Christmas is synonymous with home, family and tradition. But not everyone can be home for Christmas. For many young people, work, school and relationships may mean you’re living far from family – and these circumstances can make it difficult to go home for the holidays. You may be finding the thought of spending Christmas away for the first time is making you feel down.
Homesickness is a normal phenomenon that will affect almost everyone at some point in their life. Important holidays can cause or intensify feelings of homesickness – especially when it feels like everyone else is going home to be with their loved ones.
Sometimes, homesickness can come as a surprise – especially if you’re otherwise enjoying where you are. This is because home is more than just a geographical location. Often, our sense of home refers to the people, the food and the sense of familiarity, safety and connection we find there.
This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.
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For some people, home is much more nuanced. Some elements of it may be positive – others less so. Still, a complex set of emotions may emerge around Christmas – and you may find yourself missing some elements of being away from home and family.
These feelings can be easy to manage for some. For others, they can be quite intense. In fact, homesickness has been described as a form of mini grief, where in order to move on, there has to be a process of working through feelings.
In extreme cases, homesickness can linger. It can cause you to ruminate over feeling out of place, which may affect your mental health and make you less willing to socialise.
But while this time of year can be difficult if you’re spending it away from family for the first time, there are many things you can do to get through it:
1. Sit with your feelings
It’s okay to feel lonely and miss home – even if you really love where you are in life.
Acknowledge your homesickness and what it means for you. Give yourself space to experience your feelings instead of cramming your schedule full to avoid discomfort.
Talk about how you’re feeling. Or, if that’s too hard, write your thoughts down. This helps challenge overthinking, which can worsen your sense of isolation and keep you focused on missing home. Writing can help clear your mind.
2. Understand why you’re homesick
Homesickness happens for a number of different reasons. For many people, homesickness is because they’re thinking about missing out on activities they enjoy doing with friends and family.
Thinking about what these feelings mean to you, and what may be triggering homesickness, may help you remedy it.
If you’re feeling homesick because you’re going to miss doing things with your family, figure out how can recreate these activities where you are. Things like going to an outdoor Christmas market or watching a classic movie are all things you can reproduce locally.
While, of course, things will be different, you’re still recreating core traditions and making new memories. This can also help you to feel less guilty about enjoying yourself even though you’re away from loved ones.
3. Plan video chats
If you can’t be with your family in person, try scheduling video calls. These can have many positive effects on wellbeing as it allows you to connect in real time and can provide a greater sense of closeness compared to other forms of communication.
It’s easy to convince ourselves that we’ll be interrupting activities. But planning ahead can mitigate against these negative thoughts. Remember, your loved ones will also be missing you. If you can, try doing something together on the call – such as opening a present or having a drink. This will help you feel more involved with the festivities at home.
Do make some Christmas plans of your own to look forward to, as seeing family could also potentially increase feelings of homesickness.
4. Stock up on familiar foods
If you’re missing a home-cooked dinner and it feels like too much for one, consider teaming up with a friend who may also be on their own.
5. Make connections
While it may feel like everyone else is having a great time at Christmas, it’s actually a time of year when people can feel particularly alone and stressed. There are probably others in the same boat as you.
Go online or even post on social media to connect with others. Building valuable connections can help lessen feelings of homesickness and give you a sense of belonging. Building new routines is also shown to help people feel more at home in new places.
Volunteering is another great way to connect with others in your community. Volunteering is also associated with a range of benefits for wellbeing – including developing confidence and improving mental health.
6. Get outdoors
If it’s hard to be around other people this time of year, consider getting outdoors for a solo hike or walk.
It’s normal to feel homesick around the holidays if you can’t be with family. But if you find that these feelings persist beyond the holidays, it’s worth seeking help from your GP.
Nilufar Ahmed does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.