Comment Writer Aliya Andrews discusses the impact of University work on our Christmas plans

Written by aliyagrace
I am a third year University of Birmingham student studying Philosophy.

For many people, the Christmas holidays mean digging out the decorations, stringing up the lights, and putting your feet up to watch Love Actually for the hundredth time. For students, however, the Christmas holidays often serve as a stark reminder of the looming January assessments. The most wonderful time of the year can quickly snowball into the most stressful – I argue that the burden of University deadlines places undue pressure on students over Christmas, and is detrimental to students’ mental health. 

The winter season is crucial for University students, and the Christmas holidays represent a hugely impactful interval in our degrees. For many, the months of November through January see the first wave of important assessments, as well as the emerging January exam period. Undoubtedly, the pressure rises high for students during this stage, and many of us return home with a heavy load of revision and assignments to complete. The worry here is that the Christmas break is supposedly a time for students to rest, recharge, and renew their spirits. But with the sea of responsibilities that students must navigate, how can they maintain the balance?

Numerous students will already experience extra burdens over the Christmas period. Many people return home for the holidays, where suitable study spaces are less accessible. It may be your parents blasting out the Michael Bublé hits while they decorate, or a younger sibling nagging you to watch a Christmas film. On top of that, there are the general Christmas activities and chores to complete. An endless stream of presents to buy, wrap, and probably re-wrap. Countless traditions to fulfil, family reunions to endure, and that work Christmas party that you have to attend. 

I argue that this causes an unbalancing of the scales. Universities place one of the heaviest workloads on students during one of the busiest times of the year. This results in tension between our work commitments and our family commitments. We must either risk falling behind on our work to spend quality time with loved ones, or sacrifice valuable experiences with family and friends to study.. Family members, desperate for our company after a long semester apart, may not wholly understand the extent of our academic obligations. Amid these opposing responsibilities, students are often forced to sacrifice their mental health. 

Tension between our work commitments and our family commitments

I believe that protecting students’ mental health should be the leading priority for Universities. The number of students reporting mental health conditions has increased sevenfold since 2010. Arguably, students’ struggles have been exacerbated by events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis, increasing susceptibility to anxiety and low moods. We are inclined to think that the Christmas season, with its jovial music and joyful celebrations, can alleviate these struggles. Nevertheless, the winter months present their challenges for mental health. 

Protecting students’ mental health should be strongly prioritised over the holidays, yet, the plethora of assignments that must be tackled during the Christmas break reveals a different attitude. I argue that the ever-increasing pressure mounting on students during this period may have devastating effects on our mental health, at a time when it is most endangered. Long hours of revision, a growing to-do list, and the deadlines creeping closer on the calendar can prevent students from enjoying a necessary respite over Christmas. It limits our time to partake in mood-uplifting activities, such as socialising with friends and family, spending time outdoors, and celebrating in festive style. 

Deadlines creeping closer on the calendar can prevent students from enjoying a necessary respite over Christmas

Not only is the Christmas period important for allowing students the time to recharge, but it is a significant reflective period. December through January is a time when students, particularly first-years, make decisions about whether to continue their degrees. A break from usual routines provides an opportunity for students to evaluate their University experience, and thus drop-out rates can rise at this time. Undue academic pressure over the holidays may be weighing heavily on students’ decisions to pursue or abandon their courses.  

With this in mind, it seems that University assignments place a hefty weight on students’ shoulders over the holidays. I believe that they have a responsibility to lessen the load. Whether it be pushing back those January deadlines, providing more well-being resources, or reaching out to students who may be struggling, it is crucial to help students balance their work and mental health. Everyone should be able to enjoy their Christmas break. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, after all.

For more Comment seasonal articles read here:

The Impact of Seasonal Depression

What makes a Christmas film special? 

Frosty First Year: Asking for Help