Yes, Teens Get Stressed During the Holidays, Too

We adults often feel the stress of the holidays or get the blues during the winter. But sometimes we forget or don’t realize that teens get those feelings, too. The same things that can cause our stress, can bring about stress for adolescents as well:

  • Hectic schedule
  • Financial stress
  • Increased family conflict or misunderstanding
  • Crowds
  • Pressure to live up to idealized images of holidays and family life
  • Changes in diet and routines
  • Cabin fever
  • Pressure to find the perfect gifts
  • Unmet expectations, such as not getting the gifts you wanted
  • Increased grief about divorce, death, or other family changes
  • Shortened amount of daylight

Additionally, children are very attuned to how their parents are feeling, so if a parent is stressed or depressed about the holidays, then the adolescent may pick up on those feelings and mimic them. Another source of stress may be the final crunch for end of semester exams and grades. Teens are also susceptible to feeling disappointed that the holidays are not the same as when they were young kids. Youth can actually grieve over the loss of the fun childhood excitement they remember.

Feeling stressed or getting the blues during the holidays is normal. But there are ways to combat or ease those feelings to help make it through the season. When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place by giving youth some effective tips for managing their feelings.

Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

  • Take care of your body. Remind teens that exercise is one of the best ways to work off stress.  Getting enough sleep also has a major impact on how you feel. Holidays often come with sugary and high-fat foods. Eating some is fine, but eating too much will only make mood swings worse. Tell youth to avoid alcohol or excess caffeine intake which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation. Overindulgence of any kind – whether food, alcohol or whatever – only adds to your stress and guilt.
  • Take a break. Encourage youth to spend time relaxing or doing an activity they enjoy. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something (such as listening to soothing music, drawing or using breathing exercises) that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Youth should have down time during their holiday break from school to rejuvenate themselves.
  • Reach out. Encourage youth to talk to trusted adults or friends that will really listen to them and not judge them or overreact. A good network of friends can help teens cope with stress in a positive way. If a child is feeling lonely or isolated, encourage them to seek out community events or other support. Volunteering to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships and can bring home the true meaning of the holidays.
  • Don’t over-schedule. Be realistic and prioritize plans. Saying ‘yes’ when you should say ‘no’ can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Remind teens that their friends will understand if they can’t participate in every project or activity. Encourage teens to work out schedules as a family, offering everyone a chance to express what they want.
  • Let go of ideas of perfection. Try to enjoy things as they are, not as you think they should be. Learn to feel good about doing a competent or “good enough” job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others. Remind youth that the holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Families should choose a few traditions to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.
  • Set a holiday budget and stick to it. Show your teens how to manage their money during the holidays, as well. Model fiscal responsibility. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
  • Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Teach youth to stand up for themselves in a positive way. For example, state feelings in polite, firm ways, such as “I feel angry when you yell at me”.

Divorce, death, and other family changes and the holidays

The holidays can be very difficult for anyone touched by death, divorce, or other major family changes. This is especially true for kids and teens. They may have to split time between two households or spend time with new stepparents or siblings. There may be unfamiliar routines. There may be many painful reminders of the past. There is also an extra focus on cheerfulness and family togetherness. All these can increase sadness and stress.

If a family has gone through a change recently, it is even more important to encourage teens to talk about their feelings. Let them know that their feelings are normal. Remind them that it is ok to cry or express their feelings, and that, over time, things will get easier. Suggest they skip some activities that are too painful or allowing themseves to start a new family tradition, as a way of making a new start. Emphasize that they can’t force themselves to be happy just because it is the holiday season, and that they should not feel guilty about that.

Take control of the holidays

Nobody wants the holidays to become something you dread. Instead, teach youth to take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. The holidays do not have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting to still be joyful.

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