When Extended Family Asks Questions

Thanksgiving and winter break present opportunities to do some needed self-care, and they are especially important given the stress of this past semester and recent events. It can be difficult to know how to talk to family and friends about what has been happening at U.Va., or how to manage your own reactions once you are home. Although it can feel hard to disengage from the pressing problems we are facing, it is important to remember that break also needs to be a time to restore one’s energy. As on an airplane, where you are told to place your own air mask before helping others, it is important to remember that by taking care of yourself, you will be better able to effectively engage however you choose going forward.

Here are some ways to address stress over break:

  1. Identify physical needs for your time during break, including adequate sleep, exercise, healthy eating, and relaxation.
  2. Consider your mental and emotional needs during the break, including time to connect with others and/or time for yourself. Choose activities and topics you enjoy, and set limits for how long at a time you will talk or think about subjects that you know will increase your stress.
  3. Set realistic expectations for your time and identify what boundaries or limits you will need to help you meet those expectations.
  4. Be compassionate with yourself and others. Everyone responds differently at stressful times.
  5. Be as open and honest as possible with family and friends about what you need from them. It’s okay to ask for what you need. It is ok to ask them to let you take the lead on both bringing things up and on changing the subject when it feels like it is enough or too much.
  6. Consider taking breaks from social media and the news if you are feeling overwhelmed by issues/problems being discussed by peers or friends. Taking a break does not mean that you do not care, it means that you realize that reading more than feels right will not help.
  7. Allow yourself to focus on issues or areas of interest that you typically don’t have time for during a normal school work week. Take a break from problem analysis and solving for at least part of your break time.
  8. You know best what will give you a break that is fulfilling and restorative. Trust yourself and your plan to achieve that.
  9. If you do want to talk to family and friends in depth, do so -–it is important to seek support and to feel heard. Ask them to listen rather than respond, unless you are seeking advice, as otherwise you may wind up managing others’ reactions rather than your own.

For more helpful info, see our Tips for Mentally Healthy Holidays.

We hope you have a happy holiday!