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Adolescents and Wellness: Navigating the Holidays

Dena Cabrera, PsyD, CEDS  VP of Clinical Services, Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders

The holidays are fast approaching and for many teens experiencing disordered eating and body image issues, this can be a stressful time of year. What presents as joyful opportunities to connect may be very challenging for adolescents and their families. The cramped holiday schedules, get-togethers, and robust to-do lists, combined with heightened emotions and expectations, often lead to feeling anxious. Clinicians often want to offer support to teen clients, to help them most optimally navigate the struggles and feelings that accompany the holiday season. Clinicians can offer the following tips to clients that might need them:

1. Set realistic expectations

Holiday excitement brings demands. Between shopping, baking, planning, crafting, parties, and entertaining it can feel overwhelming. By setting realistic expectations, we don’t set ourselves up to overextended. Understanding that oftentimes pressure during the holiday season, frequently drives us to buy, spend and do. Understand that school might also have expectations at this time of year to “wrap up” the semester before the holidays and setting realistic expectations for time needed to balance competing demands will be helpful.

2. Stay balanced

As we become busy with holiday tasks, activities, and demands, things that help us function well can become secondary. Sleep, eating and exercise often become out of balance. It’s important to stay consistent and not neglect yourself. Thus, put yourself as your #1 priority – Be active in terms of healthy movement, eat balanced meals, and get adequate sleep. If we wear ourselves out, then holidays become a chore and we lose the fun.

3. Find meaning in the season

It is easy to get swooped up in the hustle and bustle, but for everyone it is not a season of ultimate “joy.” There are lots of feelings that surface at this time of year. In fact, it’s ok to find the holidays difficult and challenging due to what it brings up, and it’s important to reach out for support. Recreate meaning in the holiday season that is as comfortable as possible for you. Planning ahead may also be helpful, as it can support you in processing certain feelings prior to a gathering or celebration. If you know the difficulties the holiday season may bring, prepare to take care of yourself emotionally and physically during this time.

4. Be active

Be mindful of “screen time:” television, computer, video games, text messaging, and build in times that encourage balance with things that are grounding to you. Plan outings with friends that help you feel connected to yourself. Your family can augment celebratory time together with day-to-day routines; all family members can contribute to the household in this way. Invent games while doing chores so that even routine activities become associated with fun and closeness.

5. Be involved in menu planning

Ask to be included and share preferences when planning the weekly menu or meals for celebratory events. Offer to participate 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.

6. 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.

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