Coping with the Holidays: 7 Tips from a Muslim Mental Health Counselor

For many Muslims, dealing with the holiday season can be a challenging time. Emotions may range from feeling left out, experiencing judgment and guilt, or feeling triggered due to the loss of a loved one. It can also be a challenge for Muslim children to feel like they “fit in” among their peers at school because they may not have a holiday to share during that time of year. Here are some tips for maintaining positive mental health during the holidays.

  1.  Create your own way of celebrating the holidays that reflects the teachings of your faith. For instance, in our home we not only celebrate Thanksgiving, but we also have a “Thank You Allah” party where friends and kids are invited to share blessings they are thankful for. Get creative and make it fun with a story-time, crafts, and fun decorations for children. Adults can each bring a dish to share with other friends. It’s fun to put your own spiritual spin on a holiday. Use the holidays as a time to spend quality time with your family. Plan a fun trip or family tradition together. Take advantage of the time off from school and work.
  2. Join friends and family members in their celebrations. People celebrate holidays with different intentions–whether to honor their faith, spend time with their loved ones, or to spread kindness through gift-giving. There is nothing wrong with a Muslim who chooses to celebrate a holiday that is not inherent to Islam. After all, attending a Christmas dinner is not the same as believing that Jesus is the Son of God. I have greatly enjoyed attending Passover Sedars and other religious traditions in order to promote interfaith dialogue and strengthen my connection with my brothers and sisters of other faiths.
  3. Confront the Holiday Haram Police: I refer to those who judge or mock other holidays as the Holiday Haram Police. These individuals even go as far as to say that celebrating along with people of other faiths is haram or forbidden. This dynamic is not unique in the Muslim community, as I have also witnessed this behavior among other groups as well. It’s important to remember that many Muslim children are converts or the children of converts. Telling someone that it is haram or forbidden to celebrate a certain holiday is not only wrong—but destructive. These messages create guilt and hard feelings especially in young children who have family members from other faiths. I know this first-hand coming from a mixed background. If you witness a member of the community talking about a holiday in a derogatory fashion, respectfully address it.
  4. It’s ok not to be ok: The first step to positive mental health during the holidays is to recognize that the holidays may not be a happy or merry time for you. Take the time to explore what the root cause is of that negative emotion and then do something to improve your mood–exercise, pray, spend time in nature, treat yourself to a nice dinner with friends. Find what is lacking or off balance in your life to improve your well-being.
  5. Losing a Loved One: Holidays can cause feelings of grief–especially when a loved one who used to be present at certain holiday gatherings is no longer with us. There is a tendency to emotionally disconnect and self-distract from remembering the deceased; whereas research indicates that it is emotional connection and memory-making that helps maintain positive mental health in dealing with loss. Take the time to incorporate the memory of the family member or friend by creating a holiday memorial of positive memories, re-making a favorite dish the person used to cook, creating a place at the table for the deceased individual, or by organizing a fundraiser for a cause that the person was passionate about and donate the funds in his/her name. The ways to keep their spirits alive during the holidays are endless!
  6. Reach out for Support: If you find yourself alone or in a crisis during the holidays, please know that help is available 24/7 at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK. Many callers find it helpful to have a real person to process their emotions with while others may be busy with festivities. If you feel you may be struggling with more complicated grief, consider reaching out to a Licensed Mental Health Counselor for emotional healing and support.

If you are interested in getting mental health/relationship support or have a speaking inquiry, please contact Anisa Diab at anisa.diab@gmail.com or check out her website at www. anisadiab.com