Mental Health and the Holidays

The end of the year can be a joyful time, full of reunions and tradition. For expatriates, however, it can bring up a mixture of emotions: excitement at seeing new customs, loneliness at not being with family, and even confusion as schedules change from what they are used to. Combined with long hours of darkness (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), many people report feeling extra stress and depression during December and January. 

There are ways to make this season easier, even if you are not able to spend time at home. Technology allows us to virtually take part in celebrations, but there are things you can do to make your new home feel a little closer to your old. 

Almost every major city will have opportunities for outreach and food banking, something particularly needed during the winter even if the culture does not celebrate a major holiday in the season. Giving back will take the focus from loneliness and move it to generosity. 

Offer to share your own culture
Many play groups and libraries love having guests come in to do presentations, and children love learning about new cultures. If you have a fair grasp of the local language, or a friend who can translate, offering to do a presentation or share a holiday craft can bring warm feelings to all. For example, when I was in Japan, we often taught songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to local groups of children who were studying English, and let them make their own reindeer masks from paper plates. 

Go local
Just as you enjoy sharing your culture, finding ways to participate in the traditions of your host country can lead to making new connections. Friends, your child’s school, or even city hall might be able to direct you to celebrations, and some online groups specialize in hosting tourists and expatriates for cultural events. Getting out will alleviate the isolation. 

In Living Abroad’s country resources and social sections, you’ll find local clubs and organizations that can offer a good starting place to find holiday activities. But if despite all your efforts the holidays still seem to be a burden, you can always talk to a counselor. Living Abroad also has mental health resources that will ensure you get through this period, and see the brighter days ahead.

Happy holidays to all! 

Written by Kate Havas, GMS-T, Content Manager