Brightening a Blue Christmas

Shining a Light on Conifer’s Mental Health during the Holidays


Patrick Doty

Peer Counselors and the counseling and department are all located in the office. They are available all periods of the day for students in need of guidance. “The counselors are always here,” Neuenschwander said.

In 1957, Elvis Presley released a song as part of his Christmas Album titled  “Blue Christmas,” and the lyrics still hold true today.  In today’s day and age, many people, most significantly teenagers, agree that the status of their mental health becomes increasingly affected as the holidays stretch on.


In an anonymous Google Survey conducted within Conifer High School over a 24-hour period to assess students’ mental health, over 52% of all respondents claimed that their stress generally increases over the holidays, and an additional 57.2% claimed that their anxiety also increases over the holidays.  Many of the respondents indicated that the two biggest reasons for their deteriorating situations stem from the increased time spent around their family, and the rapidly approaching deadline of finals. 


“Typically at this time we see kids at this time that are breaking down,” High School Counselor Justin Neuenschwander said.  “It has to do probably with a combination of stress with the holidays”


Neuenschwander also agrees that the home life of many teenagers isn’t what it should be, and the increase in time spent around families is prone to making many teenagers feel stressed.


In addition to the increased symptoms of anxiety and stress, another 52.4% of Conifer High School respondents claimed that they started to feel an increase in symptoms of depression, stating that they feel emotionally burnt out and that they generally feel a lack of connection with people in their lives around this time of year.


Liam Christianson, a Peer Counselor at Conifer High School, has noticed “a lot of stress and slight depression,” and observing that a lot of these feelings come from feelings of inadequacy among students.


“[Students] feel like they’re not good enough to do these tests,”  Christianson said.“[Students] are just overall stressed and they wanna succeed and make themselves feel good about themselves.”


Luckily, anyone feeling Elivs’ Holiday Blues isn’t alone. 

Heather Aberg, Executive Director of Resilience 1220, agrees that the holidays are a tough time of year for students.  


“There is stress, the rhythm is different, it’s dark, so mental health can really slip in the holidays,” Aberg said.


Aberg believes that one of the biggest ways people can cope with the holidays is by accepting and realizing that there is an issue.  Aberg calls teenagers “forgotten grievers,” and says that it’s very uncommon for teenagers to open up and discuss their issues, even with themselves internally.


“The hard part about the holidays is the expectation [of] joy and merriment,” says Aberg, but that when you begin to struggle during the holidays, you suddenly don’t understand how to cope because your expectation is happiness.  In order to really feel better about oneself and get through this stress-heavy time of year she recommends “recognizing, ‘yeah this is hard, or I’m not meeting that expectation of joy and that’s okay, try to refrain from judgment.”


For those struggling with the loss of a loved one, or maybe someone fighting through their first Christmas with separated parents, Aberg recommends lighting a candle.  


“Do some deliberate kind of recognizing that that is the loss,” Aberg said.


When it comes to finals season, the biggest thing you can do to better yourself is to be an advocate for yourself.


“The best thing [you] can say is that ‘I’m giving the best that I got…let’s be a cheerleader for [yourself] instead of being such a mean whip cracker,” Aberg said.


Christenson recommends to “take some time, take some breathers, sit in your room for a while, and study over anything you’re not super strong in.”  The importance of just taking several breathers can be vastly huge for your mental health and help calm yourself and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.


For those struggling with missing or late assignments, Neuenschwander suggests when you’re  “looking at all these assignments that are due, rather than seeing this mountain of assignments, maybe break it into smaller chunks.”  Neuenschwander’s biggest strategy he can suggest is to “look for the biggest bang for your buck.”  Assignments that carry more weight are better to finish first, as they can hold the most influence over your final grade.


Above all else, Aberg stresses to “really sit back and enjoy [it], it’s really sweet.  You finish finals and you get that break.”  She encourages you to find the beauty in subtle things and to truly give yourself permission to enjoy them to the fullest.  Aberg says that “part of coping is when you’re really enjoying something, totally take that in.”  


To curb those pesky Elvis Holiday Blues, it’s most important to recognize and remember to “be kind to yourselves, kind to others, ‘cause we’re all just trying our best,” Aberg said.