Making the most of your time at home

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

If you have been staying at university and are going home for the Christmas break, this can be an opportunity to recuperate and feel more connected to loved ones. But taking some time to think about it and talk it over in advance, can help both you and your family have as good a time as possible.

Given the demanding nature of this academic year, especially during the pandemic, it would be easy to simply get to the end of term and then go home, without thinking about it in advance. But while you have been away, life has been continuing for both you and the people at home.This means both you and they may have been undergoing some changes.

Changes you’ve undergone

Being a university student is a unique experience. This is particularly true at the moment, given ongoing changes to teaching and learning caused by the pandemic and the way in which coronavirus may have impacted on your and your peers. Depending on how you’ve experienced this, it may affect how you are feeling and in turn, that may impact on what you want to do when you return home.

You may also have undergone other changes or have adopted new habits that are different to how you’ve been at home before. You may now feel more independent, you may be keeping to different hours, or you may have changed some of your views. These changes or reactions can come as a surprise to your family and friends - they have not lived through the same experiences, so may not fully understand them. This doesn’t mean they don’t care or aren’t willing to understand.

Being aware of these changes and experiences can help you to explain how you feel and what you feel you need. Then together you can discuss how you can work to make the break as good as possible for everyone.

Changes at home

While you are at university, life has also continued for everyone at home. Some things at home may also have changed, simply because your family and friends will have had to adapt to life without you being around. Because you have been having different experiences this can alter their relationships with you and each other.

This doesn’t mean these relationships have weakened or mean less, they are just adapting to the new circumstances. Being prepared for these changes can help you avoid the shock that some students feel, when they realise that home is not exactly how they remember it when they left. Even simple things like a room being redecorated can feel disconcerting if you weren’t aware it had happened. Talk to the people at home about what has changed while you’ve been away, so your return is smoother and easier.

Be realistic about your expectations of home

Given how challenging the first term can be (especially while the pandemic continues to impact), it is not surprising that some students may have been holding onto the memory of home as a stabilising influence. If used properly, your memories of home can be a very positive way of helping you manage the challenges of student life. Whether positive or negative they can provide you with examples of other times you’ve met challenges and been successful.

However, it is important to be realistic in your expectations of your return home. You may be remembering all of the best and most memorable times at home; if you allow that to set your expectations, you may end up disappointed. Remember that relationships and environments are usually a mix of the good and the not so good. Embracing the good and accepting the not so good, where possible, may help you to get the most of your time at home.

Check in with your family

It can help if you speak to your family about all of this before you go home. Try to work together to agree a general approach to the break that helps everyone get what they need.

If you all understand how you are all feeling and what you all hope to get, you can then work together to make it as good as possible for everyone.