By Gabriella Sortirou
Chris Rea’s iconic song ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ has become one of my all time favourite festive songs since moving to Scotland for university four long years ago. I’ve always been a sucker for Christmas music (I have to actually force myself to wait until an appropriate time to start listening to it) but Driving Home for Christmas immediately became more meaningful when I could listen to it looking out of an Easyjet window as I journeyed home for my winter break. However, like a lot of things this year, getting home for the festive period is going to be a lot more complicated for many students.
University students have been the subject of lots of debate over the past few months. From the A-level fiasco, being pressured to move into accommodation despite a general environment of incredible uncertainty, and completing degrees via Microsoft Teams, it has not been an easy ride for students. The cherry on the cake came recently in the form of yet another government announcement which outlined the very complex process that we’re expected to undertake so as to get ourselves back home in time for mum’s roast potatoes.
The government in England has outlined a specific window for travelling. December 3rd – 9th is now the official ‘student travel window’ in which students should make their journeys home as they will have just completed the four week lockdown period and therefore will carry minimum risk of bringing the virus with them. Within this period individual universities will have recommended travel dates in order to stagger travelling which, again, aims to reduce the risks involved with the spreading of COVID-19. However, for many this does not offer any reassurance of getting home. For some, the idea of completing coursework deadlines with their mum trying to vacuum in the background may fill them with horror (myself included) and so returning home could have a negative impact on academic performance. The choice between good grades and being at home for Christmas is not an easy one. Others may have a difficult home life and are now having to face spending prolonged time in such an environment. Financial pressures, vulnerable family members or further travel restrictions will also continue to affect many people. The Christmas period this year is sadly a time for making many difficult decisions.
The pressure that exists around Christmas time will only make these things feel even tougher. December is widely lauded as the happiest time of the year: in which every meal contains chocolate and every waking moment is accompanied by the background hum of Mariah Carey. Such pressure will inevitably make those who have already been experiencing feelings of loneliness feel more isolated than ever and mental health is likely to reach an all time low.
However, all is not lost. There are many many things that can be done to help make this time as festive and cheerful for everyone as possible. Reaching out to loved ones, even if you may not be in the same room, city or country is as important as ever. By this point I think it’s safe to say that we all have gotten to grips with some form of online call service whether it be Zoom, Facetime or even a phone call. Don’t disregard these conversations, long or short, as they will keep you connected to what’s going on with those you care about the most. And you never know, they might be feeling as out of sorts as you do and so checking in with them will help both sides of the conversation.
Equally, don’t be afraid to set some boundaries. It’s okay to ask your dad to not send photos of the Christmas dinner if it’s only going to increase feelings of alienation and loneliness. Finding a balance that works for you is crucial.
Virtual parties are going to be all the rage this year so join the masses and host your own. Invite your nearest and dearest, encourage everyone to don some sparkles, pour yourself a glass of mulled wine and celebrate the closing of this very peculiar old year with your loved ones. No need to fret about extortionate taxis or a long schlep home either, when you’re ready to wind down bed and your pyjamas are close to hand. .
Forming bubbles may be a practical way to get some human contact over the festive period. Familiarise yourself with the current guidelines and don’t hesitate to reach out to neighbours, friends, family members who you may be able to form a social bubble with. You never know, you may get closer to people that you wouldn’t have done otherwise and find a group that you may even want to spend the 25th with. Christmas spirit is all about camaraderie and kinship and social bubbles might represent a new way of celebrating these qualities.
There are also many organisations that are offering professional guidance to those feeling lost and lonely over the upcoming months. There is no issue too small to warrant looking for someone to talk to if it’s affecting your mental health in any way, even if you just want a little bit of a chat with someone. You could contact your local GP who may be able to offer guidance and give you a referral if you are unsure of who to contact. Other mental health resources available are Nightline, an active listening service who have established teams on many university campuses across the UK. They can be called at 01334 462266 or emailed if you’d prefer. If you find yourself struggling to cope at any time you can contact Samaritans, a registered charity that provides emotional support to anyone suffering with emotional distress. They can be reached 24/7 by calling 116 123. If you would prefer to speak to someone via text message, Crisis Text Line can be accessed 24/7 in the UK by texting SHOUT to 85258. You are worthy of support and there’s always someone there to listen to whatever you need to say.
Whilst it may not be a usual Christmas, don’t be afraid to embrace a different type of festive cheer this year. So whilst it may not be the best Christmas ever, there are ways to alleviate the strangeness , and people and organizations on hand to offer support. Let’s hope that Father Christmas will make up for 2020 by giving us all everything we asked for this year – fingers crossed!