Sarah RussellHello GEAR UP Nevada! My name is Sarah Russell with the Nevada Department of Education. I am the GEAR UP Internal Evaluator.

People who love fall love the way the change in weather signals a change of the pace of life. Cooler nights and mornings and changing colors on the trees remind them of warm tea or cocoa, snuggling under blankets, and maybe baking apple or pumpkin treats. With the first rain and then the first snow of the season, they put on sweats and slippers and snuggle down for a movie marathon.

But, often this idea of how fall and the holidays could or should go is in direct conflict with how this season really is for students. This is also college application season, entrance exam season, scholarship application season, FAFSA season, midterm and final exam season. It’s sports season, it’s club season, it’s homework season, it’s part-time job season. It’s the season of trying to get an adolescent body that wants to hibernate until 10 or 11 each morning up in the dark and off to school at 7:00. It can feel like relaxing is the one thing you’ll never get done in the fall. Plus, for most families, the holidays bring financial stress.

In the end, for many of us, the myth of a lazy, cozy fall is just that—a myth. Where is this fall of family movies and homemade cookies? There are two ways we can bring the promised peace of the autumn—one is short term and one is long term.

In the short term, it is important to remember that relaxing and enjoying free time has numerous health benefits, not just for you and your physical and mental health, but also for the people you are close to and for your relationships with them. You and your family and friends need time together where things are relaxed and stress-free. It is at times like this where you strengthen relationships so you can then better support each other in more stressful times. Opportunities for days and evenings of relaxing and spending time together don’t just happen; we have to make them. Schedule a night for movies or a day at a local event. Get outside for a hike or an outdoor adventure. Too often, everyone waits for everyone else to reach out, leaving us each all alone in our overwhelming worlds. It takes strength and leadership to bring everyone together for a couple of hours of movie watching, baking, snowshoeing, bowling, or whatever makes you and your loved ones happy. Take the initiative and schedule time for joy and connection; it will make everyone’s lives better.

In the long term, remember that each school assignment and exam, each application essay, every minute spent on the FAFSA, every day spent at sport or club events, is an investment in making sure you get to control your time later. At the other side of high school is time spent in college and/or career preparation and doing well in those endeavors will give you opportunities to design your life the way you want it—with more financial independence and more free time. With each demand on your time now, remember that you are doing well in these endeavors so that you can ensure that you have the kind of life later where you have all the free time you want for however you want to spend fall and the holiday season. Feeling defeated now by the mountain of responsibilities in front of you is normal, but you don’t have to give in. You can fight for a future where you have all the resources you need to have whatever kind of fall brings you and your loved ones the most happiness.