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Winter is Coming: Keep that Volunteer Spirit Warm

Phil Randall & Judi Gibbons from the Student Counseling Center provide tips and things to remember as we wrap up the semester and students prepare to return home for the winter break. 


The spring felt tense. The summer, uncertain. The fall–exhausting. Nobody expected 2020 to unfold this way and the upcoming winter break feels much deserved. The Student Counseling Center has been providing our full array of services to students this semester, and we hear you. Students across the UT community have been juggling the academic, social, and personal challenges posed by COVID while also navigating the usual stress of college. The coming weeks may be challenging, so here are a few tips to guide your transition home. 

During finals, keep tabs on your stress level. Ask others to check in on you and return the favor for them. Take a moment each day to check in with yourself and figure out where you are on the stress curve. Be proactive with your stress management, caring for yourself before you think you need it, and especially when it feels like you don’t have the time. You will be much more productive in your final exam stretch with a good night of sleep, a healthy meal, and staying connected to your support network. 

The long time between semesters offers a time to rest, but don’t succumb to complacency. Keep a routine as best you can during this time – about the same time to wake and sleep, exercise, and eat. Keep that routine AT LEAST until you finish finals, but hopefully, all break long. Establish habits you want to continue in the spring.  

After finals, take some time to reflect on the semester — what worked for you this semester, and what didn’t; ask how you can set yourself up for success in the spring semester. Look forward. What is coming up next semester or year that you can get a head start on? You might create or refine your resume, investigate places to do internships, or look for scholarships. 

Find a project! Many of us have something that’s waiting until we have enough time… well this is it!  Maybe an art or craft project, help your mom organize old family photos, do maintenance on your car or home, read a non-school book, make an exercise habit, or just do that ”thing” you’ve been putting off too long.  

Over the break, keep the Vol Spirit going! There are many services that still need volunteers, especially over break times when regular volunteers may want to take time off. Try Meals on Wheels or your local food pantry, an animal shelter or humane society, or make holiday cards for hospital or nursing home patients or essential workers. For more ideas, try All For Good or Volunteer East Tennessee. 

Get into TAO! TAO, or Therapy Assistance Online, is a self-paced self-help program available to all students, faculty, and staff–anyone, with a UT email. Visit our website to enroll for free. Click on the search bar in TAO to look for relaxation, stress management, and more.  

Stay connected with people and activities that give you purpose. Most people really appreciate an unexpected check-in from friends or family. Be intentionally kind and practice gratitude. And perhaps most importantly, be patient with yourself. Be patient with others. If you are filled with great intentions but do little but relax for the break, cut yourself some slack. Just relaxing without the stress of “I should be doing something!” is important. We’re all doing the best we can. You are enough.

...Phil Randall is a staff member in the Student Counseling Center. He provides individual, couples, and group therapy to students, supervision for the Center’s trainees, consultation with campus partners. Group therapy is his passion, and he enjoys working with family concerns, interpersonal relationships, and men’s issues.


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Judi Gibbons is the Director of Clinical Services/Associate Director in the Student Counseling Center. Her work includes creating and supporting clinical systems within the Counseling Center, providing psychotherapy, supervision, and serving on university committees.