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    Tips to Support Mental Health During the Winter and Holiday Season
    Posted on 12/09/2020

    Tips to Support Mental Health During the Winter and Holiday Season

    The winter and holiday season tends to be a time of heightened stress and, for students and adults, it may feel like one more disappointment at the end of this long, challenging year. Both caregivers and young people might be mourning the ability to see family or friends, burnt out from the expectations and day-to-day demands, overwhelmed how to maintain family traditions, impacted from mental health needs, or may be grieving the loss of loved ones.

    We recognize Seattle Public School families celebrate a diverse spectrum of holidays and cultures, and the SPS Mental Health Team has put together some tips to help support decreasing stress or anxiety that your family might be dealing with.

    Identify How You're Feeling

    Many people are feeling a lot of different things at once right now, which is hard for our brains to understand and process. It is normal to have heightened emotions or decreased tolerance to stressors. If possible, take some time to sort through your feelings in whatever way is most productive for you – you can journal, talk to a friend, or just spend some quiet time alone thinking.

    Acknowledge What You've Lost – Talk it Out

    The winter break and holidays are typically a time to celebrate, be thankful, and come together with loved ones. Even during normal circumstances, it can be a challenging time of the year. If you've lost a loved one, a job, or even just lost your sense of normalcy, it is okay to grieve during this time. You do not need to pretend things are okay.

    If your children are having a tough time, validate their thoughts and share your feelings too. It is helpful to model coping with that disappointment in a positive way. Talk to your children about what you're doing to feel better (scheduling calls with friends/family, taking time to do a hobby you enjoy). Help them find their own ways to do the same.

    Create New Traditions and Give Children a Voice

    Making the most of the situation allows you to find joy even during times of stress and grief. Talk with your children and family about new ways to make this holiday season special and give children a role in planning and deciding.

    What are realistic ways the family can celebrate and connect? Are there particular movies, games, foods, or music that bring joy? What are ways you can honor any loss of loved ones in your family?

    Including children in the decision-making process can help take off pressure from parents and give children independence to come up with the ideas that will feel special to them.

    Stay Active, Stick to Routines, and Have Connection Time

    Even though we've been stuck in our homes for many months spending more time together than ever, creating special time with your loved ones can be an opportunity to remind children they are not alone and that they have a support system they can turn to. Connection time can be whatever you value: watching a favorite show together, playing games, decorating, cooking, or even just going for a walk. Staying active during the holidays and winter is beneficial for everyone's mental and physical health and helps maintain normal routines. Unless it is a special occasion, sticking to routines can help kids know what to expect and provide some sense of normalcy and control. Making sure children, and yourself, are getting enough sleep can also help support positive coping and decrease stress and anxiety.

    Additional Suggestions Per Age Group

    Tips for younger children also apply to older children and adults alike; Adopted from ConnecticutChildrens.org.

    0-3 years old: Focus on quality time during the holidays – and don't worry about the details.

    • Children this age will not be able to recall detailed memories of holidays past and will not recall the events of this year in the future.
    • It's okay to keep things very simple for children this age in terms of celebrations and explanations.
    • All children benefit from having quiet-down time to feel love and attention from parents. With social distancing and quarantine measures in place, this is the perfect season to indulge kids with affection.

    4-6 years old: Create new, quarantine-approved holiday traditions.

    • Establish traditions within your immediate family – make holiday decorations, make a home-made gift, cook a special meal.
    • Instead of in-person visits with friends and family, consider fun ways to have a video interaction, write letters, or make cards.
    • Don't punish children for having a negative reaction to holiday changes this year. Tell them that it's okay to feel sad, disappointed, or angry.
    • Find the positive and teach positive self-talk. For example, "Since we don't have to travel, we get extra time to relax and play at home."

    6-12 years old: Help your child cope with holiday blues – and build resilience for the future.

    • At this age, children understand the precautions that need to be taken due to COVID-19.
    • Validate their feelings of disappointment and sadness about changes to their holiday traditions: It's normal and OK to feel angry, frustrated or sad.
    • Remember that helping children overcome disappointment helps them build resiliency.
    • Ask them for their ideas about how to make the holiday special.
    • Teach fun relaxation strategies – try yoga for the first time, or practice slowly breathing in and out the scent of a favorite treat, lotion, or candle.

    13-18 years old: Ask, listen, and encourage COVID-safe holiday activities.

    • Ask teens how they are feeling.
    • Let them know you are there if they need to talk.
    • Listen! Often, teens just want someone to listen and not solve the problem for them.
    • Offer perspective on the situation by looking at the big picture.
    • Allow them a sense of control by giving them choices – maybe to have a friend over on a different day to celebrate the holiday or allow them to plan a special activity.
    • Encourage positive social activities to honor the holiday season, such as how to volunteer in a socially distanced way.

    Parents and caregivers: Manage your own disappointment about this holiday season.

    • Allow yourself to feel sad, worried, or angry.
    • Do something to nurture yourself.
    • Adjust your expectations.
    • Look at the big picture.
    • Children take cues from their parents. If you maintain a positive, festive, and calm demeanor, your kids will pick up on that and do the same.

    Find additional mental health supports for students and adults.