Staying on Holiday at Home

Drop-in posts written by Dr Kitty Wheater.

16th of July 2020

Photograph of two sandcastles on a beach. In the background there is the sea and blue skies overhead.

Staying on Holiday at Home

This week, Scotland shifts towards re-opening dentists, hairdressers, and cinemas. There are new possibilities for physically-distanced socialising, and staying somewhere overnight. And many of us are thinking: could I…might I…go on holiday?

As in: GO on holiday. Pack a suitcase, get in the car, get on a train. Marshal the hand sanitizer and the DIY masks. Buy too many snacks, and forget rubber bands to tie around the half-eaten ones, so that the bottom of your rucksack fills with peanuts. Take after-sun instead of sunscreen. You know the drill.

After nearly four months in lockdown, you may be desperate to escape the confines of your city or village; your bags are half-packed as you read this. Or you may be horrified at the thought of having to put yourself through all of the above, with an added dose of re-entry anxiety.

Rarely, in our University, have we had more people in need of a holiday, with less energy, clarity, financial means, or choice about it. And so more of us will be tucking the guidebooks out of sight, and staying at home this summer.

Staying on holiday at home – after a time in which you have been not so much working from home, as at your home, in a crisis, trying to work – turns particular features of ‘holiday’ upside down. There is none of that satisfactory change in gear that we used to get by arriving home and putting the work laptop in a dark corner with its notes unfinished, because it’s 7pm and you have a plane to catch. The boundaries are murky, if not gone.

‘Boundaries’ are so useful, because they don’t just mark things as different from each other – they create space in which each can flourish as it is. The work/home boundary is so useful, because by enabling us to put work away, we can attend to what’s important at home in its own right: cats, children, a homemade pizza, a courgette plant. This, in turn, enables us to recover more effectively from depletion at work – which often makes room for curiosity and creativity in our work.

So the boundary between work and holiday protects and nourishes both. But with more of us staying at home this summer, in spaces that have become pervaded by work, we will need to be creative about reclaiming holiday as holiday, and home as home. If, like me, you are staying at home for your break this summer, here is what to expect – and how to find rest, and maybe even some joy, in the midst of it.


1.     Holiday Dread

Holiday dread comes in many forms. You dread shutting down your emails, because work, with its structure and connection, is a life-line. You dread taking time off because it only reminds you of the holiday you had to cancel. You dread having time to spend with and around your family or flatmates, because they need more from you than you are able to give. You dread taking a holiday, because you live alone, and the last thing you want is more time with yourself.

This is completely normal. If you have been under stress, and your holiday is impending, the mind triangulates every stressful moment from every holiday you’ve ever taken, and multiplies it by every awkward conversation, or loneliness, in the last month. Then it creates a prediction, based on this lovely subterranean machination, about just how dreadful the next two weeks will be.

Start to spot the mind’s predictions as they pop up in the mind. Notice how they attach themselves to those last bits of work business, as you finish up on a Friday. If you’re really rundown, they will even tag along to your moments of happy anticipation, just to make sure that you don’t forget that you should be worrying.

Be gentle with your mind in this moment; it is your age-old fight or flight system, trying to help. As you put away your computer, and cook yourself meals that aren’t pasta with pesto for the first time in weeks, those thoughts will begin to soften and settle.


2.     Holiday Bugs and Blues

If you’ve been ticking along at work, feeling a bit tired or grumpy, but basically doing ok, you may find that the first few days of your holiday are unexpectedly…not as great as that wonderful week you spent in the South of France, with the local red wine, and the market garden tomato salad.

Aches and pains may surface. Day two of your holiday sees you in bed with a migraine. The hayfever you’ve been combatting turns into a cold. (Hopefully not a cough.) And – you may feel lower than you expected. Small irritations explode into big ones, as you worry about the effect of iPads on a generation of small eyes and minds, and dread your inbox on your return to work.

As we start to relax, and the firefights of work and study fade, the new space gives way to what was waiting in the wings. Some of these can wait; others will make themselves urgently felt.

Give them space, gently. Wrap up your migraine in an eye mask and blanket; take your worries to a friend, on a walk. When you feel better, give yourself permission to put the irritation away. Thank goodness, at this time when the kids can’t hug their friends, that there is Peppa Pig – and Sally Rooney on iPlayer.


3.     Holiday Frenzy

As I wrote a few weeks back, when you’ve been looking forward to time off, it’s possible to get very excited about all the things you’re going to do. Your glass is not just half-full, it’s a glass of that wonderful red wine from the South of France.

Depending on your individual flavour of frenzy, you could be envisaging two weeks of: self-improvement, catching up on emails, Netflix, intensive home-schooling, or reading six months’ worth of Times Literary Supplements, which are currently sitting in the corner of the hallway still in their plastic wrappers. (No comment.)

Photograph of a person lying in the grass, amongst daffodils with a summer hat covering their eyes.

We all wind up needing a holiday from our holiday from time to time. This year, of all years, it’s so important that we spend our precious time off doing what nourishes us, and reminds us who we are. There are many lovely things, big and small, in our lives – even amidst uncertainty, and sorrow. We want to be open to them, and allow them to fill up our drained and depleted minds and bodies.

And: we want to be gentle with ourselves. Your body has been sitting still, in a too-small chair, for a long time. Your mind has had to read pixelated faces for many months. Your heart has been troubled, and determined, in equal and often competing measure. This is tiring, and you may only come to understand how deeply so when you pause, and notice.

So be kind to yourselves, on your holidays at home. Allow it to be a holiday. Allow it to be home. Know that it will be messy – and that that’s just fine, and could even be quite fun.

Warm wishes,