As we fly into the holiday season once again, lots of the US descends into cold and darkness. For you, as an expat, as a new arrival, or maybe just someone with a small group of friends nearby, that's possibly going to mean that you also start to find it more difficult to connect with others, and internalize some of that cold and darkness – so it's important we talk about it.
Moving to a new country is hard. Making new friends is hard. Maintaining your new connections, while trying not to lose your friends from home and juggling family at the same time is especially hard.
With that in mind, it's important to be aware that throughout the holidays it only becomes more difficult as the distance becomes so much more evident when your friends and family back in your home country start to come together and you're not there.
To start, I want to acknowledge something: It's going to suck, and it's completely normal to feel this way – especially if this is your first holiday season away.
Why is moving different than other things?
From my personal experience I've found that moving is similar to going to dinner with a new partner's family: You want to impress people, you want them to like you, and you're “on” for the entirety of the night. You want to put your best foot forward, say the right things, make connections, learn and remember things about others, take away skills and memories, and not fall on your face, so that you can walk away knowing you've succeeded in an important step in your relationship.
This is exhausting! For those 2, 3, 4, or 5 hours, your body is burning energy like nothing else and when you get home you are likely more tired than a fun dinner party should have caused.
This is just like moving but instead of 2 to 5 hours, it's 2 to 5 weeks, or even 2 to 5 months! You're always learning new things, you're having to impress a whole range of new people who don't know anything about you (something you likely haven't done to a completely unique crowd since pre-school) and you're worried about this in both your personal and professional life. Let alone the stresses of staying employed, affording life, finding stable housing, setting up your future, and all the rest that goes with a move to the US.
Not only that but you also don't have the support network you've likely (but subconsciously) become completely reliant on. You can't laugh about a funny thing that happened because your friends from home are likely asleep, and you would have to explain the context which is all a bit more difficult than it's worth – mentally making it feel so much more difficult.
Your friendship group here in the US is likely made up of people who will also go home to their families for the holidays so if your network is small, then you're going to notice it especially. This also sucks, because just when you felt like things were feeling a little more normal, you have the rug pulled out from under you.
All in all, it's just exhausting, which makes every little thing slightly more difficult even if normally you could squash 20 of these issues in a single swipe.
How do I know this?
Here on America Josh I write answers to problems, I explain how I reached a hurdle and then how I climbed over it and share that knowledge with you so that hopefully I can make that climb just a little bit easier. What I don't dwell on though are the feelings I had when I reached that hurdle.
I do this somewhat on purpose: I want readers to feel seen that they've reached the hurdle but I want to give them strategies, and not just focus on the problem in front of them. What this does do though is minimize just how painful some of these (seemingly minor in many cases) hurdles can be and I don't want you to think you're alone with how impactful this can be.
I distinctly remember feeling deflated when I didn't know how to order a sandwich at a bodega – which writing out now feels utterly ridiculous. But at the time, after a few weeks of cold weather that I wasn't properly equipped for, and with only my friends from Australia to lean on when they were awake during the middles of nights, it was a whole lot to deal with and had me asking questions about the entirety of my move (over a damn sandwich!)
So how do I know this? I lived it too! I've had those moments where you question everything you decided to do, where the unknowing about how to deal with things feels insurmountable and you have a really blerk day.
But you know what? It's completely normal and you'll be ok. I know it, because I've done it myself and I've spoken to hundreds of others who went through the same thing as you and I, and we all made it through ok, and we're here to help!
So what can we do?
The above is a lot. I know. So what can we do to make sure we make it through to the Spring (which – when it arrives – is glorious when you feel that warm ray of sun peeking through the clouds!)?
First things first, don't feel bad leaning on others around you, because it's likely they feel the same way, especially if they're here from somewhere else. Say out loud when you're having a bad day, bad week, or bad mood, to your housemate, or to me, or text a family member back at home. Anyone! Saying it out loud can really help slow down the loop you've got going on in your mind.
Second, disconnect yourself from some (or all) of social media. We all love to post positive stories, achievements, and breakthroughs on social media, and we don't talk about the negatives. You don't need to see that your friend from home is having a banquet lunch with all your other friends, or that it's a warm sunny day on a beach somewhere you are not. Take this time to do a bit of digital detox and engage directly with those close to you and stop doom scrolling as much as you can.
Third, I know it's likely cold, but wrap yourself up, and get outside. ANY sun at all will help your mood, and exercise is amazing. You don't have to do more than go for a walk, but getting up and out is likely going to help a lot. Aim for somewhere new, a coffee shop, or a park, or one of the many winter fairs that happen, and wander around. There's no downside, and you might even find something you love.
Fourth, try and maintain a healthy diet without too much of the drugs and alcohol. It's easy to get carried away at parties throughout the holidays and get a dose of the feel-goods, but if you're generally not feeling great, this won't help long term. Absolutely enjoy your time with friends, but be sure to keep an eye on your intake.
Fifth, find networks, like America Josh, and all the other expat groups we connect with, and find what they're up to. Maybe they're doing holiday dinner for those who want to connect, maybe they're running a drinks night this week. Say “yes” to everything you can, even if it's slightly outside what you would normally consider normal. Social interactions and any connections you can make will likely make you feel abundantly better. I'm always happy to get your emails to [email protected] so don't be shy!
Sixth, if you're not coping and need more support, then speak to a doctor or medical professional and look into options like therapy. Therapy is amazing and can be life-changing for you, you've got a lot going on in your life so you're a prime candidate. Don't think that just because you chose to move you should have to deal with it alone, it's important you know how big this is and how we've all felt it!
Finally, if you're in a real crisis moment and need help, you can call 988, for free, and speak to someone.
Know you're not alone
You're not! We've all got our individual trials and our stories, and the things that we find tremendously difficult. Never minimize what you've got going on, and be supportive of those around you if you are in a good place.
We're stronger together.