The holidays are a time of joy and delight, yet they can often simultaneously be a stressful time due to normal daily routines and life schedules being disrupted throughout the season.
For adolescents already struggling with anxiety, depression, substance use, or an eating disorder, the added stress of the holidays may be overwhelming. While they may not be solely in charge of preparing big meals or all the family gift shopping, there are still many elements that contribute to stress and may lead to serious mental health issues if not properly managed.
For teenagers in treatment for a mental health diagnosis or in recovery from substance use or an eating disorder, the holidays present an added challenge to maintain the progress achieved in healing while schedules are so different during this time.
In this blog post, we educate about common stressors for adolescents and how parents can help them manage stress and maintain recovery progress amid the uncertainty of the season.
Common Stressors in Adolescent Lives
Adolescents face a challenging time of growing, developing, and navigating constant changes in their physical environment and in their own bodies and minds. They are constantly bombarded with messages from the media, their school, their peers, and society as a whole, all of which add pressure to their daily lives.
In an adolescent’s world, there can be daily short-term stressors like a quiz or a test they are nervous to take, or there can be long-term stressors that weigh heavy on their quality of life. Some smaller daily stressors can be healthy, but long-term stressors can prove to be detrimental depending on how a teen is coping. Some of these common stressors adolescents face include:
- The pressure to perform well at school (topics that don’t come naturally to them can be especially stressful)
- Pressure to perform well at a challenging sport or art form, particularly in hopes of earning college scholarships
- Social pressures to “fit in,” “be cool,” “be popular,” to look or act a certain way, or peer pressures to do things they may not want to
- Familial and relational strain, e.g. teens from divorced families, teens navigating a new romantic relationship amid social pressures of others
- Pressure to be a good example if they are the oldest or an older sibling (includes the stress of continuously looking after other siblings and family members)
All of the above can combine into what causes a teen to struggle with mental health or may be what influences them to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms. With your teen already managing this stress, it’s no wonder they may struggle during the holiday season as well, with added stressors such as:
- The huge interruption of routine (including missing regular mental health appointments due to travel or office closures)
- Regular sleep schedules being abandoned due to school closures
- Family vacations (including the added stress of arguments that happen away from home and no room for a teen’s personal time in an itinerary)
- Having to attend holiday parties with family and/or friends, or having to miss one for the other
- For teens recovering from an eating disorder, the increase in shared meals with family (including comments on weight/body size, diets, and how much or how little they are eating)
- Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms due to longer, colder nights during the holiday season and how they affect the psyche and moods
How to Prevent Losing Progress Made in Recovery
The holidays may prove to be extra stressful for families who have a teen in treatment for mental health conditions, substance use, or an eating disorder. Due to reduced office hours for the holidays, teens may be away from their usual routine of visiting care facilities for treatment programs. This can significantly impact their overall recovery progress.
While there is no one way to prevent relapse or the loss of important progress for your teen, there are some ways parents can help:
- Help teens establish a loose routine by using curfews, bedtime, and wake-up routines. This allows for a more sustainable sleep schedule which is crucial to mental health, mood, and overall health of adolescents.
- Be sure teens are not skipping out on usual meals, medicine, or health supplements.
- Help teens find a balance between screen time and other activities they enjoy outside the house, like ice skating, holiday crafts with friends, shopping, etc.
- Be gracious and allow your teen to have time with their friends. Talk about what family activities are important and be understanding if they want to make their own plans with friends, e.g. a “Friendsgiving” in addition to the family meal.
- Allow them to have free time and alone time while away on family vacations.
- For parents of an adolescent with an eating disorder: during the preparation for and the enjoyment of shared meals, be understanding of the pressures they are facing. Be quick to shut down others’ negative comments about body size, weight, and eating habits. Don’t force or insist your teen eat a certain amount. Lastly, show grace if they turn in early from the meal.
- For parents of a teen in recovery from substance use: support them by personally refraining from indulging in alcohol or other substances during holiday parties. Leading by example, or even ridding the house of alcohol this holiday season, shows you are helping your teen avoid relapse or continued use.
- Talk to your teen about having a planned response if someone is pressuring them to drink or use substances. Having a plan in place and talking through options can help them to be prepared to decide what’s best for them in the moment. Remind them that you are only a call away if they need to be picked up for any reason.
Practical Ways to Teach Your Teen How to Manage Their Stress
All the forementioned stressors can contribute to or worsen mental health diagnoses like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance use, or other conditions or habits. While parents, family members, mentors, and friends may be preoccupied with preparing for or celebrating the holidays, it can be easy for a teen, out of desperation and/or overstimulation, to relapse and use old habits or behaviors to temporarily escape.
Parents, be proactive and prepare your teen with these practical stress management techniques.
- Breathe: When feeling anxious or overwhelmed, slowing and deepening breathing practices initiates our sympathetic nervous system to reset and calms the body physically, helping to soothe the mind as well. Try it: focus on breathing low, using your diaphragm to inhale, not just your lungs and chest. Inhale and count to 4 then exhale and count to 8.
- Schedule downtime: Whether it’s an hour and a half before bed to do some self-care or a few hours throughout the day to sit quietly and relax, it’s necessary.
- Move the body: This doesn’t have to be extreme workouts or weightlifting. A simple walk around the neighborhood can boost someone’s mood and provide mental relief.
- Connect with others who care: Be sure to balance time between friends and family to avoid feeling isolated from one group or the other.
- Write down what you are grateful for: Studies show that practicing gratitude has a positive effect on the mood and mental health of individuals.
These stress management techniques are proven to be effective; however, sometimes there is more to be done to fully meet the needs of a teen who is struggling with their mental health. No matter the situation, remember, you and your teen are not alone.
If your teen is struggling to cope with all of life’s stresses or if you are concerned about the potential for relapse during the holidays, we are here to help. SunCloud Health providers are skilled in developing plans for adolescents that ensure progress in their healing journey is only gained, not lost.
If you are considering care for your teen’s anxiety, depression, or eating disorders, SunCloud Health also offers programs where care professionals partner with you and your family to address the root causes of your teens’ struggles. We offer customizable care for teens who may be struggling in more than one area, and work to design a program that best suits them.
For more information about our programming, visit: https://suncloudhealth.com/adolescent-treatment-programs
This holiday season, you are not alone.