Relaxed, care-free and happy- these are words we usually associate with end of year holiday time. However, for many young people, it can be a time where anxiety actually increases. Family and friends are often caught off guard by this rise in anxiety at the time when they are expecting the young person to be settling into the holiday fun. And because we are not expecting at this time, we can often miss the signs and behaviours associated with anxiety and rather blame being tired or out of routine. As always, its important to consider the overall picture of the young person -think about what is typical behaviour from them and what are you seeing now? Some of the behaviours anxiety can cause are changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, avoiding socialising, fluctuating mood, complaints of stomach aches or headaches and getting irritable or angry quickly (There are more detailed symptoms in my previous blog post).
We know anxiety is not logical but people are particularly confused as to how it can be that in HOLIDAYS the young person appears to be acting up?! We need to remember that transitions are a prime time where anxiety likes to grow, and, considering all that goes on in this time period, increased anxiety actually make some sense. Some of the common triggers for anxiety at the end of the year include:
A build up of stress throughout the year- most recently exams and leaving behind teachers, class mates and schools
Many family gatherings – having to deal with the dynamics and conflicts that go with those events
Changes in routine – the structure and predictability of the day is gone, many late nights, skipped meals etc
Unrealistic expectations – it’s the time you have been waiting for all year and often it does not unfold as you had imagined
Homes, streets, shops etc are noisy, crowded and busy. It requires more planning or patience to do things
You may have guests staying in your house, often with people giving up their rooms (which can be a strong physical anchor of safety)
Even if not directly involved in all the planning, preparations and costs, life can be a flurry of activity at this time of year and young people can sense the stress of their parents
There is anticipation for the new year ahead and all the unknowns that it will bring
Fortunately there are simple things we can do to help with holiday anxiety –they may not make the feelings disappear completely but they will go a long way in bringing some calmness into the chaos.
Help set expectations – talk to your family about what each of you are hoping to get out of this time and what you will be needing from them
Organise activities into manageable chunks with some breaks in between – feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated definitely fuels anxiety
Do your best to maintain sleep routines. If you can’t avoid a late night, ensure its followed by an early one – lack of sleep has a dramatic impact on anxiety. And try eat before busy/long events – that’s not just the mothering instinct in me coming out, but rather another way to avoid unnecessary sensory overstimulation
Knowledge is power – the more info you can share with the person about the upcoming change/ event/ destination the better. Anxiety thrives when it can play tricks with the mind about the unknown
Daily relaxation exercises together – I know I go on about this but finding 15-20 minutes in the day to do something together, like going for a walk, breathing exercises or lying watching the clouds together is so valuable for reducing anxiety and is good for everyone’s well-being.
Talk about endings - before, during and after. Saying goodbye to teachers/out of town visitors, leaving fun experiences like holidays and parties, all these ending give young people an opportunity to practice the skills associated with managing an 'ending' and develop their resilience. Help them make sense of what they might be feeling. Acknowledge the sadness or disappointment. Goodbyes are a hard but healthy part of the ebb and flow of life, and we can survive them.
Watching your loved one tackling anxiety can often be a scary, helpless and overwhelming experience and very often can raise your own anxiety. But just being there, acknowledging their struggle, is really helpful. Finally, and most vital, it is so importation to take care of yourself in the process!