Helping Teens with Holiday Stress

In the frenzy of planning, shopping, wrapping, decorating, entertaining, and visiting that often punctuates the holiday season, it is no wonder that many parents find the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to be one of the most stressful of the entire year.  Unfortunately, as our stress level increases, we often increase the stress level of those around us while also becoming less able to see the signs of stress the other members of our families’ exhibit.  Without some blatant flashing sign like a school suspension, angry outburst, or emotional meltdown, we may be too wrapped up in our own holiday stress to notice that our teens are having a tough time too.

Teenagers have their own set of holiday stress, especially if they are part of a family that is struggling financially, dealing with a separation or divorce, or facing the holidays without a loved one for the first time.  Stress impacts teens in many of the same ways it impacts adults.  They can experience physical symptoms like headaches and insomnia.  They can struggle emotionally and suddenly have a short fuse and be quick to anger.  They may turn to unhealthy behaviors like binge eating as a way to cope with their stress.

What Can Parents Do to Help?

The first and most important thing is to notice if your teenager is stressed.  According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in Americastudy(http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/national-report.pdf) , while almost half of teens report being more stressed out from one year to the next not even 30% of parents noticed.  Pay attention for the signs that your teen is worried and then work together to determine the source of their stress.  Sometimes, just knowing that they aren’t alone can make a huge difference in how much stress they are experiencing.

Here are some other strategies parents can use to put the whole family on a stress-reduction diet for the holidays.

Share

Be honest, but be reassuring.  It may be tempting to take this opportunity to over share with your teen and unload all your adult problems, worries, and concerns onto your teens.  Resist that temptation by remembering that even if they are taller than you or have a moustache, they aren’t adults yet and don’t need to be burdened with adult issues.

Breathe

Institute a 2 minute breathing break a couple times a day where the whole family gets together and focuses on breathing.  Just a couple minutes of deliberate, mindful breathing can wash away worry and alleviate accumulated stress.

Move

With all the holiday hustle and bustle, it is easy for everyone to get out of the habit of exercising.  Since exercise is great for soothing stress, get everyone moving by turning on their favorite music and daring them to dance.  Get off the couch and go for a walk or rearrange the living room, just get everyone moving and burning off some of their stress.

Give

The holidays are a time of giving, but often that means giving presents.  Holiday stress over how many presents they will get, who will get the most, what they want that they won’t get, and feeling guilty for wanting things the family cannot afford can be soothed with a simple shift in priorities.  Take time out of shopping and shipping to volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, nursing home, or any other venue that allows everyone in your family to give some of themselves and change their outlook on the holiday season.

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