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Students say they overcome holiday blues with exercise and friends

Illustration of an unhappy snowman melting in the snow

With the arrival of Winter Break, many of BYU–Hawaii’s students, particularly those on the IWORK program, will spend the holidays in Laie. Holiday depression, or “holiday blues,” can be a time of joy, but it can also be a time of “sadness, self-reflection, loneliness, and anxiety,” according to WebMD. Students said they believed the best way to counter the holiday blues involved spending time with friends and staying active.

For those staying in Laie for the holiday break, Libby Templeton, a senior from Washington majoring in social studies education, said, “I think it’s really hard for students at this school. There are either students who are away from their families feeling lonely, or there are people who have created families here in Hawaii and leave them to go back to the mainland. I feel it causes us to feel lost and wonder where we really belong.”

The Winter Break, which began after graduation on Dec. 13 and lasts a week past New Year’s Day on Jan. 8, leaves the campus depleted of students, many of them on the Mainland, for a little over three weeks. With many students gone and no classes in session, Justin Lee, a sophomore from Malaysia majoring in psychology, said he believed the mix of homesickness and having little to do could potentially cause an individual to feel depressed.

“I know most students here are out on their own for the first time in their lives,” said Lee. “Having to take care of themselves and having to own up to their responsibilities does bring up quite a lot of stress.

“Couple it with not having family around during the holidays and, in this context, Christmas, which the majority would agree is best spent with family members, it would be very easy for someone to feel down and lonely.”

Additionally, Ana Tucunduva, a junior from Brazil also majoring in psychology, described how the thought of missing out on one’s cherished family traditions could contribute to feeling “blue” during the holidays. “Each one of us has certain traditions during Christmas. We eat with our family, everyone gathers together, we play games, watch certain movies and so on.

“But not all of us are lucky enough to go home, so we just stay. We might become depressed because we’ll remember the good times our family is having and wish we were there.”

Having no classes to go to might also contribute to a student’s holiday sadness. According to Stephen English, a freshman from Florida majoring in communications, a lack of socialization can prove to be crippling to someone’s happiness.

“If their friends from school aren’t from the same place and go home, a person could end up getting lonely. Other factors might include being worried about finances, gift-giving and other issues,” he added.

One of those other issues, in particular, was Seasonal Affective Disorder. Templeton, being from Washington, said she experienced the disorder in her home state.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder is when the weather, typically the lack of sunlight, causes mood changes. People who are typically very healthy may show signs of depression or anxiety. People with depression and anxiety have worse symptoms because of it.”

In a state such as Washington, individuals are more susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is due to more severe seasonal changes compared with Hawaii, which boasts a warm climate and plenty of sunlight.

To combat the disorder, Templeton and others in Washington and various areas affected by heavy winter weather use lightboxes, which are boxes filled with bright lights intended to mimic outdoor light. They provide the user with Vitamin D to help. “Others use medication, exercise, or therapy, but personally, I’d rather run away to Hawaii,” she admitted.

One student staying in Laie for the entire break is Christina Augurea, a freshman from Papua New Guinea majoring in political science. She explained how she hasn't spent Christmas with her family in Papua New Guinea since before her mission nearly three years ago, and celebrating the holidays away from her family was “like erasing all those loving memories of Christmas each time I’m away.”

To counter depression during the holidays, English described how he believed it essential for students to look to others for support. “Students can turn to their wards and engage with them. It’s an opportunity to make new friends if their friends are gone over the break. I’d want them to move along their levels of personal connections as they’re available.”

Lee said he felt the likelihood of an individual getting depressed during the holiday season varied from person to person. “The ones who are independent or more capable of adjusting to life here on campus won't suffer as greatly. But for sure, being home for Christmas beats any form of staying here on campus.

“I would say keep yourself busy. Find people to spend time with during the break. Social support is a major deterrent for being lonely and homesick. I personally play video games and badminton. I would also recommend contacting family back home. We have the technology and resources to do so, so why not just use it to your advantage?”

Augurea, who shared she was not sure what she would do with her winter break, said she was determined to stay active. “If on holidays I do nothing, it makes me want to just stay in my room and causes me to sleep, wake up, and do nothing.

“Happiness is a choice. I just have to live in the moment. If something fun happens, I’ll go out and try to involve myself, but I’ll definitely take a little time for myself.”