It's all about resiliency: Tis the season to be jolly!
This is the fifth in a series of articles which discusses various aspects of stress and how we can learn to bounce back from stressful occurrences.
Expats are in a particularly sensitive position when it comes to this festive time of year. First off, many of us are far away from loved ones. The holidays somehow seem to make these distances feel even bigger.
Secondly, not all of us celebrate Christmas. In a typical expat community, we’re all from different cultures and backgrounds with a variety of religious beliefs as well.
The fact that I’m writing about this topic now also points to my background. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are traditional holidays celebrated by my family and friends.
We tend to take it for granted that everyone shares in our merriment and happiness while the reality is far different. For a large number of expats, December isn’t a special month.
Even though (and perhaps because) we put so much emphasis on celebrating a Merry Christmas, it can be a depressing time of the year for many.
If there’s not enough money or time to travel to those we love, then we can feel really alone. Or the thought of spending hours in airports and airplanes, perhaps stranded because of bad weather, sends us into a downward spiral.
Christmas is often about obligations, and feeling that one must be with family, that it’s expected of us, can cause resentment to build. Starting off our travels with this frame of mind will create the proverbial mountains out of molehills. Everything that happens to us will be seen through darkly tinted glasses and the smallest of incidents can create irritation.
What you can do
For those of you who stay here while really wishing that you’re at home with family, surrounded by all the traditions that make the holidays so special, you need to plan well ahead so that you’re not caught up in feeling sorry for yourself.
› Take action and plan your free days so that you’ll have things and people to look forward to.
› Make it known amongst your friends here that you’re looking for company.
› Invite a few to celebrate with you to experience your traditions which may be new to them.
› Depending on whom you invite, make the celebration a combination of traditions so that everyone experiences something new as well as something familiar.
› Decorate, even if it’s only for yourself. Bring the cosiness of the season to your home.
For those of you who will be travelling distances to spend the holidays at with family, you need to prepare as well, especially if you have a busy job here. The last thing you want to do is leave here tired and come back even more so.
› Pay attention if you’re sick for the first few days of your holiday. That is a major sign that your energy reserves are low and that your immune system is overworked. If your immune system is overworked, it probably means that you are as well.
› Run through the list of all the things that can go wrong on the trip (delays, crowded airports, missed connections) and tell yourself you’ll be okay with them.
› Think of who you’ll be visiting. Be aware of all the people and things that normally trigger irritation or anger in you.
Most of us gloss over these factors, forgetting from one year to the next what or who it was that stirred up strong emotions in us. Family tensions can be at their highest when all we really want is to spend a loving, caring time with those we hold dear.
› Keep in mind that once you’re home with family then the pressure really begins as family and friends vie for your attention.
Instead of running all over, conserve your energy by asking people to travel to you. Prioritise the family and friends you want to see most.
› If you’ve had a particularly exhausting flight, then allow yourself the time to recover. Don’t plan an overly full agenda. Your intention is to be happy. Family events can turn into stomach churning races against the clock to get everything done in time.
Love and laughter in the air
No matter what you do this holiday season, hold the love in your heart and a ready laugh on your lips.
At those moments when things seem overwhelming, go to your heart and breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes. You’ll be amazed at what this will do to enhance a feeling of calm.