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December 23, 2016
by Hilda Huj

The Immigrant's Perspectives: Holiday Blues

December 23, 2016 01:55 by Hilda Huj  [About the Author]

It is the holiday season, the most wonderful time of the year. Or, is it? For most people, being an immigrant means that they are far away from their family and friends abroad. During the holiday season, when family and friendship values are the highlights of the celebration, it is hard not to feel sad and lonely.

It does not matter whether our relocation was voluntary, as in the case of tourists, migrant workers, and students, or a forced relocation, as in the case of forced migrants (people from crisis-struck or poor countries) and refugees. Whatever our story is, and where we come from, we all sometimes get sad and lonely when we are thinking about our home abroad. However, it is especially difficult to deal with those feelings during the holiday season, when we are already facing so many different stressors.

During the holiday season, feelings of homesickness can lead, or contribute, to the holiday blues phenomenon. Consequently, this can cause significant challenges on different levels of our functioning in our everyday life. However, it is important to note that the holiday blues phenomenon does not affect only immigrants, it may affect every and each one of us. Being an immigrant just increases the chances of experiencing the holiday blues.

What are the Symptoms and Effects?

We can experience the symptoms and effects of homesickness on multiple levels in our everyday lives at cognitive, behavioral, emotional, physical, and functional levels. Given that they can affect our everyday lives, as well as our productivity, and our relationships with ourselves and others, it is important to become aware of these symptoms and their effects as soon as possible. Only when we are aware that there is a problem, can we begin to work on it.

On a cognitive level, we may experience:

-obsessive thoughts about home

-negative thoughts about the new home


-the tendency to idealize home abroad rather than revisiting the problems encountered prior to leaving

-pessimistic thoughts

-thoughts about inadequacy and failure

On a behavioral level, we may experience:

-changes in sleeping and eating patterns

-poor ability to concentrate and focus

-becoming withdrawn and isolated


-being without any interest in the new environment

-seeking refuge in alcohol, tobacco, drugs, shopping, etc. 

On emotional level, we may experience:










-mood swings

-poor self-confidence

On a physical level, we may experience:

-the weakening of our immune system




-muscular tension


On a functional level, we may experience:

-problems with mental focus and memory

-poor performance in tasks

-low efficiency and productivity

-being unable to work

-being unable to follow our studies.

These are only some of the symptoms and effects of homesickness (Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets, & Van Heck, 1996). Symptoms and effects of the holiday blues are quite similar to those mentioned previously. However, while the homesickness is primarily induced by distress of leaving our home and finding ourselves in new and unfamiliar environment, the holiday blues can be induced by numerous factors, including:

-financial pressure

-unrealistic expectations for the holidays and pressure to be happy

-limited daylight

-over scheduling


-family stressors


-memories of past holidays, especially if we lost someone

In the end, it is important to note that the numerous symptoms and effects of homesickness and holiday blues help to illuminate the seriousness of the problem.

Holiday Blues and Homesickness

When we are talking about the problem, it is important to differentiate the homesickness and phenomenon called the holiday blues.

As we approach the holiday season, we are supposed to look forward to the holidays and hope that they will be full of happiness, friendliness, fellowship, and harmony. However, often this anticipation and excitement turns into feelings of depression, commonly called the holiday blues. This can happen to everyone. Causes may vary, but some of the most common causes of the holiday blues are stressfulness of holiday events, overdrinking, overeating, and fatigue. Feeling homesick can also lead, or contribute, to the holiday blues phenomenon.

What is homesickness? Homesickness is defined as a commonly experienced state of distress among those who have left their house and home and find themselves in a new and unfamiliar environment (Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets, & Van Heck, 1996). When are basic needs - often associated with home, family, friends, familiarity - such as support, love and security are not fulfilled within our new environment, we long for them, and consequently we long for our home. In this context we are talking about immigrants, however, feelings of homesickness are universal and experienced by us all when we are in a new and unfamiliar environment. These feelings can be experienced at any time and they are not specifically related to the holiday season.

What to Do?

First of all, feeling homesick is completely normal, and no one is immune to it. What matters, and makes a difference, is how we choose to deal with it.

In order to deal with feelings of homesickness, it is important to use our coping skills, emotional resilience, and support resources that are available to us. However, sometimes it will not be enough. In those cases, it is important to recognize that there are some skills we still need to acquire and that there are resources we can access in order to acquire those skills. This is also a way to deal with the holiday blues. Feeling little blue during the holiday season is completely normal, and no one is immune to it either. However, it is how we choose to deal with it that makes a difference.

Not dealing with the problem,or dealing with it in an unhealthy way may only exacerbate it, and lead to more severe clinical symptoms. On the other hand, if we choose to deal with the problem in a proper manner, the problem can lead us toward a path of learning and growing. 

Talk to Someone Who Can Help

There are many ways to deal with the homesickness and holiday blues. Sometimes, we will be successful in using our skills and resilience, that we built over the years. However, sometimes we will need to learn new skills and further develop our resilience.

Realizing that we have a problem, one with which we are not able to deal with by ourselves, is the first and the most difficult step we have to take in order to solve the problems we face. We have to give ourselves the time and space to accept where we are and how do we feel.  Then, the next step in overcoming our problems is talking with someone who can help.

Talking with somebody who can help involves seeking help when help is needed, and investing in our personal development through therapy in order to develop our coping skills and emotional resilience. Therapy is a safe place where we will have an opportunity to work with a trained professional in order to learn and grow.


Even though homesickness and holiday blues are different phenomena, they are commonly experienced as one in the same by immigrants. Therefore, it is hard to determine whether the homesickness is causing holiday blues, or just exacerbating the pre-existing symptoms of holiday blues. However, the number of symptoms and effects of these two phenomena helps to illustrate the problem.

Once we recognize that the problem exists, and that we are struggling with deficits in our coping skills and resilience which prevents us from effectively dealing with the problem, it is important to talk with someone who can help. By talking with a trained professional, we will be investing in our personal development by transforming the problem into an opportunity to learn and grow. 


Literature; Van Tilburg, G.L, Vingerhoets, A.J.J.M. & Van Heck, G.L. (1996). Homesickness: A review of the literature. Psychological Medicine, 26, 899-912.

About the Author

Hilda Huj Hilda Huj, B.A., M.A.

Hilda is a registered clinical counselling and forensic psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta. She specializes in working with youth, adults and families that have been impacted by trauma. She completed a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree in Psychology in Osijek, Croatia, and subsequently equated her academic credentials to Canadian standards. Currently, she volunteers with the Edmonton Police Services as a Victim Support Worker and also helps to promote Psychology by volunteering for the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta.

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