Surviving the summer holidays at home

This post is aimed at students – there’s a good article over on the Guardian aimed at parents if you are interested.

For many University students, being back at home with family for the whole summer can feel daunting. After all that time at university you’ve done a lot, coped with a lot, and changed as a person. But family members are often not consciously aware of how much you’ve learnt and changed, and without meaning to, they can just expect you to act the same and have the same relationship with them as you did before you left for University.

It’s not surprising that the summer holidays aren’t always a source of joy. If your perspectives on life have changed – especially if you’ve been facing mental health challenges or you’re newly aware of or expressing a sexual or gender identity – and your family’s views on this aren’t understanding or welcoming, then it can be anxiety provoking or depressing to think about the long weeks at home. On top of that, you may be hundreds of miles away from your usual support network at University, and unable to access support services like drop-ins, tutors or counselling services, that you normally rely on.

After a couple of years working with University students I’ve got a few ideas of ways you can support your mental health and wellbeing through the summer months:

  1. Communicate your needs and feelings to your family. You have changed, and your family may not realise that. It can feel like they’re treating you like a child again. Talking about how you feel is no easy task, and often we’re only aware of why we feel one way after the moment has passed. But if you become aware that you are getting angry and frustrated by the way some one is speaking to you or treating you, try and express that in a way they can understand. You know your situations best, and challenging a family member may not always be constructive or safe, but for most people it’s worth being explicit about our feelings. If we don’t say out loud why we are angry, and instead act angry, it’s often hard for people to understand what’s going on, and the situation will get repeated.
  2. Connect with friends. If you have friends back at home for the summer, get in touch with them. Even if you’ve ignored them for the last nine months whilst you’ve been away, re-establishing connections with them will help you feel less alone and meeting up with other people gives you things to look forward to. If you don’t have anyone around in person, try and maintain connections online with other friends from University or other situations.
  3. Find ways of continuing your University interests. See if your home town has clubs or societies similar to the ones you were a member of back at University. If you’re in a sports team, there’ll likely be ways of continuing to train, and often there are private clubs in towns and cities that are similar enough to University clubs. This is also a good way of keeping up some of your normal routines, which in turn will make everything feel more tolerable.
  4. Establish boundaries. This is a pretty advanced task, but one that is really important for relationships of all kinds. Be clear about things like access to your room to make sure your space is respected, about being given notice and talked to with respect with regard to chores, trips out and things family members expect you to do – just because you are a member of a family, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be asked if you want or are willing to do something, instead of expected to just do what you are told. Return the favour and reconsider what you expect from your family, understanding that they have lived without you for a while now and may not want to fall back into doing things for you that they were happy to do before you left for University.
  5. Get some short-term talking therapy, counselling or other support. Services such as Mind in Brighton offer 1-to-1 sessions that can take you through what help is available locally – there’s similar local charities across the UK. Private therapists such as myself are often happy to see a client on a short-term basis, or even for just a couple of sessions, to help with a specific issue or difficult period. I offer special rates for students, so if you find a therapist online who you like the look of, it may be worth dropping them an email and seeing if they will see you for a reduced rate.
  6. Give yourself a break. There’s a thousand or more articles online pressurising you to get a job, volunteer, or otherwise make the summer ‘useful’ for your career or CV. However, taking time to rest and recover from University is useful. Recovering from the stress and exhaustion of end-of-year assessments in a way that works for you is an investment in your future too. This is particularly important if you experience anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges as a result of University. Self care is a word bandied around and commercialised to such an extent it’s almost laughable now, but trust me when I say the original concept of listening to the needs of your own body and mind and responding to them in a nurturing way is worth doing. It’s particularly important if you feel stuck in a home situation that is hard to handle.

So those are my suggestions. Just know that you’re not alone – whilst there are lots of good things to look forward to when you’re home, it can be a time of stress and friction for many people. It’s a challenge to reestablish relationships with your family, and to sustain the new you in an old and familiar space. But you can do it, and being clear about your feelings, needs and boundaries is key to making it work.

If things get difficult, remember that there are services out there that will listen and can help, such as the Samaritans on 116 123. They’re not just there if you’re feeling suicidal, they support anyone who wants to talk about their emotions. And if you’re interested in other student’s perspectives on moving home for a holiday, have a look at the video below, by Durham University student Jack Edwards.

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