'Home' for the holidays wherever you happen to be

Just like the Christmas shopping season, it seems like radio stations start playing Christmas music 24/7 earlier and earlier. In our area, you could hear holiday tunes on LITE FM (93.9) starting the day after Halloween!

One of the holiday standards we will hear over and over (and over and over ...) is Perry Como's “(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,” which came out in 1954. No matter how far away you roam, “for the holidays you can't beat home sweet home.”

The problem for a lot of people — especially those of us who are older — is that place we call home no longer exists. Or is too far away. Or is just a memory.

Chances are you've moved at least once in your life — most Americans have, according to a 2008 Pew Research study of the U.S. Census. One of the first questions we ask when we meet someone is “Where are you from?” But what a complicated question that is. Does it mean where someone currently lives? Where they were born? Where they grew up? Or does it mean something else entirely, and how can we recapture that feeling during the holidays?

The concept of “home” is well studied by psychologists and researchers — and IKEA, which puts out an annual “Feeling of Home” report. Researchers have long understood that “home” isn't just a physical location, but also includes people, objects, memories, smells and more. I myself grew up as the daughter of a career Marine, so we moved every few years. As a result, home became a fluid concept. Today, for me, it's where my husband, dogs and backyard garden are. Frank McAndrew, a psychology professor at Knox College in Galesburg, puts it well: “Home, therefore, is a predictable and secure place where you feel in control and properly oriented in space and time; it is a bridge between your past and your present, an enduring tether to your family and friends.”

So why is “home” so important to us, especially during the holidays?

For one thing, there are some health benefits to reconnecting with the people, places and things we call home. Hopefully you'll enjoy some hearty laughs over old stories or home movies, and we know that laughing releases feel-good endorphins. Talking with old friends and sharing what's going on in your life can help ease anxiety.

Being with loved ones can make you reflect on the things you're grateful for. I'm a big believer that practicing an attitude of gratitude is good for physical, mental and emotional well-being. Also, taking time with family and away from the stresses of work can recharge your batteries and make you feel more rested.

If, as researchers believe, places play a very important role in developing and maintaining self-identity and group identity, the opposite may be true if no place feels like home. Feeling unrooted can bring about feelings of loneliness, depression and self-doubt. Many Americans, in fact, don't feel at home in their own homes, according to one of the recent IKEA studies.

There are actions we can take to find, once again, that feeling of home, whether it's for the holidays or any time of the year. These thoughts are adapted from

• Seek safety: Feeling safe is a basic human need and part of the foundation of any home. It isn't just a sense of physical well-being; it's a sense of emotional and psychological well-being, as well.

• Connect with others: It's the people we surround ourselves with that truly make or break a home. We all need a community of people in which we feel understood and supported. It takes time and effort but is very rewarding.

• Explore and try new things: Bring a sense of enthusiasm into everything you do, as if you're a child seeing everything for the first time. Be curious, ask questions and learn details; every place and every person has a story. Be fearless and explore.

• Spend some time alone: Being mindful and aware of our feelings will help guide us toward making the necessary changes needed to feel at home.

• Slow down: It's tempting to be caught up in the whirl of the holidays, frantically trying to see and do everything. To truly develop a sense of home, we must slow down long enough to really experience the people and places we so find ourselves in, no matter if it's around the corner from family or across the country.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (847) 612-6684.

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