At a time when most adults would think young people should be having the time of their lives, the sad reality is many will struggle with anxiety and depression through the school holidays. Having several weeks away from their usual routine can be stressful, as is being away from their friends and usual school supports.
Figtree psychologist and father of six Dr Justin Coulson said people get anxious because they’re afraid of what they don’t know might happen. He said it was more prevalent in young people going through a “transition” such as about to begin kindergarten, going from primary to secondary school, about to embark on the HSC or school-leavers about to join the workforce or begin university.
“When you don’t know when the next chance for you to see your friends might be, or what class you’re going to be in this year or who your teacher will be,” he said.
Dr Coulson gave the example of a recent client completing year 12 with significant anxiety issues. They were worried about what would happen if they couldn’t get a job, if they did get a job but their colleagues weren’t nice, or what if I they did gain employment and their bosses then thought their skills were not as good as they were on paper.
“We all deal with a degree of anxiety … but anxiety is healthy and good. If we don’t have anxiety then we are psychologically unstable, it protects us, it keeps us safe and prevents us from doing really dumb things,” he said. “However there comes a point when anxiety tips beyond healthy and impedes normal functioning.”
The worst thing parents could do is to try and ease the situation was to tell their son or daughter “it’ll all work out”, “everything’s fine” or to “cut it out”.
“Emotions don’t vanish by being banished,” said Dr Coulson.
He said unfortunately research showed parents’ ability to predict how their child felt was usually inaccurate and often in no way correlated to how the child actually felt.
“We think because we’re calm our child is calm,” he said. “We downplay it, we ignore it or we get mad at them, but it exacerbates the problem.”
He said parents should discuss what’s bothering their child and empathise with “I know how you feel” and let them know it is normal to feel nervous, though some younger ones may not understand why they’re feeling upset all the time.
Getting them to focus on future things to look forward to is encouraged. For younger children familiarising them with the school beforehand and meeting their new teacher or principal, or spending time with friends joining them at a new school may help settle their nerves.
Signs to look out for include irritability, swinging emotions, unexplained crying, anger, withdrawal, insomnia and nausea.
Another avenue of support is Headspace Wollongong, a free service for 12 to 25-year-olds with a variety of experienced people to chat with like psychologists, counselors, youth workers and doctors. If you’re going through a tough time call 4220 7660.
HEADSPACE holiday survival guide:*
STAY CONNECTED! Keep in contact with friends especially those who help you feel good about yourself
KEEP TO A ROUTINE. Get up in the morning, eat at usual meal times
GRAB SOME ZZZ. Most of us need at least eight hours of sleep at night and some of us need more. Go to bed early to get your shut-eye rather than sleeping late.
TUNE INTO MUSIC that relaxes you and lifts your mood. Even better, dance!
GET MOVING! Get involved in local activities, or go for a walk, swim, cycle, or skate with friends.
Cut down, cut out or DON’T START WITH ALCOHOL, DRUGS OR SMOKES. They can fuel arguments and have a really negative impact on your mental well-being.
CHECK IN WITH YOUR FRIENDS. They might be feeling lonely, bored or down and find it too hard to make the first move – suggest you meet up.
KEEP IN MIND: Parents, carers and family often get stressed about things at this time of year and might not realise how hard it is for you. Take them aside and let them know if you're struggling or need support.
* From www.headspace.org.au