The holidays can be a wonderful time for many people, but for some, it can be a time of immense stress, anxiety, and even depression. Since Christmas is just a couple of days away, I wanted to offer some strategies for dealing with these emotional challenges, and also specific ideas for those struggling with an eating disorder.
Strategy #1: Put Things in Perspective and Prioritize
Sometimes, we simply take on too much. We want to be able to do it all and so we set ourselves up to be stressed and anxious. Decide what’s really important for you to do. Is it hosting a party? Decorating? Cooking for the family dinner? Making homemade gifts? Once you know what is most important to you, balance that with that you can realistically afford—both in terms of time and money!
Strategy #2: Take Time-Outs
It’s tempting to just go-go-go! all season long. Getting overwhelmed and tired makes us vulnerable to feeling stressed and sad, so take some time to slow down. Find some time to do things just for yourself that rejuvenate you like reading a good book, watching a favorite holiday movie, or whatever brings a few moments of peace to your spirit. You don’t have to say “yes” to everyone and everything (see #5).
Strategy #3: Get Support
Reach out to people you trust who can support you when you need it. A listening ear and encouraging word from someone who cares can make a big difference, so don’t hold whatever you’re struggling with inside. And if there are specific ways other people can help, let them! Relationships are built on reciprocity and while many of us are always happy to help others, we find it difficult to accept kindnesses in return. But rejecting people in that way isn’t good for you or those relationships.
Strategy #4: Grieve If You Need To
Unfortunately, the holidays can bring up a lot of emotional pain for some. Perhaps they are reminder of childhood trauma or they make the loss of someone special even more difficult. Whatever it might be, take some time to grieve the pain. By acknowledging and honoring it, it often feels less overwhelming.
Strategy #5: Put Up Boundaries
The holidays bring up many expectations from others, especially family. There can be a lot of demands for your time and attention, and sometimes, it’s just not healthy. Maybe because it’s simply impossible to please everyone since it’s not possible to be in two places at once (e.g. both you and your spouse’s mamas want to see the grandkids on Christmas morning) or maybe it’s because you simply don’t want to do something you’re being pressured to do. If your family is a dysfunctional mess and spending time with them is detrimental to your or your family’s well-being, it’s perfectly okay to put up boundaries and do your own thing. You really can say “no” to people, even family…just decide ahead of time you’re not going to board whatever Guilt Trip Express pulls up when you decline because you know it’s probably coming!
Strategy #6: Express Gratitude
Take just a few minutes to write down what you are grateful for in your life. It’s amazing how focusing on the good in our lives can help us feel happier. I had a professor in college that would always say, “The key to happiness is an attitude of gratitude”…and I think he was right.
Strategy #7: Get Outside Yourself
There’s nothing as uplifting as getting outside yourself. Try donating some time or money to a cause that you feel good about. Some ideas could be taking meals to shut-ins, adopting a Christmas Angel child in need of gifts, making and handing out blankets to the homeless…the options are endless because there’s a world of need out there and we each have gifts to offer! I promise, you can’t help but feel good after doing good.
Additional Strategies for Those With Eating Disorders:
- Follow a structured eating plan
- Find out the menu in advance
- Determine where and when you will be eating
- Identify a support person to help
- Avoid “fat talk”, diet talk or food conversations that could be upsetting
- Be assertive with people who pressure you to eat more/less
- Get right back to structure if you engage in any eating disorder behaviors
- Communicate feelings to support person
- Have an “exit strategy” planned if things become too overwhelming
- Suggest and develop family traditions that do not involve food (caroling, games, and activities)
- Plan a variety of foods to help prevent bingeing on “Forbidden Foods” (from Best Practices for Eating Disorder Recovery During the Holidays)
I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!