Combatting the Post-Holiday Blues

Article by David Roos, Ed.D, MBA, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs for the Southern Utah Campus, and Kathy Killian-Harmon, LMFT, Mental Health and Wellness Counselor for the Southern Utah Campus. 

By the time our students read this, they will be in the thick of their GI and ENDO courses and the holiday break will seem like a distant memory.  Many of us, including medical students, experience sadness when the holidays are over. The holiday season can be an emotional time, whether we loved the family gatherings or hated them, or spent the winter break doing research (yes, it does happen!). Given that the “post-holiday blues” are such a common phenomenon, how do we combat them? A quick Google search provides a myriad of recommendations, from setting “big audacious goals” to planning the next get-away vacation, or even planting a tree.

For medical students, perhaps the best advice aligns with how to avoid medical school burnout. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), almost 45 percent of medical students experience burnout. Students recognize that burnout is real and that the pressures and workload that lead to it are not going away. In an AMA article titled “How med students avoid burnout”, medical students were polled and offered the following common-sense recommendations:

  • Exercise, meditate, eat and sleep. As simple as this sounds, these are critical. Even when cramming for an exam, it’s better for your mind and body to get the sleep that you need to perform well than it is to stay up all night studying.
  • Your peer network can do more than you think. Talk with your fellow students and support them as well. Don’t be afraid to say that you’re exhausted or that you feel like you are experiencing burnout.
  • Take advantage of the student-wellness support systems at the school. At RVU, this includes student life activities, mental health support, and student clubs and organizations. Advisors can also help with fine-tuning test and study strategies.

Roos article photoIn addition to fighting burnout, psychologists recommend that avoiding the post-holiday blues may be as straightforward as understanding our emotional cycles and managing them wisely. Feeling disappointed after a big event (holiday, vacation, wedding) is actually common and a natural human response. It’s called “post-holiday” normalization defined as an adjustment following a changing life experience.  According to psychologist Melissa Weinberg, the emotional descent is not necessarily something to lament. Instead of resisting disappointment, we should accept it, reflect on what we expected and what we experienced, try to identify the gap between the two, and move on. In short, we need to practice more “mindfulness” and kindness to ourselves as we review our reactions to life’s experiences. Mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.

Good luck to all of our RVU family as we move on into Spring Semester 2019, and especially to our students as they do the hard but meaningful work to become excellent Osteopathic Physicians.

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