santa claus too tired to lie on floor with many gift boxes

10 Tips to Survive the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in a Foreign Country

[dropcap]No[/dropcap] matter what country you live in, Holidays are infamous for increasing stress. There are gifts to buy, friends and family to visit, a seemingly never ending schedule of parties and events to attend and a mountain of cooking and baking to complete.

Now, imagine you live far away from your home and all its familiarity.  “Where do I get a turkey and other traditional food I need?” “How do I ship Christmas gifts back to my family?” “What are the local traditions that I need to be aware of?”

It’s easy to see how the ex-pat factor of living abroad can quickly add its own special touch of stress to the festive season.

The expat life often means being far away from loved ones during the holidays or one side of the family, in attempt to spend the holidays together, can be enduring some pretty stressful international holiday travel.

Of course there are some amazing seasonal extras which are positive, such as family or friends coming to visit, learning holiday traditions of your new home, perhaps some nicer weather, and enjoying gift-wrapped surprises. Regardless of the benefits, which we all cherish, the pressures can still add up. We might not even realize that:

  • We’ve helped ourselves to yet another portion of our favourite festive sweets
  • We are fatigued and headachy, seemingly catching every cold and flu that’s circulating
  • We’ve gone from one glass of wine in the evening to two

Combine this with trying to have a traditional holiday in another country and it becomes all too easy to feel overwhelmed.

Since each of us reacts to, and experiences stress in our own way, it’s important to try a variety of different techniques to determine what works best for you. What works for one person might not work for you and visa versa. The key is to be flexible, listen to your body and don’t get discouraged if one suggestion doesn’t work for you. From a long list of tension-busting ideas, here are 10 top suggestions to get you started.

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  1. Its ok to say no. Too many of us get caught up in trying to please everyone during the holidays that we forget its perfectly okay to say no- trust us- you’ll thank us later.
  2. Remember “Me Time”.  Don’t forget to pencil in some time for yourself. Watch that extra episode before heading off to your next event, don’t always eat on the run, and remember to reward yourself- even if it’s something small like a latte at your favourite café.
  3. Create “to-do” lists. By organizing your plan of attack, scheduling in events and parties and building your shopping lists, you will feel more confident in tackling the holiday season by seeing everything laid out. By prioritize items in terms of must do and would like to do you’ll feel more in control; plus crossing off completed tasks feel great!
  4. Start early.  You know what they say> the “early bird gets the worm” and this applies in spades during the holiday season. The sooner you start, the more time you will have to spread out your “to-do’s”. That way, if something does happen to derail your best laid plan, you’ll have time to redirect your course.
  5. Be realistic. While it’s tempting to go into superman or superwomen mode during the holidays- don’t bite of more than you can chew. By being realistic with your commitments you’ll feel more relaxed if you have to add a last minute, can’t miss, commitment. While you may want to attend every event, cook every family dish and bake holiday cookies every day, it just may not be possible.
  6. Participate in local traditions.  Make sure to take advantage of your new home and the wonderful and different customs you can partake in. The holidays are a great time to experience you’re a new culture and feel part of the community. Visit someplace new, try a local holiday dish or incorporate a local tradition into your celebration. One of the joys of ex-pat living is the chance to experience a different perspective so take full advantage of the holiday season.
  7. Give back.  One of the most important things you can do to put all that holiday stress into perspective is give back.  By looking outside our own needs to the world around us a lot of things are put into perspective. Volunteer at a local non-profit, donate a toy to an orphanage, buy someone lunch. Big or small, it doesn’t matter the effects are the same- helping others feels good.
  8. Get Moving.  Another great way to beat stress is exercise. Time and time again research has shown the powerful effect just 30 minutes of walking can have on our mental wellbeing. Our bodies were meant to move so remember to pencil in some physical activity- even if it’s just 10 minutes.
  9. Remember to laugh. As stressful as the holidays can get, nothing can beat a good sense of humour.
  10.  Reach out.  Even in another country, you aren’t alone. Take time to share your experiences with others. It often helps to speak with people who can understand your situation and subsequent frustrations. Often people in the same shoes will have helpful and thoughtful advice and suggestions. Make sure to balance the discussion with positive experiences as well so the overall exchange is encouraging and not negative.

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While some of these suggestions can be seen as holiday specific, the vast majority are useful during the rest of the year as well.  The sooner you get started using the techniques that work for you to manage stress the sooner everyone wins.

Do you have a great technique you would like to share with fellow expats? Sound off in the comments section below.

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