Tips for Teen Holiday Mental Health
For many young people, the dynamics of the holiday season do not provide comfort and joy. Dealing with changes in routine, the pressure to buy gifts and participate in activities, and extended time with family can intensify any negative feelings and emotions young people may already be experiencing.
Our data show that facilitating connection and purpose can help alleviate the stress, anxiety, and depression many young people feel. Focusing on these areas may prove especially helpful during the holidays. Here are four tips to help create an environment that is mental-health friendly for the young people in your life this season.
Make a holiday plan.
Routines are important for young people’s mental health, and the holidays can be the ultimate schedule disruptor. Consider making a plan that includes:
- A holiday schedule. It’s easy for sleep and nutrition to fall by the wayside during this season—and young people need proper amounts of both for mental wellness. Although school is out and work schedules may be different, set guidelines around sleep, screen time, and treat-free meals that work for this particular season.
- Holiday expectations. In our interviews, young people have talked about the harmful impact of expectations on their mental health, particularly those they feel ill-equipped to meet. If your family or community likes to keep a full agenda for the holidays, talk with the young people involved ahead of time to establish “must-attend” activities, to discuss interactions with family and community members, and to determine how downtime fits into the schedule. If this season is one that may be particularly anxiety-inducing, give young people some practical tools to help them manage their stress levels.
Create space for authentic connection.
The hustle and bustle of the holidays can quickly begin to feel like a never-ending to-do list for all involved, and can minimize time for fellowship, sharing, and connection. Find times during this season for young people to connect with family members (without the pressure of a task or event) and friends. This gives young people the space they need to express themselves, particularly when feelings and emotions become overwhelming.
Incorporate religious and/or spiritual practice.
Our data show that religious and spiritual connection and practice impact young people’s flourishing. Those who report currently being connected to a religious or spiritual community or engaging in spiritual practices claim greater mental and emotional health. While the holiday season can provide some recognized opportunities for religious practice, talk with the young people in your family or community about the spiritual practices that impact their mental health the most, and work to add those into the holiday schedule.
Help young people connect to purpose and meaning.
Our data show that having a sense of meaning and purpose positively contributes to mental health. The holidays offer several opportunities to travel, volunteer, donate, and engage in acts of kindness. These experiences not only provide a level of meaning that delivers a mental-health boost but also create memories that help young people feel a stronger bond with family and community.