How to Reduce Holiday Stress (Your Teen’s and Your Own)
Although our culture pushes the holidays as a joyous time, the reality can sometimes be different. Hectic schedules can make us feel stressed. There is pressure to spend money we don’t have for gifts. A change in the family, from divorce or the death of a loved one, can rekindle grief during this time. The winter weather can give us the blues. There are a variety of reasons for feeling stressed during the holidays, and adolescents are no exception. 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
- 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
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.
While feeling stressed during the holidays is normal, there are some simple ways to combat or ease those feelings to help enjoy the season. These tips will help both parents and teenagers:
Tips for Managing Holiday Stress
- Take care of your body. 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. Overindulgence of any kind – whether food, staying up too late, drinking alcohol or whatever – only adds to your stress and guilt, so take care of your body and you will see your stress decline.
- Take a break. Everyone should make some time for 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.
- Use stress reduction techniques. Breathing exercises, journaling, taking a bubble bath, or drawing are all methods that can help restore inner calm. Try different stress management techniques until you find the one that helps you clear your mind and feel rejuvenated.
- Don’t over-schedule. Be realistic and prioritize plans. Saying ‘yes’ when you should say ‘no’ can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Create a balanced schedule by making choices that honor your priorities and leave room for downtime.
- 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. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year to be enjoyable.
- Set a holiday budget and stick to it. The holiday season should not put you in debt. Remember, the point of gift-giving is to show your appreciation for that person, not to give them everything they ever wanted. Establish a budget for your holidays and follow it. You can be creative in your gift-giving to keep things affordable by either creating homemade gifts or finding “vintage” items in a thrift store.
- 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. Be honest with yourself about the length of time you can comfortably spend with your extended family without feeling bitter, and choose to leave before that moment.
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. There may be many painful reminders of the past. They may have to split time between two households or spend time with new stepparents or siblings. 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. Allow your teen to start a new family tradition, as a way of making a new start. Let them know 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.
We are all at risk of getting stressed over the holidays, but you can use these tips to manage your stress and enjoy your holidays more, which will make you a great role model to your teen.