Winter Break R&R Tips from PAU Faculty and Staff

November 21, 2021
Winter Break
It’s that time of year again! The end of the quarter and winter break are upon us.
As faculty and students head off for some well-deserved R&R, we asked them to share mental health tips or even guilty pleasures for getting through the holidays. Do they have a daily gratitude practice or a favorite holiday treat? Mariah Carey songs - love them or leave them? How about special traditions? 
We hope you consider the helpful tips and laugh along with the fun ones!
We are planning to take my partner's kid to Gilroy Gardens for their holiday season. We went for Halloween and it was a blast. Personally, I'm doing a holiday fitness challenge where you have to do a short workout/activity a day for less than 10 minutes.
I watch my favorite Christmas movies. I watch about four every year, but my favorite is probably "The Santa Clause (1994)." I own about ten.
My guilty pleasures: 
  • Amaretto hot chocolate and Swedish-glogg. Both remind me of my travels through Europe during the holidays. 
  • Watching the Muppets Christmas Carol - best one out there. 
A few things I always do to maximize holiday happiness and minimize the time involved:
  • Shop early (like summer and early fall)
  • Put up the tree right after Thanksgiving dinner so that visiting friends and family can all participate, plus it maximizes the time you get to enjoy the holiday season!
  • (In true data nerd fashion) I keep a matrix in Google Sheets of all the presents I purchase -- each column is a giftee, and the rows are each present they are being gifted. That way each present has a letter/number (like B-4). I wrap presents EARLY (like in late November) and put a Post-It note on each one with the corresponding matrix letter/number so that I can remember what's in each wrapped gift. I'm done wrapping early and never have to do any last-minute panic shopping or stay up late on Christmas Eve with scissors and tape.
  • I host a baked potato bar on Christmas Eve for family and neighbors (I bake the potatoes and each guest brings a topping like chili, bacon, or broccoli), and then I get to use the left-over baked potatoes for the Christmas dinner mashed potatoes the next day.
Tips for getting through the holidays: Just say “no,” be good to myself, do what feels right and what I want to do. I like to do puzzles and spend quiet time... with wine! Also propagate this one!
Well, if you love the holidays as much as I do, I suggest wearing a Santa hat from December 1 on. People will smile at you wherever you go! 
One thing I recommend for those who care for others is to treat yourself to an Epsom salt bath float in an official tank, not the kind we can take in our own bathtub at home. I recommend having the lights and music off so that you can go inside and untangle tension in the muscles and joints as well as quiet the mind. Sleep tends to be greatly improved after Epsom salt bath float. 
I think the other common need is to ratchet down expectations for the holidays, because there are inflated expectations for perfect emotional happiness that is hardly anybody’s experience come this time of year. Those who have less satisfying relationships and support systems tend to suffer the most. Being very mindful of where one actually feels connected and going there and being with whomever is emotionally available is so important this time of year. Being of service to those with less can be very helpful in that respect.
I love baking during the holidays. It gives me peace and allows me to bless others in a personal way. I also, do trivia games over Zoom with my family. We use trivia questions about our family to see how well we know each other or remember family events. This is so much fun, and you will not believe what the youngest members of your family remember about you. 
Last, but not least, is painting. I love paint parties with friends, getting an adult coloring book and listening to holiday music or gospel and just enjoying the day. I hope this helps someone to keep away the holiday blues and create new memories.
Treating myself to a massage. A great escape and way to relax.
If I were to give a suggestion, I would say donating my time to individuals in need. Volunteering at church, a soup kitchen, or at a hospital or senior care facility. There is a positive emotional response that helps us cope with stressors when we are thinking about others.
My mom always did an advent calendar for my brothers and me. It created anticipation and served as a reminder of the meaning of Christmas. I carried on the tradition with my children, even now they are young adults. I shop for little Christmas trinkets and candies all November,  wrap them individually,  put a number on them and ship them off to my daughters. I probably love giving the advent calendar as much as they love receiving it! So many good memories. 
I would say that continuing to honor my commitment to daily movement each day in some way is the best way I stay sane and get through the holidays without having to deal with a big setback come January. It’s really tempting for me to stop working out in November/December because it’s cold outside and because I’m usually not eating as healthy in these months. I find that just committing to even 20 mins a day of non-negotiable movement of some kind de-stresses me and keeps me connected to my ultimate goals of physical health and self-care as well as inspires me to make better food choices each day at a time when there’s a lot of temptation. 
