Coping with stress and depression during the holidays

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Sadness during the holiday season? But it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

While most of us will be basking in the warmth of yuletide cheer, there will be some people who will be dreading the onset of the Christmas season. For some newcomers, the holidays could be a painful reminder that their closest family and friends are a million miles away, celebrating in their home country. And for others, it could be their first Christmas alone in a foreign land.

Other triggers

Even immigrants who have been here for some time can get depressed around this time of the year. As this season can also be about self-evaluation (since the year is also ending), our negative feelings are somehow amplified. Other reasons for stress or depression could be:

  • pressure to socialize because of many parties and merry-making this season
  • worries about career or finances
  • experiencing culture-shock
  • the cold and gloomy weather. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing. It is a kind of depression that results from inadequate exposure to bright light during the winter months (WebMD).

Tips for beating the holiday blues

If you or any of your friends or family are feeling low, here are a few things you can try to dispel the gloom:

  1. Connect and keep in touch – Feeling homesick? Skype and other VoIP technology are wonderful ways to reconnect with your family and friends. Barring the time difference, connecting is fast, easy, and inexpensive. All you need is a good internet connection and a computer. You can even plan to join your family virtually as they celebrate Christmas dinner across the miles.
  2. Keep your expectations realistic – because of all the images we see in media, we tend to idealize the holidays. You don’t need gifts or go to many parties if these do not make you happy. Think about what the season really means for you and then let it guide you when you make your plans for the holidays.
  3. Stay busy – instead of focusing on your worries, you can keep occupied by:
    • Volunteering – You can choose to help out in your community or church. There are also many charities looking for volunteers around this time of year. Work can range from gift-wrapping to kitchen work. Volunteer in your own ethnocultural organization. This way you can mingle with your countrymen, enjoy cultural activities that you miss, and help out the cause. If you don’t want to travel far, ask to help out your neighbor shovel snow in his yard. There is nothing more uplifting than doing good deeds for others however small.
    • Participating in free activities – take advantage of many free activities in Manitoba that can help improve your skills, engage your mind, or provide some recreation. You can attend language classes, online chats, cooking classes, skating lessons at the community center, or just walk around your neighborhood to enjoy the unique beauty of winter (check the temp before you leave the house!).
  4. Make a “gratitude list” – Listing down all your blessings this year will help you appreciate what you have at present instead of pining for things in the past. This will keep your outlook positive and upbeat.
  5. Make New Year’s resolutions – studies have shown that having something to look forward to helps ease depression. So make a list of your goals for next year. The article Making your New Year’s resolutions work can help you get started.
  6. Try something new – being in a new land, you have plenty of opportunities to experience many new things. It can be as simple as playing in the snow, building a snowman, or making new friends.
  7. Recharge yourself – set some “me time” and go to a spa, a spiritual retreat, or a meditation class. These activities can ease your mind and provide much needed rest. These can renew your strength to face the new year with much greater focus and positivity.
  8. Avoid alcohol and drugs – whatever you do, don’t drown your sorrows in alcohol or drugs. These are temporary fixes and will only make you even more depressed.

If you need help or someone to talk to:

  1. You can go to the nearest Immigrant Serving Organization.
  2. Or call:
  3. If you feel that you may be suffering from SAD, talk to your doctor about it.

Sources: eMentalHealth.ca. Updated May 27, 2019.

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Community Resources

Check your nearest community centre activities this winter. In Winnipeg, learn about skating lessons and public skate schedules on this page.

Aurora Family Therapy Centre has several free programs for newcomers.

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