The Challenges of College Breaks

By Eliza Beird, MSW Intern

College breaks can already be a complicated planning process for students. Trying to balance jobs, family, and finances, student-athletes have to consider additional factors such as how and where to train, going on training trips, and competitions, which can lead to increased stress, excitement, or both. On top of the training considerations that breaks pose for student-athletes, there is also the more global challenge of navigating the complexities that exist for everyone with the concept of going, or being unable to go home.

Society has pushed the idea that home is often a “metaphor for ease and comfort” (Kirsch, 2021). The predictable drawing of a triangle, a square, a couple small windows, and a door — simple and uncomplicated (Kirsch, 2021). For some, going home is a place of safety and rest, of comfort and support. The fact of the matter is, however, that home is not always this simple picture. It can be complicated, messy, and can elicit strikingly different emotions for many. Home can be really great or really hard, or it might not even be possible to go home.

Individuals may face a variety of challenges that make the concept of home hard such as:

  • Strained/unhealthy family dynamics
  • Grief and loss
  • Increased challenges with mental health
  • Heightened feelings of loneliness
  • Financial insecurity
  • Excessive criticism, high levels of control, lack of empathy, and manipulation
  • Inability to go home due to being an international student, or practice/competition schedule
  • Homelessness
  • Abusive/unsafe environment
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Unsupportive LGBTQ+ environment
  • Additional extenuating circumstances

Whether you are excited for, conflicted about, or unable to go home for this upcoming break, you are not alone.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, there are opportunities to plan for however you’re spending your break or whatever home looks like for you. Because of the varying challenges that may come with navigating school breaks, handling and managing time off is not always uniform. Whatever you may be feeling with the approach of break, and whatever the circumstances, we encourage all to plan ahead in order to prioritize well-being and safety. This planning process could be anything from acknowledging how you feel about the upcoming break to setting boundaries with a caregiver/guardian before going home, to getting a job or taking classes over the summer in Ann Arbor. It could be a trip with peers, asking to go home with a teammate, or modifying the amount of break spent at home. Whatever your plans may be, if you find yourself having concerns, consider the ideas outlined below to start thinking about ways to make your environment as safe as possible for your physical and mental well-being.

By mapping out resources and recruiting support systems, it allows for quick action in stressful situations. Even just identifying the options available to us may give peace of mind regardless of whether we’re heading home or staying on campus.

Steps to Consider while Creating an Action Plan for School Breaks:

Look for signals. Are there any indicators that a situation is, or might become, unhelpful or unsafe? These can be specific conversation topics, a particular behavior from yourself or a family member, the presence of substances, a certain mood, visits from others and so much more. These situations or triggers can impact reactions, and sometimes our reactions can impact the event. When a thought, feeling, or behavior is unhelpful to us, is there anything we can do to notice, and change it? Oftentimes, we do not have the opportunity to change the situation that may be causing stress, anxiety, or other overwhelming emotions. However, if we can practice identifying when a scenario leads to thoughts and feelings that are not useful, we can start to control the things we can change, such as our actions and responses. To learn more and practice this, check out this video: Identifying and Reframing Negative Thoughts

Identify tools you already have. If you know you are going back to a challenging environment or begin to notice some of your signals that something around isn’t helpful, what skills or tools do you have to manage this? What is in your control? Do you have activities that can help bring down emotions and/or provide distraction such as exercising, reading, going for a walk, or hanging out with friends? Do you have any coping mechanisms that might help you regulate your feelings? Sometimes by looking for distractions or utilizing skills we already have, we can better manage our own thoughts/emotions to help keep ourselves safe, respond effectively, and create a more helpful environment. (Here are some you could try if you need ideas: Athletes Connected “Skills and Strategies” & The 10 Second Breath).

Identify support systems and community resources around you. Utilizing people can be helpful for both a distraction tactic and active or moral support. Maybe you have siblings, friends, extended family members, or other trusted confidants in your surrounding community that could serve as an escape or support during conflicts or troubling times. These support networks may provide a way to create space between yourself and others or situations that are difficult to navigate, or they may simply offer helpful distractions. If you don’t have anyone nearby, are there other people you can reach out to via phone, FaceTime, Zoom, etc.? Even if they cannot remove you from a particular circumstance, they may be able to serve as a distraction from the stress/tension, and offer connection and support.

It may also be beneficial to locate and identify resources in your community that could aid and offer support. This could be community mental health organizations, area crisis numbers, recreational leagues, domestic violence shelters, outreach support programs, local mental health professionals, various clubs or social organizations. These resources could also be helpful in building and utilizing a social network while you’re away from home if you’re unable to go back. By mapping out resources and recruiting support systems, it allows for quick action in stressful situations. Even just identifying the options available to us may give peace of mind regardless of whether we’re heading home or staying on campus.

If you are concerned about or are having difficulty navigating breaks from school, reach out to the Athletic Counseling Team or other professionals who can assist in processing feelings, building skills, and identifying resources.



Being part of the LGBTQ+ community comes with its own unique challenges that may differ from other experiences when visiting home. For more resources, information, and advice for this particular situation, please visit: Spectrum Center “A Guide for Going Home for Break”

International Students

As an international student, there might not be an opportunity to go home over school breaks due to a variety of reasons. This particular situation can bring forward unique feelings and stressors that others may not fully understand. For insight and tips for this situation, listen to this Podcast: U-M CAPS “International Students and Managing the Winter Break”

Even More Resources and Information:

Information on Student Homelessness

U-M CAPS “Holiday Disruptions”

U-M CAPS Podcast “Managing the Holiday Vibe” 


About the Author
Eliza Beird is an MSW Intern for the U-M Athletic Counseling Team. She graduated from Hope College in 2019 with a BA in Exercise Science, during which time she was a member of their women’s soccer team and began her interest in student-athlete mental health. After graduating from Hope, she interned with the United Stated Olympic and Paralympic Committee in Chula Vista, CA. She is currently pursuing her MSW at U-M.




Kekauoha, A. (2020, April 16). How to cope with being home again. Stanford News.

Kirsh, M. (2021, March 3). What is home? The New York Times.

University of Michigan CAPS. (n.d). Holiday disruptions. Student Life Counseling and Psychological Services.