Karaoke with friends and family!
  • Daily afternoon naps are my jam on winter break. 
  • Every year around Christmas everyone in my family sits down to watch “Love Actually.” It doesn't really feel like Christmas without that movie time.
  • Every year, except for once or twice, I've always gone home to San Diego. So, the holiday break for me always means flip-flops, shorts, taco shops, and beach time. 
I love to bake and listen to holiday music with my family. It is also fun to take a night walk with my dog to enjoy my neighborhood’s holiday light displays.
The holidays can be a poignant and sometimes even painful time for people experiencing rejection or estrangement from their families and/or religions of origin.  It is a time when many TBLGQ+ people cultivate chosen/bonus family connections, and find joy in moments of empowerment and connection, sometimes through the cultivation of new traditions. Here are a few songs that might resonate for people looking for comfort and solidarity, especially TBLGQ+ folx. This little list is primarily inspired by Judeo-Christian and womyn's music traditions.   
  • The Christians and the Pagans, by Dar Williams 
  • Sweet Honey in the Rock Christmas songs
  • This Hanukkah, by Club Sofa
  • O Holy Night, with new lyrics by Holly Near
  • Everything Possible, by Fred Small, performed by The Flirtations
  • City Hall or Lullabye for a Stormy Night, both by Vienna Teng
I hope that those who may be struggling with family or religious traditions will take extra good care of themselves and find ways to celebrate and enjoy the holidays that are dear to them.  
One thing I've been recommending to my clients is to plan table games for Thanksgiving. The purpose is two fold: 
  • helps to keep the conversation focused on things that are fun, interesting, and engaging and to help families learn more about one another; especially across generations and
  • helps to avoid conversations that could be contentious, difficult, or political!
Here are a couple of links to what I'm talking about: Thanksgiving Family Feud Game Night and Table Topics Family Gathering.
I have 27 first cousins, and we all get together for the holidays. Last year, because of COVID-19, my family did not have our traditional gathering of 80+ people. There were only four of us around the table, and it felt surreal. Though I missed all the festive parties and visiting with friends and relatives, my inner introvert relished the slower pace. This year, I hope to carefully curate my social schedule by saying no, and by not overextending and overscheduling. Here are my top three tips for making it through the season:
  • Take time to care for yourself. Carve out that YOU time, you will not regret it! Enjoy the beautiful light in the sky by taking a walk at dawn or dusk (a walking meditation is one of my favorite destressers)!
  • Do something for others. Volunteer, help a neighbor, give to a food bank or your favorite nonprofit organization. Compliment someone, let a loved one know how much you care about them, or forgive someone who has wronged you.
  • Create a relaxing environment. A comforting, uplifting and relaxing environment can help you feel calmer and more centered and reduce your stress. I love to decorate (some may claim - overdecorate???) for the holidays, but go minimalist if that is best for you! 
One of my most cherished holiday traditions with the kids (now 3 teenagers and 1 young adult) is dressing in matching pajamas on Christmas Eve and spending the day listening to holiday favorites on the radio while decorating cookies. Each year I am reminded of how swiftly time flies, recalling how just a few years ago the youngest three, covered in icing, were standing on stools to reach the counter and now, still licking sticky fingers, have driving permits and peach fuzz on their upper lips. The holidays are a time for slowing down, and capturing the essence of every moment before it passes us by. I am thankful for these traditions and the reminder to stay present and in the moment. 
My advice:  Slow down and enjoy the moments.  A lot of times, the holidays become about what we have to do instead of what we are actually doing.  Rather than focusing on running from one commitment to the next, focus on being present during the things you are doing.  Try hard to not live in the "I should do..." or "we ought to do...", and enjoy all the moments, big and small, that the holiday season brings.
Taking the time to thank those who have done something good for us is a simple way of feeling good (and creating a positive environment around us). 
Our Financial Aid Office offered some financial tips for the holidays, although they make sense year-round too! Download the PDF.
Our Continuing and Professional Studies Division offered these resources for our list:
While no single approach suits everyone, "Tips to Lower Holiday Stress" is a list of ideas that have been beneficial to many people who find themselves experiencing higher than normal levels of stress this time of year.
Well-known games like Tetris and Bejeweled II are at the center of clinical research trials focusing on anxiety and stress. What do all these anti-stress games seem to have in common? Find out!