The holidays are both our family’s most favorite and most stressful time of the year. This year I’m extra worried because I feel like I can’t tell what my 15-year-old son is feeling. Is he excited? Is he down? Is he happy? Help! How can I support my son this holiday season so he doesn’t get too stressed?
L.B., mom of 3, ages 9, 10, and 15
The holiday season is full of trees lit with beautiful lights, bells are ringing, school recitals, parties, and sweet treats are being passed around. Sounds idyllic, yes? For many teens, though, the holidays can be a challenging time of year. The bounce-back that allows teens to manage stress at other times of the year may not serve them now. Academic pressure including finishing projects and studying for finals, completing community service hour quotas, attending team events and competitions coupled with parties and gatherings, gift-buying dilemmas and confusion, FOMO (fear of missing out), and changing family dynamics can increase anxiety or depression levels making the holidays anything but merry. As a recent client shared with me, “No. Just no on the holiday happiness this year. It would be so much better if Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s were in July when I’m not cramming for finals.” Unfortunately, that switch probably won’t happen, but there are a few other things you can do to help your teen during this holiday season.
- Stop spreading the holiday “shoulds”. Raise your hand if you may have said this or some variation of it: “What do you have to be stressed/worried/upset about? You should be happy!” (Yes, my hand is slowly raising). Should is a hot-button word that can leave teens feeling judged. When they hear that they should feel, think, or act a certain way that doesn’t match with what is really going on for them, they feel inadequate. As a recent client shared, “everything I hear that I should like something, I feel less than. I hate being less than because it feels like I will always be losing.”
- Teach your teen the art of JOMO, the joy of missing out. JOMO is often seen as the antidote to FOMO. One of the best ways to practice JOMO is to invite your teen to say no to some activities – even if that no is that they don’t want to go caroling with you the night before their big chem final. Help them learn to balance
- Take your daily “MEDS”. What are your daily “meds”? Mindfulness, exercise, diet, sleep. Make sure your teen is giving extra attention to all four. Make sure *you* are giving extra attention to all four as well!
- Ask. In all the holiday hullabaloo, simply asking, “how are feeling?” and listening – really listening – can go a long way. Two other great questions for this season: what do you need, and how would you like to feel?
- Create marshmallow moments. In a perfect world, we’d all like to set aside an hour or two to unwind. However, that much time can feel overwhelming to your teen who may have commitments, responsibilities, and school deadlines. Rather, create a few marshmallow moments – a 1- to 15-minute break to connect, laugh, or just to take a breath. One of the simplest marshmallow moments has nothing to do with marshmallows and everything about whipped cream in a can. Something about that feeling of squirting whipped cream directly into their mouth can dial back the stress and bring on a bit of silliness. Another tried-and-true moment to bring a smile to a teen’s face is putting on a favorite childhood holiday cartoon and pouring a cup of cocoa. Yes, it may get a groan and an eye roll but it is almost always accompanied with a smile and a reminiscent laugh.
- Speaking of laughing… Laugh! A little laughter can instantly lower both blood pressure and cortisol levels while also relaxing muscles and releases “feel good hormones” to promote bonding. Whether you are chuckling at a joke, watching a favorite movie and in stitches over the holiday baking fails, encourage your teen to laugh each day.
- Reach out. Although holiday stress may be seasonal, anxiety and depression are year round. If your teen’s holiday anxiety stress seems like more than just stress and is interfering with his or her daily life, please reach out to a mental health professional to help you and your teen.
The holidays season may not always be the picture of perfection. However, with a shift of a few behaviors and expectations and a bit of a sense of humor, your teen’s stressful holiday season could transform into his or her own little happy winter wonderland.
I’d love to hear from you! What are your favorite ways to reduce stress?
And, also always, if you know someone who may appreciate this article, feel free to pass it along.
Wishing you a season of marshmallow moments!
PS. If the holidays are delivering you a few other hidden worries, please check out the What to Do When digital library. From now until December 30, 2018, each parent guide is 50% off. More info here: www.whattodowhen.net. Use coupon code 2018WTDW50.