Depressed man back home in Fort Lauderdale

Back Home Blues: Coping Tools for College Students Returning Home for the Holidays

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

By Dr. Rachel Christopher

Feeling nervous or depressed about heading home for the holidays after a fun first semester at college? Whether you’re coming home to Fort Lauderdale or leaving Florida, we’ve got tips for coping with those back home blues.

First of all, a moment of silence for all of you leaving sunny, warm Florida to visit your family in your frozen home state. If you’re dreading it for more reasons than the weather, you’re not alone. 

College comes with changes, and that’s a good thing. As you spend time away from your family, your sense of your own identity will come into clearer focus. You may have new habits, finally dyed your hair bright pink like you always wanted, or changed some beliefs as you were exposed to new ideas. All of this potentially comes with a side of conflict with your family back home.

Going home after being away for college is a jarring experience. Your childhood bedroom might feel just a half-size too small on your emerging adult self, and the same feeling might apply to your parents.

“I guess that’s the thing about coming home; it’s not the home that’s changed, it’s the person coming back who has.”

Meagan Church, The Last Carolina Girl

Common problems 

Let’s troubleshoot together. What’s some of the weirdest/awkwardest things that could happen when a college student returns home?

Check out what this reddit user, AnxiousSnack965 had to say about visiting home for the holidays.

“I’m a college freshman and right now I’m home for thanksgiving break. I love my family and I love being home but I have about two more days left of break and I just can’t wait to go back to school. I just miss my freedom that I have at college. Every day during this break has just been packed full of plans and chores and activities. If I sleep in past 9 I’m ridiculed by my parents. Not to mention me having to see my extended family, which is a whole other story. Back at school, me and my roommate would just relax for the weekends usually. Sleep in, watch a movie, that sort of thing, but here it just like I’m doing so much all the time. I have no clue how I’m going to be able to do this for a whole month during Christmas break. Am I the only one feeling this way?”

No, AnxiousSnack965! You’re definitely not alone. The sentiment above basically sums up the quintessential homecoming experience for many first-year college students. Let’s review how you can set yourself up for success with this home visit.

Set yourself up for success

When working through sticky situations such as a homecoming, we need to bear in mind our end goal here. What kind of time do you want to spend with your family? Do you want a balance of family and friend time? Do you want to prioritize recharging your battery? Clarify what is important to you so that you are crystal clear about what you want to advocate. 

It may feel cliché, but communication really is your best friend in this scenario. Before you head home for the holiday break, call your parents. With your end goal in the forefront of your mind, ask them about their expectations for the visit. This question will open up the floor for a dialogue about committing to plans, what kind of help they expect around the house, etc. Make the compromises ahead of time, so there’s no surprises when you sleep in until 10 (or 11, let’s be SO for real).

While having this conversation, keep in mind that the way you ask for things matters.

Who’s the boss?

When you’re at school, you have total control over your schedule. If your parents ask for a pre-college level of authority over your time when you return, that’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s regressive, meaning it throws you back to an earlier developmental period when you received more guidance from your parents. Keep in mind – you’re used to this new freedom, they’re not. 

In other words, your folks may have an old habit of taking control over your schedule. Start with some generous assumptions about their intentions before you slip into frustration mode. A powerful communication strategy is reflecting back the impact of their message. This is achieved by summarizing what they’re saying to you in a way that they can hear how it might be landing. 

Let’s say, for example, that your parents aren’t open to you choosing how you spend your time. In such a scenario, you can reflect back (without an ounce of sass) something like: “Are you saying that I’m not any more independent to choose what I do or don’t do than I was as a high schooler?” Or “It seems like you’re expecting things to be just like they were when I was in high school. Now that I’m a college student, I’d like to be given more independence.”  

Ask to compromise

Reaching a compromise can come from some frank communication with your parents. Showing them that you are willing to be flexible may be the key. For example, assert something like: “I’m available to help around the house for several hours on Saturday, then I’m gonna do my own thing or see some friends. Does that sound fair?” They might be more open-minded to this kind of assertive communication than you think. 

Show willingness

Putting forth effort to plan your own little event for the family can go a long way. They’ll see that you care about spending time with them or contributing to the holiday workload. This may prevent them from requesting your help or presence in a less productive way. Willingness can be expressed as simply as: “Hey Mom, do you want to go holiday shopping together?” Or perhaps: “Would you like help baking the cookies? We could put on ‘Elf’ while we do it and make it fun!”

Need inspiration for family fun? Check out this article listing festive family activities. 

Setting boundaries

Clearly articulating your limits can be uncomfortable, and may even lead to some feelings of guilt. Think of boundary setting like building a muscle. You might be a little sore after, but in the end it’s making you stronger. Know that boundaries are not about controlling others, but rather being clear about what your actions will be in response to their behavior. For example: “Uncle Joe, if you keep poking fun at my haircut, I will go to my room instead of playing cards with you.”

“If you keep your mind open, you can always find a new home inside the old one.”

Nicholas Conley, Knight in Paper Armor

Take your parent’s perspective

Now, I’m no mind reader (contrary to popular belief about therapists), but I think it’s fair to assume that the college transition is weird for your parents too. The time you’ve been away has probably felt like a lifetime to you. You’ve grown a lot in these past few months. They may feel sad they’re not there to directly observe your life anymore, and hold on a little tighter because of it. By shifting perspective slightly to acknowledge their point of view may help you to have a little more patience. Bonus points if you actually ask them how they’re feeling about it.

Conclusion

Returning to your hometown for the holidays has been WAY over-romanticized (I’m calling you out, Hallmark channel). While it might not be the fairytale homecoming you imagined, I hope you find these coping strategies helpful. 

If your family problems or college woes are causing you more stress than you’d like (e.g., you can’t sleep, your appetite is affected, or you feel down most of the time, etc.) it may be time to ask for help. You can schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation below and get matched with one of our awesome therapists. 


Fort Lauderdale, FL Psychologist Dr. Rachel Christopher

Dr. Rachel Christopher is a therapist in Fort Lauderdale. She is a postdoctoral fellow and an expert in working with teens and young adults. She specializes in depression therapyanxiety therapy, PTSD and trauma-related issues, self-esteem, perfectionism, stress management and more.

Call 954-488-2933 or email today to discuss how our services can help you.

Copyright © 2023 The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, LLC

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