December can be a challenging period for international students. As Christmas and New Year’s celebrations roll around, the holiday blues become increasingly real; students may feel varying degrees of sadness despite it being a season in which we’re told is “the most wonderful time of the year”.
This could be due to reasons such as not being able to go home to their families due to time or financial constraints, feeling lonely or isolated when all your friends or peers are off to their hometowns while you may not have any holiday plans to fill your time, or merely how the holiday season – even for those who do not celebrate – serves as a painful reminder of the emptiness that comes from losing a loved one, and not having them with you anymore.
For others, there’s also the pressure to live up to the festive season. This includes the pressure to spend – be it outings with friends or gift giving – which can take a toll on students, especially on those surviving on a shoe-string budget.
So how can you cope with the holiday blues amidst the blaring sirens to be joyous in your surroundings? Here are some recommendations:
Set realistic expectations
Start by making realistic expectations for the holiday season and setting achievable goals for yourself. The holiday season doesn’t have to be something out of a Hallmark movie. Free yourself from the shackles of what you “ought to be doing”. Instead, engage in what you’d like to do instead.
After all, there’s nothing wrong if you prefer to stay at home during the holiday season over attending parties, which are stressful for some people. Don’t compare your life to your friends on social media as it will only rob you of your happiness.
Create a new tradition
Do you spend your holidays differently back in your home country? This can evoke feelings such as homesickness. Psycom recommends beating the holiday blues by creating new traditions, adding: “There are no hard rules for what your holiday should look like. If you’re worried that repeating an old tradition will make you sad, reinvent it for the present.”
For instance, if you’re craving company, you could have your own little party for friends who may not be celebrating the occasion, and cook some of your treasured foods from back home to ease your homesickness.
Keep yourself occupied
If you don’t have a partner or family with you, it’s easy to feel lonely and depressed. Psycom recommends you find ways to keep yourself occupied. This could include finding ways to get up and get moving, such as making short excursions to your favourite café or bookstore.
“The goal is to be around people. Having a brief conversation or simply exchanging smiles lifts your mood,” Kenneth Yeager, clinical director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Programme at the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center was quoted saying.
Students can also consider volunteering to get their spirits engaged and uplifted, and don’t feel afraid to reach out to others by calling or meeting them.