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Making Spirits Bright: Holiday Stress

While it’s often referred to as the “most wonderful time of the year,” the reality is the hustle and bustle of the holiday season combined with the unrealistic expectations of a joyful, storybook celebration, and perfect images of families, extravagant gifts, and Instagram-worthy soirees can wreak havoc on our mental well-being–and kids are no exception.  For students who already suffer anxiety or depression, this time of year can be particularly challenging but for others, the dark days of winter and (over)hype of the holidays can elicit new feelings of sadness and anxiety in children who may be dealing with discord in the family, loss of a loved one, lack of money for gifts or celebrations, or who potentially have cultural differences that leave them feeling left out.  Through careful consideration of common stressors and supportive strategies to help students cope, school can be a place to nurture and care for students who may be experiencing the gloom of the “holiday blues.”

Seasonal Stress Symptoms

Students with holiday-related anxiety and stress can present to the school health office with complaints of headaches or general achiness, fatigue, or abdominal pain.  Teachers may report that a student is experiencing abnormal emotional outbursts, is isolating themselves from their peers, is disinterested or distracted in class, or is seemingly entirely apathetic.

Seasonal Stress Support

The holidays typically bring about changes in routine that can be extremely unsettling for kids.  Even school days can be irregular with special assemblies, celebrations, and other shifts in schedule like snow days or staying inside for recess.  Clear communication with students on what to expect and how to prepare for the variation in schedule can help ease the uncertainty.  Providing students with ideas or directions for projects to be done while school is closed or even daily routine guidance can encourage kids who may face solitary, unstructured days at home while on break.

Encourage teachers to go easy on school work, schedule mindfulness time and breathing exercises, and organize holiday activities that are inclusive for everyone.  Check-in on how kids are feeling and provide a space for them to express any specific concerns or ask for help. Take time to educate older students facing final exams on the importance of nutrition and healthy sleep habits and ensure their test schedule is appropriately balanced.

Finally, turn the focus of holiday festivities and fun at school toward helping others.  Putting together care packages, writing greeting cards to those in nursing homes or serving in the military overseas, or volunteering through a local organization to help spread holiday cheer can foster feelings of peace, comfort, and joy–the very things this time of year should be about.

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