Photo of a student throwing snow into the air with twinkle lights.

Winter break brings a much-needed sense of relief for many of us. However, transitioning back home, spending time away from campus and being around family for an extended period of time can also be challenging. 

Here are six tips you can use to survive and thrive over winter break. 

#1 Talk through expectations ahead of time

If you’re heading home over break, it’s a good idea to discuss expectations with your family. For instance, you may be expected to follow a curfew, help around the house, attend certain events or take on other responsibilities. Having a conversation before you make it home can help you avoid being caught off guard and unexpected conflict. 

This is also a good opportunity to talk through your own expectations and boundaries. Let your family or friends know what your plans are, including how long you expect to be around and how much one-on-one time you expect to spend together. If you’re uncomfortable attending specific holiday events, let your family or friends know and work together to brainstorm some other ways that you can spend time together. 

#2 Get into a routine

Winter break can be a great time to unwind after a long semester. However, it can also throw us off our normal routines, and the transition between campus life and home life can be jarring. Set yourself up for success all break long by getting into a routine while you’re away. 

Here are some tips to help you get started: 

  • Set a sleep schedule 
    Yeah, we know, it sounds boring. But getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night can help improve your mental and physical health, immunity and stress levels. Over break, try to be consistent when it comes to what time you wake up and go to bed. Your timing doesn’t have to be perfect, but you should try to stay within a 2-hour window of your schedule. If you find that you’re over- or under-sleeping, check out these tips for better sleep

  • Look and plan ahead 
    Your break may be jam-packed with back-to-back events and obligations, or you may find that you have idle time on your hands. Regardless of what your schedule looks like, try to plan out your days and activities out in advance if possible. For instance, you may want to carve out chunks of time to spend quality time with friends or family, go holiday shopping, relax or have some alone time. This will help you prioritize where you spend your time and energy over break. 

  • Focus on small habits 
    Don’t stress about making the perfect routine or schedule. Focusing on small habits that are consistent day to day can still make an impact. For instance, you may decide to go for a short walk in the evenings with your family, read for 30 minutes each night, write a gratitude list in the mornings or text a different friend, family member or loved one each day to see how they’re doing. Committing to these kinds of small acts can give your days a greater sense of structure and purpose. 

#3 Get to know your loved ones again

While it may feel like you haven’t been away from home for that long, you notice changes with your friends or family members. For instance, they may have new hobbies, interests, perspectives, goals and so on.  

Take some time to get to know your loved ones again while you’re at home. Whether you’re seeing friends or family, try asking open-ended questions about their lives while you’ve been away.  

Here are some things you can ask. 

Friends or siblings 

  • How have you been since I last saw you? 
  • What has your college/school experience been like? 
  • Do you have any new friends or hobbies? 
  • Is there anyone you’re going to miss while you’re away from school? 
  • Do you feel like you’ve changed since the fall began? In what ways? 
  • Is there anything you’re looking forward to come spring? 

Parents or family members 

  • How have you been since I last saw you? 
  • Do you have any new friends or hobbies? 
  • What has work/retirement been like the past few months? 
  • Do you have any trips coming up? 
  • Is there anything you’re looking forward to come spring? 
  • Have you noticed that anything has changed since I’ve been away?

#4 Make time for important conversations 

Being at home can give us an opportunity to have important or challenging conversations with our families in person, which is typically better than texts or phone calls. The key is to show up for these conversations in a healthy way.  

Here are some tips to keep in mind: 

  • Give your family members a heads up that you want to have an important discussion. Sometimes, when people are caught off guard, it can make it harder to have productive conversations. That’s why it is usually helpful to give them a heads up and context for what you want to talk to them about before diving in. For instance, maybe you need to talk about your grades, a major change, mental health concerns or a change in career path.  

  • Allow them time to collect their thoughts. Preparing for difficult conversations in advance can help you avoid mincing words, stay on topic and communicate in a more effective way. Let your family know that you’d like to give them time to collect their thoughts before you jump right in. Invite them to the conversation by setting a time and place to chat in advance. 

