University Counseling Service (UCS) Mental Health Newsletter -
November 2016
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Are You Ready For

It’s that time of year, again!

Just a few weeks ago we were creating schedules, meeting new people, and adjusting to campus life at UI.  Being mindful of the present moment, we notice the leaves change, seasonal allergies decrease, and summer clothing moving to the back of our closets.  It is time to reflect on how we want to use our upcoming winter break.  For this edition of Shrink Rap, we focus on engagement and change during winter break.  Throughout this discussion, we will be incorporating some helpful online articles focused on surviving winter break.

Winter Break – Going Home

Returning to our destinations during winter break requires us to engage with friends, family, romantic partners, mentors and many others.One thing to remember is that we are new people entering these places with what may be familiar yet now through a different lens. Some questions to ponder:How have you grown since your last visit with these significant people and places?What would you like to share with them about your growth, development, and needs in your identity as a college student and emerging professional?For some of us these conversations are easy and for others it may be more challenging.A recent article by, Huffington Post, suggests some tips that might be helpful as you transition out of finals.  Winter break is a time for rest and recuperation.  For each individual this may look different.  What is most important is that we engage in self-care to prepare ourselves to return rested, balanced, and ready to enter another academic semester.  Mental Health America provides information on healthy coping strategies to survive winter break. 

So, you return home for winter break.Now what?  Engagement with positive supports can be a helpful way to recover from finals.  For extroverted individuals it may be rejuvenating to be surrounded by others as much as possible.  For more introverted individuals, it may mean reserving enough time to rejuvenate in a space less occupied.  No matter how you are energized, it is important that you engage in conversation that is productive and enriching.  This can be challenging as we may be meeting new people or returning home with fresh new perspectives.  Two students' perspectives and experiences are provided in the following blogs with tips on how they survived winter break:
Here are some suggestions from the UCS Website Self Help Section:
Take some time to consider the challenges and possibilities as you embark on Winter Break. 
~Mercedes Santana, M.Ed.; UCS Doctoral Intern

Winter Break is often a very stressful period for individuals with food and weight concerns.

The emphasis on spending time with family and celebrating with food can be very distressing. To provide some relief, National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) compiled a list of holiday resources and advice. Please enjoy!

Considerations for a Better Winter Break at Home

Anthony Bettendorf - Assistant Director Residence Education
University of Iowa Housing and Dining


Your first semester of college is under your belt, and you are excited to be going home for winter break!  I hear many students express these sentiments every year.  It is important to encourage students to reflect and think about their winter break before going home as they may encounter some unexpected frustrations.  Planning ahead and thinking about these before going home can allow students to have a restful more successful break.  Below are some items for students to consider:
  • Think about transitioning back home to your families schedule, expectations, and rules.  How might you be expected to help with siblings or other family members?  What does that mean for you?  How will you adjust?  What does your family’s normal routine look like?  How will you adjust the routine you have had during the semester to blend back in with your family?
  • If you are not working over winter break, you may also find yourself with a lot of free time.  You may want to think ahead, and make some lists or plans of the things you would like to do over break. 
  • Think about finances.  Your family may have purchased things for you in the past, but now that you are on your own at college, they may expect you to buy a few more of your own things.
  • Think about family dynamics.  Have the dynamics of your family changed with you no longer at home?  How will you adjust to these dynamics?  Are there conflicts that happen regularly that you should be prepared to handle?  Are family gatherings stressful?  You can think in advance about conversations or conflicts and try to plan out how you will respond. 

Winter Break – Staying Here

International Students and Winter Break

Lee Seedorf - Senior Associate Director
International Student and Scholar Services

Winter break is a time that most members of the UI community anticipate, including international students.  In the past, few international students could return to their home countries.  Fortunately many international students and their families can now afford to have them return home for that brief period.  However, this can make the pool of students who do stay behind even smaller and in some cases lonely.  Some options to keep international students engaged over break include:
  • Friends of International Students - a community organization nearing its 50th anniversary, FIS matches international students with local residents to engage in activities together and get to know each other and learn about each other’s culture.  Often those participating in the program will invite their international student matches to their homes for dinners or engage in a variety of activities over break.  FIS is always looking for more local hosts, and more information can be found at
  • Friends Without Borders - A similar program matching international with domestic students can provide connections over the winter break, particularly if both students stay in town or one student invites the other to engage in travel or activities with them.
  • Recreational Activities - Sometimes the UI Recreation Services program has offered trips over winter break.  A new student organization, ISORA (International Student Outdoor Recreation Association) was recently created by a team of international and domestic students to promote more engagement in recreational activities together.
  • Special Events - Last winter ISSS sponsored a Rose Bowl watching party on January 1.  Several dozen international students attended, with food provided and an explanation of American football given by ISSS staff.
Yet there currently are no consistent, regular programs for winter break.  This is something ISSS would like to change, and we are considering ways to assess how many students plan to remain in Iowa City over the break and what types of activities may be of interest.  We also welcome input from readers.  Feel free to contact

Some International Students share their perspective on Surviving Winter and Winter Break:

From UCS website: Surviving and Celebrating An Iowa Winter
So what does this mean for University of Iowa students?  It means there are many students who face challenges as it relates to transition and interaction with family during winter break.  It also means that students can employ adaptive coping strategies to manage stress.  It is very important to take care of yourself and allow yourself to engage in self-care during the time off.  At the Counseling Center (UCS), we can help students get emotional support and work with students to explore various coping strategies.  We offer individual counseling or group counseling that can be helpful for many students.  Call 319 335-7294 to schedule a consultation with a UCS staff member to discuss how we can help you.

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