For Expats; Prevent Holiday Depression and Stress; 10 Top Tips

Happy Couple with Christmas Gift at Home

For expats; 10 Tips to Prevent Holiday Depression and Stress.   Many people share a tradition of feeling stressed and depressed during the holidays. You’d probably be surprised to know how prevalent this is. For expats, much of it depends on whether we are going home, traveling someplace else or staying in our host country. But either way, here are some tips for finding true peace and joy during the holidays. When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.  Here are 10 tips to try:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If you can’t be with loved ones over the holidays, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you’re feeling lonely or isolated in a new country or posting, seek out community, religious or other social groups and events. They can offer support and companionship at a difficult time. Volunteering your time to help others in your host country is also a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to you, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or video calls on Skype.
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed if you can’t come home for the holidays. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup. If you’re in a new place, plan a vacation to someplace that sounds exciting, even if it means going alone.
  7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you mean no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Your family may not understand why you’re not coming home for the holidays, even if you’re far away. Give them a simple explanation, acknowledge their feelings, and move on. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  8. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity, particularly if you’re away from home and are prone to holiday depression. Physical activity is one of the best cures for depression as it actually releases endorphins that make you feel happier.
  9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, feeling irritable or hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Take control of the holidays Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays, particularly for expats who may be are away from home and their usual support networks.   Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as loneliness or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find true peace and joy during the holiday season.

Dhyan Summers is an American expat psychotherapist and founder and director of Expat Counseling and Coaching Services.  She has recently repatriated from New Delhi to Ashland, OR in the US. To book a free 30 minute session, visit and click on book a free session.

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