Coping with sadness 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 people will be basking in the warmth of yuletide cheer, some of us will be dreading the coming holidays. For many newcomers, this is a painful reminder that their family and friends are a million miles away, celebrating in their home country. This can make them feel more alone.

Other triggers

Even immigrants who have been here for some time can get lonely around this time of year. As this season can also be about self-evaluation (since the year is ending), our negative feelings are somehow amplified. Other reasons 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
  • cabin fever due to current public health directives because of COVID-19.

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 ease the sadness:

  1. Connect and keep in touch – Feeling homesick? Zoom, Skype and other VoIP technology are wonderful ways to reconnect with your family and friends. You can even join your family virtually as they celebrate Christmas dinner across the miles. Yes, some of us may be sick of video calls, but this is the next best thing to being actually there.
  2. Keep your expectations realistic – We tend to idealize the holidays because of all the images we see in media. You know, that shot through a misty window of a family (or group of friends) exchanging gifts, sharing a toast, laughing or hugging each other. Real life is not exactly like that! You may also see images like this in your friends’ social media posts and feel left out. Remember, this is not the complete picture. Do not force yourself to feel happy just because it is expected. 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. Let it guide you when you make your plans for the holidays and create your own happiness.
  3. Stay busy – Instead of focusing on your worries, keep occupied by:
    • Volunteering – 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 and enjoy cultural activities that you miss. If you don’t want to travel far, ask to help out your neighbor shovel snow in their yard. There is nothing more uplifting than doing good for others however small (read Should you volunteer during the pandemic? 5 steps to help out safely to know what precautions to take before going out there to volunteer.).
    • 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. Attend language classes, online chats, conversation circles, skating lessons at the community center, or walk around your neighbourhood to enjoy the unique beauty of winter.

    Building social connections, (note: The 211 helpline is in Ottawa. Please see the links below for Manitoba helplines).

  4. Making a “gratitude list” – Listing down all your blessings this year will help you appreciate what you have right now instead of pining for things in the past. This will keep your outlook positive and upbeat.
  5. Making New Year’s resolutions – Studies have shown that having something to look forward to helps ease depression. Make a list of your goals for next year. The article Making your New Year’s resolutions work can help you get started.
  6. Trying something new – Being in a new country, 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. Recharging yourself – Set some “me time” and go to a spa, get 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. Avoiding 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 sad.

If you need help or someone to talk to:

Depression is different from sadness. Depression is an illness and it is more complicated than sadness. If you feel depressed:

  1. You can go to the nearest Immigrant Serving Organization.
  2. Try Mental Health Virtual Therapy – This is available to Manitobans 16 years old and older who are coping with mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety. It now also includes two free counselling sessions from a trained professional from Morneau Shepell.
  3. You can also call:
  4. If you feel that you may be suffering from SAD, seek help immediately. Talk to your doctor about it.

Article updated November 19, 2020.

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Community Resources

Get the updated Mental Health resource guide on the Canadian Mental Health Association page.

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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