Grounding Practices For Holiday Vacations

I distinctly remember the first time I went home for the holidays after having moved to London. I was 23 and had just experienced an adventurous and exhilarating eight months in what I believed to be the most thrilling city in the world. I had grown in that time, and so much had changed. I couldn’t wait for everyone to meet the “new me.” 

After returning to the city of my youth, I found myself falling into old thought and behavioral patterns.

Soon after returning to the city of my youth (yes, in my mind, I was fully grown and had figured out all there was to know in life), I found myself falling into old thought and behavioral patterns. From obvious things like drinking too much and picking up smoking after having quit since moving abroad to feeling former insecurities and acting out accordingly (you know, the old hooking up with an ex that was never good for you in the first place), the coping mechanisms were real.

Whether I was triggered by old encounters, familiar places, or being met with the usual expectations from friends and family, the new me didn’t last very long at home. I was also using vacation time for the trip, so there was an added pressure to rest and recuperate between gatherings and festivities. 

I was so unprepared. When the trip ended, I felt emotionally drained. I had opened an emotional can of worms from revived coping mechanisms, a lack of sleep, and an empty bank account from going out every night. I returned to London, the excitement of the first trip home having disappeared, and had to spend a significant amount of time picking myself up again.

When the trip ended, I felt emotionally drained by revived coping mechanisms, a lack of sleep, and an empty bank account.

Fast forward almost 11 years, and I am much more at ease when I travel home for the holidays. Some of that has to do with age; I am so much more at one with who I am. The other source of this newfound peace is a result of the tools I’ve learned in many years of therapy.

These tools have shown me how to love and care for myself—especially when returning to old spaces. By putting healthy boundaries in place, finding ways of navigating difficult family situations over holiday dinners (hello, post-election season!), or simply managing expectations, I have learned to approach these trips with more care, preparation, and intention. And it has paid off.

So, whether you’re safely traveling for the holidays this year, spending time with local family and friends in outdoor settings, or staying cozy at home and socializing over Zoom, these self-care practices can help us bring our healthiest selves to the festivities—however that looks in 2020. And they can make the holiday season more enjoyable. Maybe we can even get some rest along the way.

1. Adjust your expectations and set intentions

Going home for the holidays will always require compromise. We know we are there to see loved ones, spend time with friends and family, and support those around us. Of course, due to COVID-19, this may look different in 2020—which is even more of a reason to adjust expectations and set intentions.

To expect, as I did all those years ago, that going home is entirely about resting and fun with friends is not realistic. But setting intentions for the trip—e.g., who to meet with, how much rest we need—can help us manage our expectations.

2. Establish boundaries

We can maintain a sense of self by planning out our alone time and limiting how accessible we are via our phones.

Whether it’s boundaries with our friends and family or boundaries for ourselves, establishing them is vital to our wellbeing. We can practice this by communicating with our loved ones and telling them how much time and emotional energy we have to spend. We can also maintain a sense of self by planning out our alone time and limiting how accessible we are via our phones. Setting boundaries from the outset and communicating them to everyone involved can help us avoid burnout or frustration.

3. Be present and practice screen boundaries

We’ve all experienced that feeling of going home for the holidays and somehow being glued to our phones. But by setting my phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ or simply leaving it in my room, the quality of time I have with my loved ones improves significantly—and unplugging is always so good for ourselves too.

4. Express gratitude 

It’s so easy to get pulled back into those old dynamics and patterns of frustration. 

Whether it’s the old patterns we fall into with our parents and siblings or political conversations in the wake of a deeply intense election season, it takes intention and setting our mind on the good things around us and in our lives.

Focusing on what I am grateful for rather than what frustrates me (particularly in the context of family) has done wonders for me when I’m at home. Many an argument can be avoided by practicing being grateful for our loved ones and getting specific about what we love in them. It’s all about perspective.

Focusing on what I am grateful for rather than what frustrates me has done wonders for me when I’m at home.

5. Ease into your morning

There’s a wonderful song by India Arie called “Hour of Love.” Her lyrics encourage us to start the day with an hour to ourselves as a way to arrive in our bodies after sleep, to set our intentions, and to take time to breathe first thing. 

Other morning activities may include reading something soul-nourishing or engaging in a mindfulness practice, like these IGTV guided meditations from Nora Logan. These are certainly a go-to for me when going back home, and taking the time to breathe and center ourselves can lower stress levels

While these morning practices are helpful in any season of life, I’ve found them particularly useful when I’m visiting home. Having that time for myself before being with extended family and friends all day helps me stay calm and remember the person I have become.

Having time for myself before being with extended family and friends all day helps me remember the person I have become.

6. Practice embodiment

Going for walks, doing yoga, or simply moving your body in the morning can be one of the most centering and healing things, especially during times of stress. It’s a way for us to confidently move through a world that is no longer our home. Our bodies are the homes we carry, always, and remembering that we are indeed home within ourselves can help us bring our truest selves to our loved ones.

7. Prioritize sleep

Sleep is possibly the most underestimated practice on the list. The more tired I am, the more irritable and sensitive I am to what is going on around me. But setting boundaries around my sleep while at home has worked wonders. By now, even my family insists I get my sleep because they’ve realized a well-rested me is the very best me.

This year has been challenging, and it is more important than ever to stay physically safe this holiday season. But we also need to look after our mental and emotional well-being. This year has the potential of bringing us all closer together, to appreciate each other more, and to be thankful for what we have managed to survive together. 

What are the practices you are using to stay grounded and true to yourself while visiting home? I’d love to hear in the comments below. 


Jess Mally is a London-based writer, speaker, creative, and producer. She is also the co-founder of BELOVD agency and the host of The Third Way podcast. With a passion for social change, mental health, the arts, and spirituality, she hopes to use any and all means available to her to tell stories that shape a better world. Follow her work on Instagram.