Coping with the Stress of the Holiday Season

Stress comes in all forms during the holiday season—overcrowded malls, last minute gifts to buy, skyrocketing plane ticket prices. We asked some principals if they experience an increase in stress at their schools during this time and here’s what they had to say.

Missouri Principal Teresa Tulipana writes: Stress is a reality of the holiday season. For some students, there is the uncertainty of what the holidays will bring and the prospect of being home for an extended period of time. Whether students will admit it or not, the structure of the school day gives them great comfort. Holidays are also stressful for parents because financial concerns and added responsibilities can create a great burden. Couple this with staff members who are experiencing similar stressors and a full calendar, and stress will definitely impact a school. I personally combat it by increasing my level of organization and focus on what’s really important—the people in the school and in my life. To help my staff combat the stress, I regularly talk about the stresses they may encounter, model a calm demeanor, and help them celebrate the joys of the season. I also give my staff “The Gift of Time.” This gift, in the form of a poem and candy cane, announces that all faculty meetings in December have been cancelled. Based on the reactions of the staff, you would have thought I bought them each a brand new car! Small gestures of understanding can make a huge difference when a school experiences a stressful time.

Oklahoma Principal Jan Borelli writes: I am principal at an urban school (99 percent of the children receive free- and reduced-lunch) with the highest incidence of child abuse for our county in our attendance area. Some children "act out" the problems they experience in the home while others withdraw and are sad. My faculty and I actively work to bring happiness and joy to the children; and the students at a local private high school adopt our children and come to the school to provide a Christmas (most of our children won't have one) and individual attention for the morning. Instead of focusing on our own stress, my faculty and I make a concerted effort to our children. Of course, the five pounds we gain from eating all the food during this time may be from stress!

Montana Principal Pat Hould writes: I have never felt that the stress level for my school as a whole increase during this time of year. I do believe that stress levels increase for some individual students. Students who have had significant loss in their lives, or who have had trauma that has been detrimental to their immediate families, seem to struggle during the holiday season. While most of my students think of the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays as a time for friends and families to gather, and as a time to exchange gifts, those students whose families have financial challenges struggle. I must say however, that the mere anticipation of the Christmas break does bring a certain "circus energy" to the last few school days in December!