Many teens will tell you they think that the holiday season is awesome, but that is not always the whole truth. In fact, almost half of them feel some anxiety or worry during the holidays, and when they express jubilation in relation to the season, it may indicate that they’re masking their authentic feelings.
Why are the holidays such a triggering season for so many, particularly teens?
There is a societal expectation, amplified by media and entertainment, that during the holidays we HAVE to be happy and to have a nice and loving family. This is a lot of pressure and sheds light on reality, and reality is not perfect! It’s a bit like the social media syndrome, where you see other people’s lives, their images positioned to their best angle, imperfections hidden by filters, and after a while, you think everybody is happy and gorgeous except you!
These kinds of illusions can ultimately trigger depression and anxiety in any population, but teens are particularly susceptible to it. That pressure to “put on a happy face” during the holidays can lead to a sense of shame about their lives.
For those lucky enough to have a family, when the family joins together for the holidays, tensions often join the party. If you don’t have a family to be with, then there is the feeling of not belonging. The weight of missing out can be heavy and can lead to a deep sense of isolation that seems especially poignant during this time of year.
For those who have lost loved ones, the grief strikes deeper and If a teen’s parents are divorced, they can feel torn between both parents.
While for some teens, the holidays are a lot of fun, some need more attention from the adults around them. Some need to be supported. Presents don’t compensate for the holiday blues. But, as adults, we may not be at our best to pay attention to the teens around us during the holidays. It is a stressful time: holiday preparations, marathons of gift shopping, extra spending, financial stresses, etc. It’s important to put some extra effort when it comes to caring for the youngest among us and being present for them.
Even if our teen(s) don’t seem depressed or don’t appear to be struggling in any way, we need to remember that almost 50% of them are dealing with some form of a mental health challenge during the holiday season! Teens are very good at concealing their feelings.
So what should we do? Express your love in word and deed. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Have fun with them (and, please, let them decide what is fun!)
Tell them it is okay to feel rough emotions during the holidays and make space for them to feel their feelings. If you feel a little blue too, share your own feelings with them. Your vulnerability will resonate and they will see that you trust them and take them seriously.
You can also encourage them to join a youth organization like Give Us The Floor where they will be able to safely share with peers. Having access to that kind of support system can help dispel fear around sharing struggles and will help understand that they are not the only ones who experience these kinds of sad feelings.
If you think your teen is falling into depression or might be contending with other concerning mental health challenges, support them and encourage them to talk with a professional. Do not wait. Things rarely get better by themselves. Your teen might just become better at hiding their struggles.
And remember, love and care are the most beautiful present we could ever give.