While holidays are marked by joy and celebration, nearly 90 percent of Americans admit to feeling higher stress and lower mood during the season (1).
And as it turns out, youths and teens are not immune to the same feelings of loneliness, and sadness as the year comes to an end. According to nationally certified School Psychologist, Kim Legg, the same stressors that impact adults’ moods during the holiday season can affect children of all ages as well.
As GameChanger’s Director of Prevention, West Virginia native Kim Legg works directly with Staff at The Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation to implement prevention education programming in West Virginia Schools.
“Holidays are often stressful for the adults in young people’s lives due to loss of a loved one, or expectations of gifts or material things the adults may not have the means to provide financially,” says Legg. “When there is added stress to the adults in young people’s lives, it can also put added stress on the young person.”
A Greenbrier County native, Legg works as GameChanger’s director of prevention where she collaborates with the educators at The Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation in bringing substance abuse prevention programming to West Virginia Schools.
Throughout her experience in school psychology, Legg has witnessed firsthand how the “brightest time of the year” can be the most difficult for many. Whether there’s been a loss, a life transition, or major family changes, the holiday season may represent an obstacle to overcome rather than one to enjoy for some children and teens.
“Oftentimes there is a family conflict and the young person at home does not have the protective factor of school as an outlet,” says Legg. “Navigating the holidays as a young person after parents’ divorce can also make the holidays difficult.”
Fortunately, there are ways to navigate holiday blues and keep spirits high, Legg adds. She offers five ways young people can cope with stress and negative feelings this holiday season.
Speak With an Adult You Can Trust
When a toy, bike, or car breaks, there’s usually more than one way to fix it. But feelings are different, suggests Legg.
“Feelings are not black and white, and there’s no one size fits all for dealing with them,” says Legg. “They can be tricky but being able to share or talk through them can help sort them out.”
According to research, emotions aren’t intended to be “fixed” so much as they are meant to be felt and shared. Studies show putting your thoughts into words is an effective way to process them and decrease feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression no matter the time of year. Even better news? You don’t have to do it alone, says Legg.
“If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, speak to a trusted adult to help you navigate through those feelings,” says Legg. “Maybe that trusted adult isn’t in the home but try to find a way to communicate with someone you feel safe with and can trust with hard feelings.”
Your trusted adult may be:
- A parent, grandparent, or other relative
- A friend’s parent
- A member of your church, youth group, or other community organization
- A coach
- A teacher, counselor, or school administrator
- Call 800-852-8336 if you need an immediate, safe person to speak with.
Connect With Friends
There’s a scientific reason you feel happy with friends, and research backs it.
In fact, friendships are shown to decrease stress, increase happiness, and even boost confidence (3). Legg encourages children and teens to stay connected with friends even during holiday breaks, if possible.
“Finding a friend you can talk to can really help,” says Legg. “It can be helpful to know you’re not the only person feeling this way and talking to a friend may offer some clarity as to why you’re having these feelings in the first place.”
Do The Things You Enjoy, Even When It’s Hard
When you’re feeling down, you may not feel motivated to do the things you enjoy.
But according to Legg, it’s more important now than ever before to keep doing the things that make you feel happy.
“It’s difficult to think of positive things when your mind is in a negative thought pattern,” says Legg. “To combat this, write a list of things you enjoy and do more of those things,”
Examples of hobbies include:
- Sports, exercise, and other physical movement
- Cooking or baking
- Reading a book
- Crafting or creating art
- Volunteering in your community
Care for Your Physical Health
When your mental health is at a low, it’s critical to care for your body in other ways.
This means getting plenty of rest, staying active, and eating well. The key is finding balance, says Legg, as you can still savor your favorite holiday foods and take a much-deserved break while being mindful in other areas.
“The key to life, all around, is finding balance in all aspects,” says Legg.“Everyone is so busy during the holidays, but the old saying goes, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. So, you have to be mindful when your energy sources are getting depleted and take some time for yourself.”
You can honor your physical health by caring for your body’s basic needs, including:
- Moving your body in a way you enjoy for at least 30 minutes per day
- Eating nourishing foods whenever possible (fruits, vegetables, protein)
- Getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night
- Drinking water and staying hydrated throughout the day
- Practicing consistent hygiene (brushing teeth daily, showering, etc.)
Created in 2018, GameChanger is a student-powered movement with focus on substance misuse prevention among youths. We connect students, educators, and communities with education, training, coaching, and support services to prevent opioid and other drug use before it starts.
- Holidays stress out 88 percent of Americans, study claims. Gervis, Zoya. FOX NEWS. 06 December 2018. Accessed from: https://www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/the-holiday-stress-out-88-percent-of-americans-study-claims
- Lieberman MD, Eisenberger NI, Crockett MJ, Tom SM, Pfeifer JH, Way BM. Putting feelings into words: affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli. Psychol Sci. 2007 May;18(5):421-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01916.x. PMID: 17576282. Accessed from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17576282/
- Jamie H. Azios, Katie A. Strong, Brent Archer, Natalie F. Douglas, Nina Simmons-Mackie and Linda Worrall, Friendship matters: a research agenda for aphasia, Aphasiology, 10.1080/02687038.2021. 1873908, 36, 3, (317-336), (2021). Accessed from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/pere.12187