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What are some coping strategies for spending the holidays away from "home"?

Updated: Dec 13, 2023




The holiday season is a time for joy, celebration, and togetherness, but what if your festive spirit is accompanied by the realization that you'll be spending the holidays away from the comfort of the "home" you're familiar with, and with a reduced or non-existant family circle? That old expression, "Home is where the heart is" can leave us with a very limiting schema. What if you thought, "My heart and home is wherever I am in this moment." How might that change things?


I'll never forget the first major holiday I spent away from everyone I knew. I was young, moving into a new apartment very far from my place of birth, and had a delay of the move-in date. I thus found myself enclosed in a musty wood-paneled motel room with worn blue shag carpeting, a plastified bedspread circa 1970, and a decrepit old TV with bunny ears - and let me tell you, the ambiance did nothing to raise my spirits.


Surviving that episode, and many others including big geographic moves, working in 24-hour clinical treatment settings, long distance relationship separations, and holiday travel disasters where I was alone and literally stranded à la Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, has sculpted me into a bit of a master at holiday survival under less than ideal circumstances.


In this article, I'll share some of my tips for survival. There's no doubt that surviving the holidays away from "home" and the ones you have traditionally celebrated with, can be challenging. However, with the right mindset and a few thoughtful strategies, you can turn this experience into a unique and memorable adventure, one where you might even thrive!


1. Embrace the Opportunity:

While spending the holidays away from home might not be your first choice, it's essential to embrace the opportunity for a different kind of celebration. Consider this a chance to explore new traditions, experience diverse cultures, and make lasting memories in an unfamiliar setting. Keep an open mind and view this as an adventure rather than a setback. Let go of your preconceived notions of what the holiday "should be" and embrace something new.


You can make an extra effort to find joy in the often overlooked small things, like enjoying a simple holiday beverage or treat. Use the 5-senses approach to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see the experience in a new light, reflecting on what might have been previously viewed as a mundane enjoyment, as a new sense-absorbing one, steeped in wonder that heightens positive experiences of the holiday.


2. Use Your Best Self-Talk

The words you say to yourself about the holiday are extremely important. Being lonely is normal, but instead of repeating a narrative of lonliness over and over again that can cross over into victimhood and reluctance to even try to enjoy the day; think of the holiday as a passing event, lasting just a few hours. Events only have meaning which we ascribe to them, so this means that the freedom to interprete the day as negative, positive, or neutral is actually in our own hands, regardless of the circumstances.


Remind yourself of your resilience, and don't compare your activities this holiday with those of the past. It's OK to do something small and traditional or not, though remind yourself that any activity (big or small) can be enough to satisfy the need to "celebrate".


Never count the activities or number of people you celebrate with, it's about quality over quantity. Refrain from pouring over social media to see who had the biggest pile of gifts, or celebrations with the largest entourages. That is not what's important. Remind yourself of the original spirit and meaning of the holiday, and think of ways that you can tap into that spirit in your celebrations.


3. Connect Virtually:

Technology has made the world a smaller place, and during the holidays, it can bring your loved ones closer. Watching celebrations online or on TV, or scheduling video calls with family and friends to share the joy of the season virtually can really help make you feel like you partcipated in a holiday event. Whether it's watching parades, concerts, fireworks, sports games, opening presents together, or enjoying a festive meal over a video call, staying connected can help bridge the gap and make you feel more festive. I often ask my family to direct the videochat camera on a special TV event available only in their area. We then watch it together, and can make commentary as it airs, just as I would if I was with them in person.


4. Create Your Own Traditions and make it MANAGEABLE:

Being away from home doesn't mean you can't create your own holiday traditions. Explore local customs, try new foods, and participate in local festivities. Whether it's attending a holiday market, volunteering, or exploring the beauty of your temporary surroundings, establishing your own traditions can make the holidays feel more personal and meaningful.


Ensure that your new tradition something manageable. Being somewhere different, and in a different social setting is a rare opportunity to tap into what brings you joy, and should not necessarily be about others' preferences, or complications. So choose something festive, yet doable, to celebrate, and you'll profit from missing out on the exhaustion of coordinating a big-time event.


5. Surround Yourself with Others:

If you're spending the holidays in a new place, consider connecting with others who are also away from home. Some of my most precious memories are actually in sharing lousy but festive cafeteria meals with co-workers, and attending holiday events with strangers in new locations. You can attend locally organized events, join social groups, or participate in community activities to meet new people. Events can be planned around the day of typical celebration as well, and aren't limited to the same time and location as you've previously celebrated. Be flexible. Shared experiences can create a sense of camaraderie, making the holiday season more enjoyable and less lonely.


6. Bring a Piece of Home:

While you may not be able to physically transport your past to your current location, bringing a piece of your former "home" with you can provide comfort. Pack a small holiday decoration, a familiar blanket, or a favorite book. Having these familiar items around can create a sense of familiarity and warmth in an unfamiliar environment. If you don't have any, why not treat yourself to an object that celebrates the holiday, or makes you feel cozy and welcome. Even one little plant or decoration can do wonders to lift the holiday spirit.


7. Practice Self-Care:

The holidays can be a stressful time, especially when you're away from home. Prioritize self-care to ensure your well-being. Consider participating in a spiritually nourishing activity like spending time in nature, doing a meditation, or attending a religious service. Take time for yourself, indulge in activities you enjoy, and don't hesitate to pamper yourself a bit. Whether it's a spa day, a swim, quiet walk, or enjoying your favorite holiday treat, take care of yourself. Acknowleding your desires and feelings is crucial during this time. If you're feeling lonely, why not say it out loud to someone you know and trust? You do not need to keep the difficulty of the situation to yourself.


Surviving holidays away from home requires a combination of resilience, creativity, positive thinking, and an open heart. By embracing new opportunities, staying connected with loved ones, and creating your own traditions, you can turn this experience into a memorable and enriching chapter of your life. Maybe one you'll even laugh at one day. Remember, the holiday spirit knows no geographical boundaries, and with the right mindset, you can find joy and fulfillment wherever you are.

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Dr. Marie C. Dumas, EI
Cybertherapy Consulting

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