While I enjoy spending time with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday, I have to admit that I look forward to switching off my brain for just a couple days. That isn’t easy though, because this is often the one time of year I get to see them, and I want to hear about their lives and tell them about my own.
For Mary Washington students, this can be a welcome break just before the start of finals. Many students, however, find themselves more stressed about this break than other students. Over the years, I’ve found there are two main reasons why some students find Thanksgiving break difficult: they are exhausted from a busy semester and they come home to an understandably curious group of family and friends asking about the future. Fortunately, the purpose of Thanksgiving is guidance to help us enjoy the holiday.
Earlier this week, it was announced that since August 21, 2019, over 600 events for students on campus sponsored or organized by UMW’s Division of Student Involvement. That averages to about 8 events per day of varying sizes and topics. And that number doesn’t include athletic events, department related events, the 130 events sponsored by the Career Center, and more. Research shows that student engagement outside of the classroom correlates positively with success in college. On top of that, many of these events are created and managed by students and student groups, which is great experience.
Just thinking about the amount of information and expectations students face every day is exhausting. And thinking back to my anxiety around the finals and project due just after Thanksgiving, I’m sure many of our students might find it difficult to fully relax.
Thanksgiving break is the first time that family and friends have to hear about their students’ experiences in colleges and plans for the future. It’s human nature to be curious and offer support. For many of our students, though, well-intentioned questions about their future can create stress or anxiety, and make it more difficult for them to enjoy time with family and friends. And hearing about their friends’ great experiences at other institutions can lead to doubts about the decisions they have made.
Fortunately, the very purpose of Thanksgiving offers guidance for all of us when we feel overwhelmed: gratitude. Awareness of and gratitude for who we are now is a great way open up mental and emotional space for the positives in out lives. Doing that increases the amount of joy I experience with my family and helps me relax. This also gives me a chance to appreciate what I accomplished and what went well over the last year instead of obsessing about my perceived failures. Research shows that focusing on strengths and positives is healthier mentally and physically, and generates more confidence going into the finals season.
Thank you for all you do in support of your students and UMW. And best wishes for a relaxing, gratitude-filled holiday.
Dr. Paul Binkley, Executive Director, UMW Center for Career & Professional Development