  • Speak from your own experience. When sharing your perspective with your family, it is usually best to speak from your own experience. One way to do this is to use ‘I’ statements. For instance, you may say something like, “I would like to reduce my courseload for next semester, because I feel overwhelmed by the number of responsibilities I took on this past semester, and I think I would perform better with less going on.” You could also say something like, “My grades aren’t as good as I expected them to be, and I’m worried that it is going to impact our relationship.” 

  • Avoid making assumptions.  Allow your family to share their perspective on the situation at hand, and try to avoid making assumptions about how they feel or how they may handle the news. Instead, ask open-ended questions and stay curious. It’s also important to know that what we hear isn’t always what the other person means. Take time throughout the conversation to restate what you think you heard them say, and ask for clarity if your understanding is off base. 

  • Take a break if needed. Conversations can sometimes become heated or escalate into arguments. This is especially true when there are strong emotions, the stakes feel high or there is a significant difference in opinions or perspectives. If you feel like a conversation is turning into an argument or becoming unproductive, take a time out. Let the person know that it may be time to step away and come back to this conversation later. You may plan to pick back up in 20 minutes or the next day after you both get some space. 

  • Allow for multiple truths. Change doesn't happen overnight, and conversations don't always resolve the way we’d like them to. Progress often takes a series of conversations and a willingness to keep trying. If things are left unresolved or it feels like you’ll never reach an agreement, give yourself and your family member grace by allowing for multiple truths. Let your family know that you appreciate their willingness to talk with you and that you’d like to follow up sometime in the future if possible. It’s important to remember that having differences in opinions doesn’t always mean there is conflict, and seeking to understand someone’s perspective and validate them doesn’t have to mean you agree. 

Get more tips for having tough conversations

#5 Reflect and look forward 

The end of the year is a great time to reflect on our accomplishments and look forward to what the upcoming semester and year have to hold. 

Looking back 

Take some time to think back on your accomplishments, things you’ve overcome and the things you’re most proud of this year. This could include doing well on finals, successfully changing your major, making new friends or simply getting through a tough time. Write these types of items in a list. When you’re done, take some time to celebrate all of the things you did this past year, no matter how small.  

Looking forward  

Take some time to think about what you hope to accomplish over the next few months or year. Perhaps you’d like to improve your grades, land a job or internship, be more active or get more involved on campus. Identify your goals and break them down into smaller milestones. For instance, if your goal is to get a summer internship, think about the things you’ll need to do to get there. This could include researching companies, updating your resume, attending a mock interview and exploring possible positions. Use these milestones to work backwards and create a timeline for yourself for when you’d like to complete each task by, and remember to celebrate the steps you take along the way to your end goal.  

Want to have some extra fun this year?  

Try creating a bucket list for yourself of things you’d like to do over the next 12 months. This could include things like going to a specific sporting event, volunteering for a cause you care about, baking your first cheesecake, hiking a trail you’ve been wanting to tackle or anything you’d like! As you write down your list, think about how you can check one thing off of your bucket list each month so you can plan ahead and improve your chances of success. 

#6 Reach out for support 

If you’re struggling over winter break, there are resources on campus that can still support you. Here are a few you can take advantage of over break. 

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS)

CAPS will provide individual appointments and groups over winter break. They can also help connect you with a local provider if you’re staying somewhere outside the state of Colorado.  

*If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please call the CAPS crisis line and 303-492-2277 (24/7).


AcademicLiveCare (ALC) is a telehealth platform that allows students, staff and faculty to schedule and attend free counseling, psychiatry, nutrition and medical appointments from anywhere.  

*This program is free regardless of your insurance plan.  

Student Support and Case Management (SSCM)

SSCM is here to help students identify issues and appropriate resources. They also work collaboratively with students to develop an action plan. This is a great option for those who would like someone to reach out to another student or friend directly for support. 


WellTrack is a free app available to all CU Boulder students. WellTrack is designed to help you identify, understand and address concerns related to stress, anxiety and/or depression. Their self-guided programs provide an informative and interactive way to manage your mental health and learn about additional resources.

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential information, consultations, support, advocacy and short-term trauma counseling services for students, staff and faculty who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic, disturbing or life-disruptive event. This includes things like familial abuse, intimate partner abuse, stalking, harassment, sexual assault and more.