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NAIT counselling helps students cope with holiday struggles

By Admin User on December 13, 2019

With the holiday break around the corner, staff and students are counting down the days until the time off begins. But for some students, the days away from school can be more difficult than working through the grind of school work.

“We have a lot of students here who really want to come to school because it gives them something else to think about besides the fact that they’re chronically depressed or chronically anxious,” said Tanya Spencer, head of counselling services at NAIT.

Flynn the therapy dog at NAIT’s Counselling Services Office

Many of the students Spencer sees in counselling are glad to return to school in January because it signals the return to structure and providing them with scheduled reasons to get out of bed in the morning. 

“That break is a break from schoolwork, but it might not be a break from their difficulties.”

Tanya Spencer, head of counselling services at NAIT

Another issue that Spencer sees students struggle with over the holidays is pressure from their family.

“We have a fair share of clients who are intimidated by the holidays, because it means going home,” said Spencer. “In a school context, if I may not have done as well as I would have liked, maybe my family’s paying for my tuition and I failed and I’m reluctant to share that news.”

Student well-being facilitator at NAIT and registered nurse, Linda Shaw, explains that it is important for people to set up boundaries and prepare themselves for how they are going to avoid or change the subject when “hot topics” arise in family conversation. 

“I see a lot of students struggle with their families having a set value system and beliefs and they are not in that category, they are in a category that their family considers wrong and that can be a struggle for them because they want the love of their family but they can’t deny who they are,” said Shaw.

For anyone with questions about beliefs and values this Christmas season, NAIT also has a chaplaincy service for staff and students.

“Our chaplains are very learned people, they won’t try to recruit anybody,” said Spencer. “But they are open to any question under the sun and any discussion.”

“The holidays are one of those times where sometimes people don’t believe what their family does and they aren’t sure if they should believe something different and have a lot of questions around that.”

Both Shaw and Spencer spoke of the importance of finding one’s own value in the holiday season. They said it is essential for staff and students to rest. To prioritize this, they recommend finding a balance in holiday activities. 

“What does somebody really value about the holidays,” said Spencer. “Is it the chance to give gifts because you like to indulge in other people, is it the chance to spend time together and have a few laughs? Is that better accomplished by going out for coffee or going out for a walk at the Leg?”

Christmas lights at the Legislature

Shaw said that she hears the expression ‘I need a holiday for my holiday” often when the January term begins. 

“Don’t over extend yourself. Sometimes people are trying to fill so much into that break that they don’t give themselves a chance to recover, rest and rejuvenate,” said Shaw.

Shaw and Spencer encourage people to focus on protecting and caring for themselves over the holiday. A few places where people can find assistance include:

  • An email to will send an automated reply outlining services available after hours in the community.
  • Kids Help Phone, a service not just for children, is also a helpful resources that people can also text rather than making a phone call, if they prefer.
  • Kingsway Royal Alex offers a 24/7 mental health clinic.
  • The NAITSA Health and Dental plan also covers online counselling services. Students can go to My Wellness Plan and access video-call counselling services. If students see a different counsellor on every call it is free for students under the plan. To request the same counsellor it is a $7.50 fee per session for students under coverage.

Shaw and Spencer recognize that students can be on a tight budget. They recommend the many free things to do around the city to take in the festivities on their own time without breaking the bank.



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