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Manage Stress During the Holidays

Jesse Scheve
Taken August 10, 2021. Creative Services/Missouri State University

Even if you love this time of year, it comes with extra demands and stresses that can be crushing.

Rhonda Lesley, director of the Counseling Center at Missouri State University, offers many manageable tips for coping with stress and prioritizing your mental well-being during the holiday season.

Listen to the interview

"Around the holidays we have gatherings where we’re meeting people where it’s either been a long time or we’re meeting new people. And of course, we all bring our own gifts and our baggage into conversations," Lesley said.

For college students, Lesley noted, they have the added pressure of finals, or possibly, commencement and the job hunt.

For some students, they will be returning home for the first time in months. She said to avoid some of the stress, students should initiate a conversation about expectations.

Managing stress

Lesley offers many manageable tips for coping with stress and prioritizing your mental well-being during the holiday season.

  • Seeking support and togetherness at the holidays.
  • Choosing really healthy habits when we’re busy or stressed.
  • Setting reasonable standards for yourself.
  • Knowing your own limits and staying within those.
  • Reflecting on what you’re grateful for.

"The research has shown if you do that on a regular basis, it literally lifts your mood almost as strongly as an antidepressant or as counseling if you do that over a period of weeks and make it an intentional practice," Lesley said.

For those who’ve lost a loved one, Lesley suggests finding a way to honor them during the season, perhaps with a new tradition.

Another option is to reach out and help someone else, which can help all parties involved.

She also suggests finding a way to increase your acceptance and tolerance of the people you’ll be spending time with.

Improving mental health resources

Beyond holiday stress though, Lesley works to decrease stigma and improve mental health resources. One way Missouri State is doing that is by partnering with the JED Campus Initiative.

"It's really all about meeting really high quality standards for mental health on campus," she said.

"We have a lofty goal of educating 30-50% of the entire campus on mental health intervention - learning how to ask them if they’re okay. If not, learning the right phrases, the right way to inquire a little bit more so you can find out what kind of support that they need, and then providing that referral.

"So, that’s just one of many opportunities that we have for improving the mental health climate here on campus."

Nicki received a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Business Administration from Missouri State in marketing, in 2002 and 2004 respectively. After gaining experience in writing, marketing, special event planning, fundraising and public relations, she returned to the university to work in the office of strategic communication. There she tells the university’s story by sharing the stories of individuals at Missouri State.