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South Asian Guide to Holiday Survival

by Mrinal Gokhale

For many cultures, holidays are linked to getting a break and spending quality time with family. But the idea of several generations under one roof doesn’t exactly evoke warm, fuzzy feelings in everybody.

So what does holiday stress mean for South Asians? Well, for one, our hyphenated identities often feel like we have split personalities. You may leave parts of yourself at the door when you step into your parents’ home. You may not tell your parents or elders about the significant other in your life, or about the road trip you took with friends recently. This can lead to identity issues over time.

Do you hold your tongue when you hear something sexist at the dinner table, or if an auntie makes nasty comments about your weight? We were taught repeatedly to respect our elders, which could make us feel repressed.

Or perhaps you don’t have family around, and you get lonely. Either way, you are not alone, and it’s important to practice mental hygiene to get the most of your holiday experience.

1. Know that you come first.

Many of us were taught that sacrifice defines our value as humans. We may neglect self-care in order to bring the energy to the party, cook for multiple family members, babysit, and more. But if we want to give others our best selves, we must feel our best. Additionally, holidays brings on stress because they disrupt our routines. Do you ever feel a bit overwhelmed in crowds or during parties? Do some relatives ever drain your energy? If so, understand that you’re not antisocial or rude for wanting a break so long as you’re communicative and kind about it. Don’t feel bad for leaving a party early, going to bed before the party ends, or taking a walk or nap to catch your breath. Your body and mind will thank you for it, and your family will enjoy your company just as much as you enjoy them.

2. Just Breathe

Hyper-focusing on your breath may not excite everyone, but good things happen when you do so. You’ll gain better control of overwhelming emotions. The key is not waiting until a crisis point to practice. Implement conscious breath work regularly so it becomes second nature when you feel stressed out. Mindfulness meditation involves observing emotions in our bodies and noticing them as they pass. Simply put, feel the emotion, but don’t become the emotion. If you’re new to this, consider guided mindfulness tutorials on YouTube or download an app like Headspace or Buddhify. You could also check out public classes in your area if you prefer in-person. If you have a racing mind, consider practicing for even just 10 minutes a day when you lay down at night. That way, all your work is done for the day, which reduces the chances of your mind wandering too much.

Some find breathwork more enjoyable combined with yoga, Tai Chi, and other physical activity. One example is the sun salutation series, also called Surya Namaskar, which is best practiced on an empty stomach in the morning. The concept involves inhaling on the upward facing poses, and exhaling on the downward poses. Consult a doctor before beginning physical activity if needed, and know that it takes years to get “good” at mindfulness. It’s okay for your mind to wander, as long as you bring it back. That’s what breathwork is about: returning to the present moment.

3. Remember how far you have come.

When a new year is around the way, many people lament about not being where they want to be in life. We feel even more defeated when those judgmental aunties question our life choices. Why aren’t you married yet? When are you having kids? Why aren’t you pursuing a medicine career? These sorts of comments sting, however, you can’t place your worth in one area or in the hands of others. If you do, you’ll never take any pride because you’ll keep chasing others’ standards of what you “should” be. That said, when you get some downtime, do some inner work. Turn on some of your favorite tunes and journal your proudest accomplishments - not just from this year, but over the long term. Create a vision board if you want as well. Do not to lose sight of who you are now, and where you want to be.

4. Video Calls for Long Distance

If you have no family or friends in town or that you can see in person, you may feel lonely. Try to plan a video chat with your favorite cousins, grandparents, or other close relatives. Start a group chat to plan a digital get-together and catch up. It may not be the same as getting together, but it’ll still feel good to catch up and to see each other’s faces even if it is digitally.

We understand that the above tips are just “general” guidelines. There’s nothing wrong with seeking in-person guidance from a therapist, whether through in person or group sessions. If you ever feel like you’re in a crisis, you may also call your local crisis center or mental health helpline for immediate assistance.

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