While December brings joy and happy family memories to many people, one aspect of the holiday season that isn’t often discussed is the effects of nostalgia and homesickness. According to Dr. Krystine Bacho, an expert in nostalgia, feelings of nostalgia increase around the holidays because old “memories are reawakened and relationships renewed.” Essentially, we do basically the same things around the holidays to celebrate as we did when we were a child but for many people, those simple traditions can bring back a painful reminiscing for the past when we had more special loved ones gathered round or when things were simpler as a child. For more on how the holidays impact nostalgia, check out this interview with Dr. Bacho.
Homesickness runs in the same vein as nostalgia but is more specific - referring to a desire to be back at ‘home,’ whatever that specifically means to you. As a college student, I struggled mightily with homesickness when I started college at the same time that my family moved out of our hometown to a brand new state, so believe me when I say that I know how difficult homesickness can be. However, whether you are dealing with nostalgia, homesickness, or the more common combination of both, there are some strategies to help you cope and thrive this holiday season.
Let yourself feel.
Bottling up emotions typically just makes things worse. Rather than lying to yourself that you don’t feel any negative emotions, identify them. Voicing the emotions will help you to see what you are struggling with most and see if you can make any changes to help yourself. For example, perhaps this is your first Christmas away from your extended family. You may be more stressed and on edge than usual over trivial things like how you decorate for the holiday with your spouse but in reality, you’re upset about being apart from your family for the first time. Being able to identify the root of your stressors is an important part of self-care as it helps you to get to the heart of the problem and find solutions from there rather than treating surface-level issues. However, letting yourself feel also involves a level of vulnerability as you have to be in-tune enough with your emotions to identify what is really bothering you. It may be initially easier to say “oh, nothing is wrong,” but if you can let yourself get to the bottom of the problem, you can move forward and actually deal with the issue this holiday season that is bothering you.
That being said, also give yourself time and space to reminisce. Get on the phone with your mom or a close friend from home and talk through those special holiday celebrations you’re remembering. While it isn’t healthy to dwell completely on the past, there’s nothing wrong with letting yourself fully recollect rather than fighting the urge to look backwards continuously. In fact, you may even remember some of the not-so-glamorous parts of Christmas at home with family. While chatting, you may be reminded of how much trouble it was to keep the peace at the dinner table or how you were always appointed babysitter of all the younger cousins. That definitely doesn’t mean that you can’t miss the good parts of your holiday, but talking to someone who experienced the event with you can often bring a healthy dose of reality back to your reminiscences.
Take a social media break.
The height of the comparison game, social media can really exacerbate your homesickness and nostalgia during the holidays as you scroll through endless pictures of reunited families, large gatherings and celebrations, and people proudly announcing that they’ve done xyz tradition with their family for 57 years in a row. Although it’s easy to rationalize to your inner self that these people have struggles and holiday stressors just like everyone else, it can be hard to remember that when what appears to be evidence to the contrary is staring you back in the face.
The level of social media break that you decide to take should be based on your own self-care needs. Perhaps you use social media to catch adorable pictures of nieces, nephews, or grandchildren and don’t want to log off entirely for the holidays. In that case, think about restricting yourself to checking your social media apps once a day for a maximum of 15 minutes. After all, that should be plenty of time to catch up on the kiddos’ latest shenanigans right? In other cases, though, it may be wise to back away from social media completely for a few days or a week in order to recenter yourself and live in the present, not someone else’s reality. In years past, I have tried a third solution: taking one day a week off from social media. For me, it’s Sundays because I typically have the most free time that day and can spend all day on Instagram if I’m not careful. The one day off system helps you to reset and is a sustainable habit that you can carry through the year if you so choose. Whatever works for you, think about taking a little social media break as you proceed through the holiday season.
Find your own way to celebrate.
If you’re missing family traditions at home, try recreating them wherever you are or making some of your own! Sure, they may not be exactly the same and it won’t ever be completely the same without those special relatives but you can still get in the spirit. Grab your roommates, coworkers, or significant others and get out there to make some holiday traditions of your own!Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels