The holidays are a time of joy, but they can also be stressful and difficult for those with teen mental health issues.
You don’t have to go through the holidays feeling isolated and alone. We understand how hard it is to manage mental health during this busy time of year and we’re here to help you get through it! The more you understand teen mental health issues and how to manage them during stressful times, the more prepared you will be.
In this article, you will discover the five most common teen mental health issues during the holidays and how to cope.
Common Teen Mental Health Issues
It’s the time for joy and merriment – but despite being the jolliest of holidays, the holiday season is also a common source of stress and teen mental health issues. Over 80 percent of Americans experience more stress and lower mood during the holiday season, and a surprising one-third of adults in the US would rather skip the holiday season altogether.
There are a few factors behind this. The holiday season is a time for feasting and celebration, but it’s also a time for shopping rushes, large crowds of people, anxiety-inducing social events, transit nightmares, awful weather-related events, and depressingly long nights. For teens with existing mental health issues, they can get a lot worse underneath all the stress.
Here are five of the most common teen mental health issues and how to manage them during the holidays.
Reunions and Social Anxiety
Teens who struggle with anxiety may have issues relaxing around people they aren’t used to interacting with, whether it’s during a school event or when the extended family has come over from multiple states to visit.
Large events, multiple people coming together, and the added stress and buzz that comes with making preparations to receive and host others can put a large toll on teenagers with anxiety issues and exacerbate their symptoms.
Winter and Seasonal Depression
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of mood disorder characterized by low mood and symptoms of depression during the winter months, most often. It also just so happens that the holidays all cluster around the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.
For many with seasonal affective disorder, the shift towards colder winter months, longer nights, and less overall sunlight seem to play a role in their low mood. If they don’t spend much time outdoors during the sparse daytime hours to begin with – which, depending on the weather, is understandable – this issue can get worse.
Whether it’s as simple as a vitamin D deficiency or has to do with the psychological and circadian role that sunlight plays in the human body, seasonal affective disorder is a real and debilitating illness during the holidays. The added stress of the preparatory holiday season can make things even harder.
Getting Through the Season with ADHD
Teens and adults diagnosed with ADHD generally experience heightened anxiety and stress symptoms during the holiday months. It’s not particularly soothing to have your schedule thrown out the window – and while the excitement may be fun to partake in, it can become a bit too much for some teens, and boil over into stress.
It’s the lack of structure that does most teens with ADHD in during the holiday months. Many rely not only on medication and therapy but on short daily goals and activities to keep their symptoms in check. But the holidays are a time for overeating, oversleeping, overspending, and overscheduling. It can add up.
Alcoholism and Addiction in the Yuletide
It’s not just eggnog. Heightened life stressors are always an immense risk factor for recovering alcoholics or teens with a history of substance abuse. While not every teen might have started taking drugs as a way to cope with stress, teens with substance use disorders will certainly struggle with greater cravings and risk of relapse when faced with overwhelming situations.
Meanwhile, a teen’s support system might not be available to them 24/7 amid the holiday rush. Parents, other family members, and friends might be busy preparing or celebrating – making it easier and more tempting to sneak away and get a drink or fall back on old habits to deal with the overstimulation and lack of structure.
Dealing with mental health issues during the holidays can feel like a drag – but it doesn’t have to be. There are steps you can take to help your loved one feel better before, during, and after the holiday season.
Create a Healthy Schedule
Trying to structure and schedule things reliably and consistently during the holidays can be a nightmare. But you can still help make an impact in your life or your teen’s life by helping them develop a basic schedule to keep things going during most of the holidays.
Even when it’s something as simple as giving them cutoff hours for social gatherings if they tend to get overstimulated past a limit, or helping them continue to schedule things like studying, practice, and hobbies even during the holidays. Help keep structure alive by sticking to curfews and the usual wake-up calls to avoid oversleeping or deteriorating sleep schedules.
Carve Time for Peace and Quiet
Teens with a lower tolerance for the stressors of the season will have tighter boundaries for how much they can interact and engage with before it takes a toll on their mental health. That may mean giving them the option to opt-out of things – and putting an emphasis on the fact that they can do so without stigma, and without judgment.
This doesn’t mean you’ll leave them at home for the Christmas party. But maybe you’ll spend a little less time at the party, or host it at your house, so they can still spend time with family, and withdraw to their room when they need a little time away from people.
It can be difficult to balance between isolation and social overstimulation. Everyone has their own limits.
Sleep is Critical
Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule throughout the holiday season can be maddening, but will go an immensely long way towards improving your teen’s mood and mental state throughout the holidays. The power of quality sleep at appropriate hours should never be underestimated.
A healthier, balanced approach to the holiday season can help reduce the impact of its stressors, and potentially dial down how much the holidays can exacerbate a person’s symptoms. But that isn’t often enough to substitute professional help. Teens with social anxiety or seasonal affective disorder will still feel uncomfortable and stressed throughout the holidays. To help, consider creating a careful and tailored approach with their therapist.
If you or a loved one are struggling with the thought of the upcoming holiday season, it’s worth talking to a pro. Support your loved one in getting help today.