Holiday Season: Dealing with family & mental health as a South Asian

So, as a South Asian, autumn (although glum in the UK) is for many a sign of the festive season. Not just because the shops are filled with Thanksgiving and Christmas galore as soon as the leaves change colour, but because Navratri and Diwali are highlights of the year. However, for some, this time of the year can be challenging for a numbering of reasons. We’ll look at these reasons and how you can deal with your family as a South Asian during the Holiday Season.

Estranged family

Growing up, I always found Diwali particularly triggering. All of my South Asian friends would talk about the huge celebrations and get togethers they had, something I rarely experienced. The festive season can really bring to the fore how many of us don’t have the “perfect happy family” whether it’s through divorced parents, family politics or estranged siblings or cousins. Nowadays it’s something increasingly difficult to escape with constant posting online.

Escape The Images of Perfect Lives

Turn off your social media if you find the constant stream of celebrations too much to handle, and use that time to think about what traditions of your own you can start (maybe even with friends).

Seeing relatives and code-switching as a South Asian

On the other end, where you do have celebrations, it also means having to see some people you would frankly rather not. Code-switching is something that comes scarily naturally to many South Asians.

Hiding who you are

You’re used to having to dial back several aspects of your personality to appease others. A few times a year everyone bundles into a room and even when I’ve thought to protest, and say whatever I want to, I am told to keep it in for fear of the reputational damage it might do. The desire to keep the facade of harmony within the wider family is a stronger force than we know.

Code-switching and tips on how to deal with living a double life

Look, there is no harm in taking the easy path. Decide how much of yourself you feel comfortable sharing with your relatives at this time and draw the line there. Don’t feel pressured to share more than you want to. You’re not a traitor or a liar if you omit some facts or detail. Yes, it’s important to fight battles and ‘be the change you want to see’ but not if you don’t feel up for it. Be prepared to feel frustrated and have someone/something on stand by to help with this in the moment. It might be a song you listed to or a friend you can call or message to vent or take your mind off things. This can help you destress and switch between who you are outside of your family and who you are when you’re with them.

Grief during the Holiday Season

The holiday season can bring back fond memories of those that we may have previously got to share this time with but who are no longer with us. For me Xmas and NY used to be the family holiday, we would go to a far flung place for a few weeks, to escape the bitter cold.

Losing family structure

That’s a distant memory now, not just because of covid, but because I lost the pillar of my family structure. I feel like I should be remembering him on these big festive days that are all about family but sometimes they just pass by with little glamour.

Tips on dealing with grief during the festive season

Grief can hit you at the strangest of moments, and sometimes not even on the “big days”, so perhaps it’s okay if the festive season passes you by and you don’t feel that heaviness. Just let yourself feel it when you do, and don’t feel guilty when you do manage to experience some joy.

My last words on mental health during the Holiday Season

The festive season is tough, for many reasons, and particularly after a difficult few years. Whatever you’re feeling this coming year, allow yourself to sit with it, and know that even though it may not seem the case (i) others are struggling too and (ii) it will pass.

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