Adjusting to life back home during the holidays

Going back for the holidays can be an exciting time of the year, specially if this is the first time you have lived away. However, after being so independent at University it can sometimes feel frustrating to be living with family again. 

Harry Wilkinson, Philosophy student and Redbrick's sports editor, gives us his thoughts on how you can make the most of you time back home.

Adjusting to life back home during the holidays can be a daunting prospect for students, especially for first years. It is common that many people find it difficult living with their family again after living so independently at university. I hope to explain why this may happen and offer some advice on how to deal with it.

For the majority of students, university is the first time in which they are free to truly express themselves, whether it be socially, intellectually or just independently.

Social life

Perhaps the clearest example of the increased freedom at university is the ability to go out pretty much every night of the week, if one is so inclined. Back at home this may not be possible, especially if you live in a more rural area. Rather than the vibrant centre of the UK’s second largest city on your doorstep, it may be a village surrounded by fields full of sheep or a town which may have some cool stuff to do, but an insufficient amount to keep you out as much as Birmingham.

But, to look at it differently, not going out several times a week could be beneficial to your health. The restraint from consuming gallons of alcohol coupled with your family’s meals, abundant with nutrients and goodness, adds up to a winner in terms of your overall health. You are bound to have more energy, be more vibrant and just feel better.

It is, however, a good idea to meet up with friends from home. This will allow you to maintain your ability to be social, a skill that can actually fade when not practised. Remember, social interactions don’t always have to involve alcohol.

House rules

Another aspect of going back home that can be a struggle is adapting to living with your family again. In halls or a house, the people you live usually won’t bother you with imperative instructions. At home, however, you may feel like you are enforced with every imperative in the dictionary within the first week.

BUT, if you think about it, this may actually be a positive thing. In a flat/house full of equal peers (in terms of authority) at university, there is no single figure that has the authority to say “clean that surface”, or “clean your room” or whatever. As a result, flats often turn into absolute dumps, especially the kitchens. At least at home, regardless of whether you are forced to do such tasks, the place is usually calmingly clean.

Expressing feelings and emotions

Now, in relation to personal freedom, it is important to consider the difference between university and home in expressing ones feelings and emotions. There will be many who feel that they cannot fully express themselves at home.

At university there seems to be significantly more opportunities to release internal emotion, whether it be acting like a fool with flatmates, cursing and swearing as you please, or dancing around like a madman in the kitchen. Although these examples may seem quite insignificant, these short expressions of emotion are very real and very raw, so if you are suddenly placed in an environment where you are no longer free to release such emotion externally, it can cause problems, psychologically and physiologically.

At home (home, home), you may feel you don’t have the freedom to express yourself in the same way as at university. If kept inside for too long, this stifled emotion could cause stress, anxiety, and may eventually result in an angry outburst towards one of your parents or family members.

Expressing yourself at home

There are a few solutions to this. One is to wait until you are alone, perhaps in your room, and just dance around. Whatever you choose to do, it should involve plenty of movement to release energy from your pent up muscles (so playing Call of Duty on your Xbox won’t work).

Another solution is to go out and exercise. Go for a run, walk or to the gym – anything that involves significant physical exertion. Similarly to dancing around in your room, it will allow your muscles to release their rigid, unhealthy tightness, allowing you to feel light, flexible, and free. It’s turning something that could be negative (angry outburst) into something positive (muscle gains or personal bests in running times).

One more solution is to consciously practise expressing more and more outlets of emotion in the presence of those whom you usually would not. Just start small, and slowly bump up the exposure. It’s just about letting others become accustomed to it.

Habits and rituals

Finally, I would like to talk about habits and rituals. These are vital since experts say humans are, by near definition, ‘habit-run machines’. Our habits, whether they are positive or negative, can give us stability or, as Polly Campbell said in Psychology Today, a ‘sense of control’. Habits can be beneficial, such as going to the gym, drinking plenty of water, reading, or doing a set amount of work each day. They might also be negative, like procrastination, going to bed too late or eating cake for breakfast every day.

Keeping up your good habits

When going home, try to keep up as many positive rituals from university as possible. For example, if you are a gym-goer I would highly recommend maintaining that ritual – not only will it help your progress but it will also keep your mind straight (as alluded to previously).

Similarly, it would be highly beneficial to keep up the habit of doing university work, such as doing some ‘background reading around the subject’ (which does exist, apparently). It’s just about keeping yourself busy, keeping true to your word and sticking to your positive habits.

Forming new habits

It may be that the holidays are an opportunity to start forming some good habits that you can take back with you to university – almost like a Christmas present to yourself. If this is your goal then it is recommended (in a book called Willpower by Baumeister and Tierney) that you should only attempt to form one habit at a time, for our willpower is finite and can only cope with so much fundamental change in a short space of time.

You could make it your only goal to read for 45 minutes every day for a week, making it more achievable. Then for the second week you could add a new goal, and so the process continues.

So, although adjusting to life back home during the holidays is not always easy, understand that it is an opportunity to brush yourself down, refresh and relax, and also to build, maintain and cherish long-formed relationships with family and friends from home.

Further reading

Baumeister R.F; Tierney, J (2012). Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret to Success. London: Penguin Books

Campbell, P. (2013). How a Simple Ritual Can Make You Feel Better.Available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/imperfect-spirituality/201303/how-simple-ritual-can-make-you-feel-better. Last accessed 17/11/16.