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My Holiday Survival Guide for Teenagers Struggling With Mental Illness


As a 19-year-old who still lives with my parents and has been living with a mental illness for several years, I’ve grown accustomed to “surviving” the holidays that everyone around me is excited for. Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays too, but for someone recovering from an eating disorder and dealing with severe social anxiety, a celebration about food and people is not my idea of a good time. Here are a few tips I’ve compiled – mostly to remind myself – that might help us manage these months together.

1. Don’t neglect your basic self-care that you employ throughout the rest of the year.

You probably know to stick to a regular sleeping schedule when in school, but when you get a break, Netflix and late night phone calls become your best friend — and your worst enemy. Tell your friends and Hallmark movies that your health is more important and stick with the plan. Get enough sleep and don’t stuff yourself with too many cookies. Enjoy, but try not to overdo. You’ll thank yourself later.

2.Tell your parents what’s going on.

If you can, talk to your parents. Tell them that this time of year is harder for you and why. Come up with a couple specific ways that they can help you – even if it’s just being aware that you’re struggling and listening when you need to talk. I always tell my mom before a big family meal if I’m feeling anxious or not and what I plan on eating so she doesn’t worry if I eat very little. Eating with other people can be very hard, so I either eat before or after a family gathering. There is nothing wrong with creating certain habits that make your holiday life easier. Ask your parents and siblings to be understanding and to look out for you when you’re feeling vulnerable.

3. Don’t hesitate to use your coping skills.

Some of my choice coping skills for my anxiety are my fidget cube, tangle, coloring book and weighted blanket, each for different reasons. Be careful about the fidget toys though because people tend to want to take them and play with them, which can add to your anxiety. People usually leave a coloring book alone though, so that might be a better route. The best way I manage family gatherings is with a weighted blanket wrapped around my legs, a cup of punch so people think I’m eating and a coloring book in my lap. Find your armor and don’t be afraid to wear it.

4. Take your medications (if you take medication).

Holidays are fun, but they are no reason to stop taking your medications. Even if holidays make you so happy you think you’re cured – you’re probably not. Take your medication. It’s working and that’s great!

5. Take a break.

When it gets to be too much, step away from the noise and relax. Light your candles, snuggle your dog and forget about the hundreds of people wanting to know your plans for your life and what your relationship status is. Don’t let anyone guilt you into staying in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Your health is important and you are loved.

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Unsplash photo via Connor Irwin