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Dena Cabrera Psy.D., CEDS


Adolescents and Holiday Stress

Tips on how to handle the struggles that surround the holiday season

The holidays are fast approaching. For many people with disordered eating, body image issues, and eating disorders, this can be a difficult time of year. What should be a joyful season can actually be quite stressful not only for adults, but also for adolescents who are experiencing eating or body image issues. The already cramped holiday schedules, get-togethers, and large to-do lists combined with trying deal with emotions and adolescent stress can be very difficult. Clinicians can work with clients in advance to help them better navigate some of the struggles that surround the holiday season. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Set realistic expectations. Holiday excitement also brings demands – between shopping, baking, feasting, crafting, parties, and entertaining, it can get quite overwhelming. By setting realistic expectations, we don’t set ourselves up to become stressed or freaked out because we overextended ourselves. Understand that often times pressure during the holiday season frequently comes from consumer media to buy, spend and do. Try to tune it out.

Stay balanced. As we become busy with holiday tasks, activities, and demands, we can lose ourselves. Sleep, eating and exercise often become out of balance and compromised. It’s important to stay consistent and not neglect healthy living. Thus, put yourself as your #1 priority – be active, eat balanced meals, and get adequate sleep. If we wear ourselves out, then holidays become a chore and we lose the fun.
Find meaning in the season - It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, but for everyone it is not a season of ultimate “joy.” There are lots of emotions that surface for people at this time of year. In fact, many people find the holidays difficult and challenging. It’s important for those who do struggle with the holidays to reach out for support. Recreate meaning in the holiday season that is comfortable or at least tolerable for you, as well as planning ahead. If you know the difficulties the holiday season may bring, prepare to take care of yourself emotionally and physically during this time.

Be active. Limit screen time: television, computer, video games, text messaging, etc. Instead, build in family times that encourage an active lifestyle. Plan outings include enjoyable activities: walking, biking, roller blading, ice skating, etc. Set clear expectations for the adolescents to help with chores; all family members should contribute to the household in this way. Invent games while doing chores so that even routine activities become associated with fun and closeness.

Involve the adolescent in menu planning. Ask about and include some of the child's preferences when planning the weekly menu. Include the child in grocery shopping and meal preparation when possible. These are great teachable moments that foster empowerment around food choices rather than passivity as well as hand down family traditions.

Preparing ahead. Time goes so fast. Make a list and check it twice. Don’t wait until the last minute as this only creates stress. Just remember, time goes fast and getting it done now is a way of taking care of yourself.

Following these suggestions will help keep the focus on what the holidays are all about -- coming together as a family and supporting each other.


About the Author

Dena Cabrera, Psy.D., CEDS, is an author, speaker, and the Clinical Director of Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders, an accredited eating disorder treatment program for men, women and adolescents.