Life can be stressful enough, but with the holidays upon us the anxiety can really build up. One way to address this is to not create added stress for yourself. This means not waiting until the last minute to make preparations or go shopping. Setting aside a little time everyday to complete one task will help you get things done, which in turn will help decrease stress. However, if you must procrastinate (which is something that I admittedly do from time to time), and find yourself panicking at the last minute things that need to be done, there are ways to help take the edge off. One technique that can be helpful is the mindfulness approach. Most of us live life in the future (worrying about what needs to be done or what is going to happen), or the past (regretting things we did or didn’t do). We seldom experience life as it happens. With the mindfulness approach, you notice life as it happens, but you do so engaging all five senses. Focus on what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste in the moment. This can serve to slow things down, and take your mind off of your current stressor. After you’ve calmed down a little bit, chances are you’ll be able to think a little clearer and see solutions you weren’t able to before. On a side note, mindfulness can also be used to enhance pleasant experiences. If you’re eating your favorite meal, take time to notice the texture and aroma, in addition to how it tastes. If you are eating the meal in pleasant surroundings, notice that as well.
While the holidays can be stressful on adults, teens can also be affected, especially if there are familial issues or problems with peers. Since teenagers can be sulky or withdrawn in general, you want to keep an eye out for any behaviors that seem out of the norm for your child. If they isolate themselves more than usual, seem especially irritable, or are engaging in risky behaviors then you may want to address that with them. Setting aside some time where you can give your teen undivided attention, or even small shows of affection to let them know you care, may help them open up. If they don’t, then at least they’re aware that you are worried about them and want to help. Your child’s peer group may be a resource you can utilize by letting them know you are worried about their friend, and would appreciate it if they spoke to your teen, or at least checked in on them. Of course, seeking professional help is also a good option, as a therapist can help your child identify healthy coping and communication skills.
Unfortunately, as our stress level increases, we are less able to notice the stress and needs of those around us. Both young children and teenagers can experience a marked increase in depression and anxiety, and parents at times might be too caught up in the holiday hustle and bustle to pay attention. So it might go without saying, but the first step in helping your child is to notice their stress. Pay attention to the signs, such as increased isolation, moodiness, trouble sleeping, headaches, excessive worry about gifts or family activities, and even binge eating. Once you are aware of the stress, talk with your child to determine the source. Be empathetic and validate their emotional experience. This may have a huge impact on reducing their stress level.
Another idea to help could be to encourage the family to be more active. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and it can be as easy as getting out of the house and going for a walk. Also, find opportunities to give to those around you. It is easy for adolescents to be sucked into worries over how big and how many presents they will get. Help shift their priorities by volunteering in the community, or by simply baking and giving cookies to a neighbor. Service and giving of yourself can cause a huge boost in self-esteem and gratitude, which is a wonderful experience for any child to discover.
If you notice extreme symptoms of holiday stress that you think are more than you or your child can handle, talking with a professional may helpful. To learn more about Salt Lake County Youth Services and how we can help with counseling, therapy, or prevention classes please visit our website at SLCo Youth Services to set up an appointment or call at 385-468-4500.