getting enough sleep), a de-stressing level (like writing that to-do list) or a level of treating yourself (like getting a pedicure). Whatever form your self-care takes, don’t neglect it over the Christmas period, no matter how much else is going on.

6. Set aside a regular time to do some studying

A coffee mugs and some books near the Christmas tree.
If your family know your study schedule, they’re less likely to disturb you.

It’s easy to get stressed about the work you need to do if you have no idea when you’re going to do it. Combat that problem by setting aside a regular time every day or every other day when you’ll get out your organised notes and your well-planned to-do list and get cracking. You can also let your family know when those regular times are, so that younger family members are discouraged from making a noise near your room and older family members won’t schedule any outings or activities for those times. If you can figure out roughly what you expect to get done in each study session, so much the better.

Routine is a great way of beating stress because you have the answers to the questions that stress makes you ask, e.g. “when am I going to get all of this done?” can be answered with “in my studying sessions between 10 and 12 every morning”. You’ll relieve yourself of the difficulty of trying to find time to do everything by giving yourself a set chunk of time when you and everyone around you know that you’re not doing anything else.

7. Only procrastinate with fun things

While it’s nice to think that your study periods will be filled solely with mindful, productive studying, the reality is that you will probably procrastinate; we all do. And Christmas provides us with extra opportunities for procrastination – there’s always going to be presents to wrap, cards to write, or, in times of real desperation, the washing up to be done. But if you’re trying to enjoy your Christmas break while stressed over studying, then you want to really enjoy it – not look back at the start of January and realise that you spent a lot of it staring at a blank screen while adding unnecessary ribbon to presents.

So, if you’re going to procrastinate, make sure you have something fun to procrastinate with, and try to enjoy your procrastination time properly. Play a game or read a book; don’t just refresh social media or tidy a part of your room that didn’t really need tidying. Either you’ll actually enjoy yourself, or the act of forcing yourself to procrastinate properly will guilt you into focusing on your work.

8. Cut yourself some slack on making Christmas perfect

A broken Christmas tree bauble.
Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable.

Christmas compounds the stress of studying because, for some of us at least, Christmas is already a stressful time. You need to demonstrate to your friends how well you know them by buying them presents that are just right, while avoiding spending money that you don’t have. There might be parties where you want to look your best, or at least have the most entertaining Christmas jumper. There’s the need to impress relatives who you don’t see that often with how well you’re getting on. And if part of the cooking falls to you, then you might also be responsible for perfect roast potatoes or tender brussels sprouts. It’s exhausting, and the world of Christmas song, films and adverts tells us that our Christmas needs to be just right.

But if you’re stressing about studying and about trying to make Christmas perfect, you’re not going to have much energy left for actually achieving either of those. Instead, give yourself permission to focus on your studying and stop worrying about what kind of Christmas you’re having. Your friends will forgive you for disappointing presents; your family will forgive you for making disappointing sprouts. You might not be able to ignore the things that are stressing you out about your studies, but you can ignore the pressures around Christmas and resolve simply to enjoy yourself instead.

What have you found helpful for keeping stress about studying under control over Christmas? Let us know in the comments!
Images: santa muggirl with present; three friends jumping in snow; messy desk; girl in bath with orange slices; coffee mug and books near the christmas tree; broken christmas bauble

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