The holidays are not always easy. Sure there are usually celebrations happening and family getting together, but this isn’t the case for all teens or all families. For instance, just last week, the news reported that two teenage girls lost their mother to cancer. Although their mother was struggling with cancer for two years, she passed away a week before Christmas, possibly making future holiday seasons difficult.
If families have experienced a death in the family during this time or if there is a member of the family experiencing a terminal illness, then the holiday season might be difficult. And if a teen is already prone to depression, then this time might be particularly vulnerable for them.
If you’d like to gently tend to your teen’s mental health and prevent a depressive episode, here are some tips to take into consideration:
Find Connection Between Each Other. One of the facets of depression is a sense of aloneness. Although there are people all around you, there is an inner experience of feeling left out, unloved, or rejected. These beliefs can be the underlying premise to depression and mental illness. However, this is a perfect time of the year to find connection and love with members of the family. For instance, if you’re a caregiver, expressing your love and appreciation for your teen can help your child feel connected to you. This alone can help prevent depression.
Exercise: Physical activity can release endorphins, which alone help to boost positive feelings. However, exercise can also help with long-term mental health, including making new connections in the brain, which alone can facilitate enduring change. Furthermore, to experience these benefits from exercise, your teen doesn’t have to run three miles a day; taking a walk regularly can boost mental health.
Eat Healthy: As a caregiver, you can support your teen in his or her diet. It’s easy for your child to come home and grab whatever’s in the cupboard. Yet, often what’s easily accessible may not be best food choice. Preparing meals that are chock full of vegetables can strengthen your teen’s sense of feeling well. For some teens, simply knowing that he or she is eating well can promote feeling better; whereas making poor food choices can lead to guilt that might exacerbate feelings of depression.
Confront Negative Thoughts: What contribute to depression are the thoughts and beliefs that your teen possesses. A form of therapy that has been successful is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which examines the thoughts that lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. However, this doesn’t need to only happen in the therapy room. You can help your child monitor his or her thoughts by taking ten minutes a day to write down any thoughts that led to feelings of depression and unworthiness. For example, once the thought, “I am worthless” is identified, it can be replaced with a more self-affirming thought. Identifying, challenging, and replacing unhealthy thoughts with positive ones can ease the transition towards healing from depression.
Laugh: There are many health benefits to laughing – both physical and mental. Laughing can lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, increase memory and focus, which are both often impaired during depression, improve creativity, and reduce stress. Perhaps you and your teen can read a joke a day to get the belly rolling and the smiles spreading from one ear to the other.
Find a Routine: Likely your teen already has a schedule that includes the attendance to school. However, a regular routine might get thrown out the window during a holiday break. Structure and routine are important during a school break. Maintaining that daily routine is essential as well a finding structure for the evenings and weekends. For instance, you might encourage your teen to use the above suggestions, such as exercise and making time for regular meals as a way to create structure during the break. If there’s a structure in place to watch a movie, prepare for dinner, finish chores, and then go to bed at 9, your teen might be less tempted by the bed and attend to the routine that’s been established. This can be true for the holiday season as well.
Keep in mind that these suggestions are meant to help prevent depression. It’s not meant to take away the fact that you and your teen are on a holiday break! Enjoy the season; have fun, and celebrate!