The holidays are a difficult time for many people. The expectations of others around the holiday season can cause stress and exacerbate existing stress which leaves many, including teenagers, vulnerable to holiday depression.
By the time they reach their teen years, your child has obligations to friends and family that they feel responsible for – presents to buy, social gatherings to attend, etc.
Your teen may also face additional school pressure around this time – the time leading up to the winter holidays often coincides with midterm projects, exams, and papers, so their academic workload might be higher than usual.
And if your teen also has a job or a volunteer commitment, they may have additional pressure around that as well.
And while some teens can manage all of this additional stress well, others find themselves succumbing to the pressure. Teens may experience simple holiday blues, but they may also slip into full-blown holiday depression.
As a parent, what can you do to help your teen through a difficult holiday season?
Identify Signs of Holiday Depression
If you’re going to help your teen, the first thing that you need to do is be aware of the signs of a problem. Unless you’re a doctor yourself, you may not be qualified to diagnose your teen, but as a parent, you know your child, and you are in a position to notice if your teen is showing signs of struggling.
Some signs that your teen is struggling include:
- Excessive moodiness
- Frequent crying
- Anger or irritability
- Extreme sensitivity to real or perceived criticism
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Unexplained aches and pains or vague ailments with difficult-to-pin-down symptoms
- Isolation from peers or family members
Your teen may also sleep more or less than usual. They may eat more or less than usual and either gain or lose weight rapidly. You may notice that your teen no longer shows an interest in doing things that they previously enjoyed doing.
Some of these symptoms mirror normal teenage behavior – it’s not that uncommon for teenagers to go on a diet, stay up late or sleep more than usual, or display moodiness or irritability, for example.
But if the change is extreme or lasts for a particularly long time, those are good signs that something isn’t right with your teenager.
Communicate With Your Teen
One way to find out whether or not something is wrong with your teen is to ask. It may not help to ask your teen if they’re suffering from depression – they may not know themselves – but you can ask them to describe how they’re feeling. You can also ask:
- What do they need?
- What can you do to make their stress more manageable?
- What would help them feel better right now?
Often, teens who are feeling depressed don’t reach out for help on their own. They might:
- Feel shame, embarrassment, or guilt about asking for help,
- Believe that they’re supposed to be able to handle whatever they’re feeling on their own,
- Not think that you can help, even if you want to,
- Not want to upset you by talking about what’s bothering them, or
- Believe that no one else has experienced what they’re feeling and can understand.
There are many reasons why a teen who’s feeling depressed may not talk to you about what they’re feeling first, but it’s important to realize that even a teen who is normally open and communicative might not open up about feeling depressed without some encouragement.
It can help your teen if you broach the subject first.
Let your teen know that many people experience feelings of depression, especially around the holidays, and it’s nothing that they need to hide or be ashamed of.
Let them know that you’ve noticed a change in their mood and behavior and that you want to help. Reassure them that they’re not in trouble or causing problems for you and others, that you’re only concerned about their well-being.
Listen to what your teen has to say and make sure that you respect and validate their feelings.
Even if you don’t understand why something that may seem insignificant to you is weighing heavily on your teen, accept that it does and work on helping your teen deal with whatever it is.
Seek Help if Needed
There may be things that you can do to help your teen feel better right away. For example, if your teen is very stressed about midterm exams, you could offer to get them a tutor or set aside some time to help them study yourself.
If your teen is overwhelmed by holiday-related obligations and celebrations, offer to help them prioritize and scale back so that they’re not trying to do more than they can handle. Set aside some time for low-key activities with just you or just the immediate family, like taking a walk around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights.
But if your teen is suffering from depression, there may not be a simple fix, and it might be more than you can handle on your own.
Your teen may need to see a therapist or counselor to talk through their feelings and develop coping strategies. They may even benefit from antidepressant medications.
There are a number of different ways to treat depression, and the right way for your teen depends on their individual needs.
Remind your teen – and yourself if necessary – that it’s OK to reach out for expert help if a problem is too much to handle on your own. To find a therapist or counselor for your teen, you could start by getting a referral from your teen’s regular doctor or checking with the options offered by your insurance company.
The guidance counselor at your teen’s school may also have resources to offer that could help your teen.
Remember that holiday depression is common and treatable. You may need to be patient, as it can take time to find the treatment plan that works best for your teenager.
The best gift you can give your teen this holiday is the space to talk about how they’re feeling and the tools and resources that will help them feel better.