Published: Wed Dec 13, 2006“Embracing change may be the best holiday gift of all.”
That’s the recommendation of Lisa Macke, assistant director of the Counseling Center at Tennessee Tech University, and it’s wise advice for students who’ve been away at college all semester or anyone else heading home for the holidays.
“Changes in your family, your friends and yourself can be more evident during the holidays, and that’s especially true if you’re a student just finishing up your first semester of college,” she said. “You’ll be experiencing more developmental changes in the first semester of your freshman year than you will at any other point in college.”
Family changes may come in the form of discovering that parents have adopted new hobbies or pets, siblings are maturing as they take on new family roles, or even having to adjust to a home renovation or move.
“When my older sister went away to college, my family sold our home and moved to a neighborhood an hour away,” Macke said. “The holiday season proved to be a difficult adjustment for her because she was coming home to an entirely different house, where her childhood friends weren’t as accessible as they’d once been.”
Even when a person’s old friends are accessible, the person may be disappointed to find that those friends’ interests, values, belief systems or maturity levels have changed from the previous year.
“The same can also be true for you,” she said. “Maybe you find you’re the one who’s developed different interests or values, or you’re the one whose maturity level has changed. You, your family and your friends still have to adjust to those changes.”
The Hallmark card holiday image is even more of a mirage for the minority of people who have significantly dysfunctional families that may possibly even make it unsafe for them to be home for the holidays.
“If you’re one of the people in that type of situation, the key is to always have an answer to this question: where can I go if things get really bad?” Macke said.
Other advice for coping with the stress of going home for the holidays include:
• Acknowledging thoughts, feelings and reactions without judging and trying to keep in mind successful strategies for coping with stressful situations in the past;
• Getting proper exercise, sleep and nutrition;
• Doing things you enjoy;
• Spending some time with your family and friends, but not allowing others dominate all of your time;
• Getting a job as a means of taking a break and earning extra cash;
• Maintaining healthy and courteous boundaries;
• Writing in a journal;
• Avoiding alcohol and drugs as a means of escaping from stress;
• Trying a new hobby;
• Structuring and planning some of your time;
• Being prepared for changes in your family or friend relationships;
• And grieving the things in those relationships that have been lost as a means for embracing the things that have been gained.