5 Tips for Navigating the Holidays

The holiday season is almost upon us once again.

I remember the extra pressure of the holiday season when I was doing the doctorate. I was torn between celebrating and relaxing with family and friends and using the time off to be more productive, especially when I was in the dissertation writing phase. If you’re stressing over the holidays for the same reasons, let me offer you some advice.

1. Avoid getting caught up in the holiday hype.

It’s easy to get carried away by the holidays when you are surrounded by all of the buzz. You can avoid being swept away by taking a moment to reflect on what the holidays mean to you. Family is one of my highest values, so I make sure that I clear my schedule to spend large blocks of time with them.  Whatever you decide the holidays mean to you will help you determine what to focus on and how to prioritize your time and energy.

2. Have a plan for your holiday engagement.

Decide exactly what you want to accomplish over the holidays, be that a mix of socializing, relaxing, or being productive. Whatever you need, make a plan for getting it.  Setting your intentions before the holidays arrive helps you stick to your plans instead of being swayed in the moment by the allure of holiday activities. By the way, you are under no obligation to engage in the holidays the same way you have in the past. Being a doctoral student is a special circumstance in your life that you have every right to accommodate. It is OK to say no to activities that don’t align with your needs.

3. Discuss holiday expectations with your loved ones.

Let the people around you know ahead of time what your plan for the holidays looks like, especially if it is different from past years.  Maybe you want to limit the number of functions you attend or the amount of time you spend at a function. Perhaps you want to completely unwind from academia and just don’t want to be asked about your studies. Letting people know how they can support you is a gift for you and for them. Whatever you need, don’t be shy about asking for it.  People can’t read your mind; help them out.

4. Relax if you want to.

Some people are energized by the holiday buzz whereas others get worn out by it. If you want to relax over your holiday break, then plan to do just that. There is no obligation to do more academic work over the holidays. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed.  Don’t waste your time feeling guilty that you have free time you aren’t putting to use writing your dissertation.

5. If you want to take advantage of your free holiday time to ramp up your productivity, then plan for it.

Don’t leave it up to chance by having only a vague notion that you’ll read some more articles or write a bit more of your dissertation. Make a detailed plan and schedule the specific activities you will accomplish on your calendar. If you don’t schedule these activities, it’s likely that at the end of the holiday season you’ll look back and wonder where the time went and have nothing to show for it.

Bonus tip: If you planned to increase your productivity over the holidays and it didn’t happen, don’t beat yourself up over it. Guilt and regret zap your energy. Just move on.