Helping to support youth mental health during the holidays

Stress and the holidays are often synonymous. There’s the pressure of buying the perfect gifts — and making sure you don’t go broke doing it. Holiday party after holiday party can stretch you thin. And let’s be honest, being at home with the family can start to wear on you.

If your social media feeds are in full “happy holidays mode” and you’re not feeling it, you’re not alone. Many young adults are dealing with stress, anxiety and depression.

“Even outside of the holidays, we know Gen Zers feel lonelier and have more unmet social needs than other generations,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual. “That’s why it’s so important that young people have a plan heading into this busy season for putting themselves and their whole health first.”

Dr. Randall said a focus on whole person health — which is a brain-body approach to care — can help with improving a person’s overall well-being.

“Stress is a good example,” Dr. Randall said. “Left unchecked, that stressed-out feeling that can get your mind spinning may end up contributing to physical health problems.Having occasional stress can be normal, but long-term bouts with it may put you at an increased risk for things like:

  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive issues
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain or loss

Five strategies for reducing stress and boosting joy this holiday season:

1. Lean into healthy habits

Virtually any form of physical activity can act as a stress reliever, so get regular exercise during the holidays. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and be cautious about how much you eat and drink. Going overboard may add stress and guilt — and possibly extra pounds to deal with at resolution time.

2. Know your limits for time and money

To help avoid feeling overwhelmed, consider saying no to some invites. In cases where you can’t, look into taking something else off your calendar to avoid overextending yourself. Overspending can be another stressor during and after the holidays, so set a realistic budget and stick to it. If money is tight, find low- and no-cost ways to show appreciation for people in your life. You may score points for creativity.

3. Limit social media

Chances are, photos of holiday cheer are filling up your feeds. But before you start comparing your life to what you see online, it’s important to realize how harmful social comparison can be. Social media may only increase potential negative effects on youth mental health, which is already a concern. Several studies show higher levels of social media use are linked to things like depression, anxiety, inadequate sleep and low self-esteem. If possible, try to use time around the holidays to step away from your phone and enjoy intentional, in-person time with your loved ones.

4. Squeeze in moments of gratitude

Find time and creative ways to focus on things for which you are grateful. For example, instead of letting a long line at a store feel like a hassle, use the wait as a chance to reflect on the good things that have already happened that day. Research has shown that a focus on gratitude can help to reduce stress.

5. Stay present and be proactive

If you feel tension or worry building, address it before it becomes all-consuming. Consider making time for things you love about the season. Watch a holiday episode of a favorite sitcom, enjoy a cup of cocoa or go check out holiday decorations. Giving yourself a chance to catch your breath and refocus may help you feel better.

One more thing

Dr. Randall said if you feel like stress is so bad that you find it hard to get through the day, consider talking to your primary care physician (PCP) about ways to feel better. If you don’t have a PCP, now is a great time to establish a relationship with one.

In addition, your health benefits may offer a variety of behavioral health solutions that may include digital self-help tools, in-person and virtual visits, coaching, and employee assistance programs. You can get details on your health plan’s website or app — or call the number on your member ID card.

Sign up to get the latest news from the UnitedHealthcare Newsroom