The holidays introduce a whole series of new stimuli to youth of all ages – some of which are wonderful, and some which lead to anxiety and meltdowns. While there’s no sure way to avoid heightened sensitivity and emotion during the season of celebration, it can be very helpful to keep track of exactly what will set teens off so parents can work to mitigate stress and panic.
Changes to your teen’s routine can trigger depression, unease or anxiety. To get ahead of this, it can be helpful to make plans – big and small – visually clear in your household. A big, colorful calendar can build excitement rather than fear and can help youth feel like they’re participating in upcoming events as opposed to having a schedule imposed upon them.
New faces at holiday events can be another trigger, especially for shy or anxious teens. You can help by talking about who will be attending parties and who your teen will get to see. Remind them of the names and character traits of family members they don’t get to see every day. Make it feel special rather than overwhelming them with the novelty of large gatherings.
Noisy environments during holiday events, whether at shopping malls, fairs, pageants or meals, can be sensory overload for some youth. Create a safe space by openly discussing their needs and their comfort levels before, during and after visiting hectic environments so that they feel connected to you, and give them permission to speak up when they want a break.
Be realistic and flexible. Consider your teen’s limitations and don’t be afraid to change or alter plans at the last minute. Try to prepare your youth with open communication but be aware that you may have to support your teen in the spur of the moment. Have a plan in place, but be ready to alter the plan as needed.
Give your self a break. Don’t go overboard or put too much pressure on yourself, as a parent, to create a “perfect” holiday season. Make time to take care of your own physical and mental health needs so you can be healthy and present for your teen. Take a breath. Be sure to laugh and enjoy the blessings in your life. If you are stressed your emotions can affect those around you, especially teens who are already anxious throughout the year.
The holidays are such a special time with family and friends but they can also seem demanding and feel overwhelming. With some planning, communication and flexibility families can not only get through the holidays, they can enjoy them together and avoid the stress and triggers so often associated with the season.