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  • Writer's pictureangie holstein

Coping Ahead for the Holiday Season

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

The holidays can be both a joyful time and a difficult time.

For South Asians living in North America, the holiday season is a time for Diwali and Navratri as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

When I reflect back to my own experience and those of my South Asian friends and families, there was a lot of variance in how holidays were experienced and what they brought up. Some celebrated the full holiday with presents, Christmas trees, believing in Santa and church depending on their religious background, for others it was a school break and for some a mix of both. I remember going back to school to hear stories of others’ celebrations. The holiday period for kids of South Asian immigrant families can be a time of feeling even more different and exacerbating the experience of leading a double life. Even though my own family celebrated certain aspects of the holidays, I remember hiding our “Curry on Christmas Eve” tradition from my school friends and their families. Now I remember those memories fondly and continue the tradition to this day.

For all people in whatever their holiday celebrations may be, it is a time that tends to bring up a variety of experiences, emotions (both welcomed and unwelcome), along with family issues and conflict. Many experiences hold varying degrees of joy, connection, rest and fun. There is also another side to the holiday season that we can learn about and normalize, as faced by so many in silence, so we can be there for ourselves and others.

Holidays Can Bring Up:

• A worsening of symptoms for those living with mental illness or at the worst, a triggering of suicidal feelings

• Increased feelings of anxiety, stress and depression

• Challenges for those trying to maintain their sobriety

• Grief and loss. Those who have lost people in their circle may have increased feelings of mourning the “empty chair” at the table

• Low Energy and low motivation, known as the Winter Blues. This can worsen into Seasonal Affective Disorder, Depression and Anxiety.

• Feelings of isolation and loneliness based on their family circumstances or support system

• Exacerbated feelings of being different in relation to the dominant culture

• Pressure to perform, forgive, get along with others and be joyful

• Sleep disturbance

• Family conflict triggered by togetherness and the expectation to be happy. For example rehashing of past arguments or mistakes, disagreements on parenting of the children, embarrassing childhood stories etc.

• Feelings of inadequacy and stress due to financial pressure and difficulty covering bills

• Anger, Jealousy and resentment for the pressure to spend money or thoughts that others have more expensive things than you

Coping Ahead Skill:

The Cope Ahead Skill (DBT tools), is intended to have us consider how we might prepare ourselves to help reduce stress ahead of time. We can anticipate and predict it. You may consider some of the following tips:

Don’t over schedule yourself. You can anticipate there will be demands for your time. Schedule in the time for yourself to make sure you are in a healthy mental space.

Have your boundaries in place. Boundaries are the invisible line between you and another, that separates your physical space, needs, emotions and responsibilities to others. It is how you teach people how to treat you and a key ingredient to maintaining mental wellness. Practice saying yes, no or later as you plan out the holiday schedule.

Do things that replenish and nourish you. We can easily get caught up in the needs of others, our parents, colleagues, friends or our children. Remember your needs are important and your responsibility so find time to journal, meditate, walk and check in with yourself.

Spend time with people who feel supportive to you. Make sure there is a balancing of more time with people who bring you joy and positive connection instead of stress and conflict.

Manage your expectations so they can be realistic. There is no such thing as perfection for the moments we look forward to.

Guard Your Sleep! Sleep deprivation is well established by research to increase distressing emotions and cause added stress.

For those of you in recovery, write out your holiday plan with strategies to stay sober and enjoy the holidays. For example, bring your own non-alcoholic beverages to gatherings, choose activities and people that reduce triggers etc.

Avoid and manage the pressure you put on yourself. Give yourself permission to walk away from conflict and to say no to invitations that you predict may involve drama.

If you feel a decline in your mental health, sobriety or suicidal feelings, don’t delay in recognizing, reflecting and accessing help from your friends, family, doctor, therapist or mental health distress line. And of course, we are here to help you.

Remember you are not alone. Don’t suffer in silence and don’t give up.

Wishing you joy, peace, support and love for the upcoming Holidays and New Year!


Angie Agrawal Holstein, MSW, RSW, Psychotherapist

Creating change can feel overwhelming, but through supportive, non-judgmental dialogue, you can begin to better cope with the feelings, thoughts and behaviour patterns associated with your life's challenges.


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