Bah Humbug

Jennifer Nacin

Jingle bells, dancing sugar plums and roasting chestnuts may be cliche holiday ingredients, but the holidays can be less than jolly for college students staring down finals, shopping and travel.

Robyn Zakalik, stress management counselor for the ISU Wellness Center, said this time of year can be especially stressful for students.

One reason for stress is not having enough money to buy loved ones the perfect gift.

“A lot of people feel obligated to spend money on gifts,” Zakalik said. “I have seen that a lot in therapy sessions — that people want to buy gifts for people that they can’t buy.”

Students who don’t feel as jolly as they think they should be also factors into holiday stress levels, Zakalik said.

“If it’s not the way you pictured it or experienced it in the way you used to, it can bring feelings of disappointment or sadness,” she said.

Zakalik said the stress issue she sees more than any other during the holidays is family dynamics.

Laura Knowles, staff nurse at Thielen Student Health Center, said not being able to go home for the holidays can be a downer for students.

“We worry about that with some of our international students because they may not have as many family members around as their friends here do,” Knowles said.

The New Year’s Eve kiss can also bring up feelings of loneliness if there is no one to kiss, she said.

Zakalik said the best ways to combat holiday stress are to take focus away from the value of money or gifts, to clarify expectations of the holidays so they are realistic, to think of ways to fill expectations of the holidays and to think nontraditionally about the holidays in case something doesn’t go the way it usually does.

Judy Trumpy, dietitian for Thielen Student Health Center, said weight gain is common during this time of year.

“It’s usually always thought that people gain five to 10 pounds,” Trumpy said. “But it’s really only one to two pounds gained, and people tend to keep it on.”

Trumpy said going home and not being accustomed to eating family meals and eating food high in fat and sugar can cause this weight gain. She added that keeping a daily food diary and weighing oneself no more than once a week can help to maintain current weight.

“Writing it down will curve the propensity to chow down and eat anything that one finds,” Trumpy said.

She said party hosts should serve healthy foods for guests and people should be aware that alcoholic beverages supply more calories and increase appetite. She added that students should try to stay as physically active as possible over break.

Another holiday problem is that winter weather and lack of sunlight can affect moods, Knowles said.

“You always worry about people with Seasonal Affective Disorder; they are more at risk during the holidays because of the lack of sunlight,” she said. “These people are more likely to have an increase in depression or feelings of sadness.”

Knowles said high stress levels can cause people to lose weight and may increase susceptibility to illness.

“Stress can decrease the immune system,” Knowles said. “Certain people that are already at high risk of health problems can be at great risk. This is a lovely time of year for the cold, sinus, flu stuff anyway.”

She said being around children is a “breeding ground for bugs,” since children usually get sick.

The best way to prevent illness is to wash hands regularly and take preventative measures if symptoms are noticed, she said.