Advice: Returning Home for the Holidays

December 9, 2019

  • Psychologist Dr. Olivia Scott gives advice on how to handle the holiday season
  • Knowing limits and setting boundaries is helpful, she says
  • Home isn’t just the place you grew up in as a kid, it’s the place you grow into as a person

By Chrystel Lopez '22

College is a lovely dome. A challenging and creative haven. Here, we can explore our identities, learn about the world around us, and meet people who accept us for who we are. Therefore, going back to your hometown for the holidays can be tough.

Going back to my house in Novi, Michigan, for Thanksgiving break, I realized how disconnected I have become from that part of my life. A lot of the friendships I made in high school have fizzled out, so it felt pretty lonely. It felt dull. I pretty much just waited until it was time to come back to East Lansing.

Even so, there's no place like home for the holidays! At least, that's what the song says. In a way, it's true. There is no place as boring, oddly nostalgic, and sometimes as terrifying as returning to a house filled with opinions and attitudes that are clashing with your own.

For advice on returning to a home that may not be filled with love or compassion, I spoke with psychologist and CAPS counselor Dr. Olivia Scott, who meets with RCAH students on a first-come, first-served basis every Wednesday in the RCAH Student Center as part of the CAPS Connect program.

Scott recommends using methods of self-care to take care of yourself when others may not give you that care you need. 

“One way to do this is to identify things that are comforting to our five senses," Scott said. "For touch, one might wrap themselves in a warm or weighted blanket. For sight, someone might observe a sunset or consume/create art. Some activities may involve multiple senses, such as drinking some hot tea or cider, which could provide ease through touch, smell, and taste."

There are often ways to tell when we need a break from a person or situation, she notes. Sometimes, it’s obvious enough when you become furious with someone over a topic of discussion. Other times, it’s hard to distinguish what these feelings might mean.

“In general, I encourage students to think about their limits and set boundaries," Scott said. "In terms of limits, it is helpful to know our personal signs that we need a break. Perhaps it is shutting down, feeling panicky, feeling irritable, or feeling helpless. Whatever the signs may be, they can signal to us we need to step away, connect with someone safe, or take care of ourselves.

“I like to remind people that setting boundaries does not necessarily equate being rude or cutting people out. Asking for space, taking alone time, declining to respond to an intrusive question, and requesting that a certain topic not be discussed over the holidays can all be ways to appropriately set a boundary.”

It’s important to understand how our personal identities can, unfortunately, clash with others. Think about your major. RCAH fosters a community of acceptance, altruism, and activism. When a family member makes comments that contradict these community values, it can be difficult to teach them right from wrong. And it’s not always your job to do so.

“There are many forms of activism, including self/community care," Scott said. "These forms of activism may not mean picking every battle, but taking a break to better fight the next one.”

* * *

That's not to say that for everyone returning home is completely awful. I love coming back to my queen-sized bed!

But home isn’t always the permanent address you fill out on hospital forms. Sometimes, you find home within people. The warmth of a Christmas fireplace replaced by the loving arms of your best friend. The benign thanks shared around a table replaced by sharing caf cookies with people who appreciate you for you. The simple things. The things you may not realize feel more like a home than the place you were born.


RCAH Communications Intern Chrystel Lopez '22 is a sophomore from Novi, Michigan. She is the editor of the RCAHive 'zine, which she revived last year, and serves as a Creative Consultant in the RCAH Language and Media Center. The opinions expressed are her own.