Help for the Holidays

By: Dr. Katherine Henderson, CPsych 
Co-Director and Co-Founder Anchor Psychological Services

The holiday season in December is often a stressful time for those struggling with an eating disorder and the loved ones around them.  The holiday season and Christmas in particular is advertised in the media as a time of joy, gift giving and receiving, and feeling loved and connected to family and friends.  The media would have us believe that we all enter into a place of happy, joyful bliss for the month of December as we celebrate the many different holidays of the month.

The reality is that the pressure of feeling like the holidays ought to bring joy and bliss only creates stress for many individuals and family.  Not every family is able to come together and not everyone has family that they feel loved by and comfortable being together with.  Sometimes we are in a lonely phase of struggle in our lives, feeling disconnected from friends and family.  Even when we do have family we are able to be with, the many events and expectations can be exhausting and overwhelming.

When you have an eating disorder or a loved one has an eating disorder the challenge of the holiday season increases.  Not only do you feel pressure to be around and express joy and happiness with others, much of the celebration centers around food and food is a place of challenge and distress.

Try some of these strategies this year to help you survive the holidays:

·         Start by being realistic about your December, remind yourself that the media distorts not only body image, but it creates an unrealistic image of “happiness in the holidays”.   For many, the holidays are a much more stressful time of the year.

·         Plan time that is “me time”.  Whether it is 5 minutes or 5 hours, plan some moments every day and each week that will help you take a moment to relax and take a break from the stress and expectations that surround you. This could be a 5 minute cuddle with your pet; 15 minutes reading your favorite book or doing a puzzle; a half hour soak in a bubble bath; a few hours getting a manicure and pedicure; or going out with a friend for a walk or tea.

·         Knowing that food and eating generates stress for the individual struggling with an eating disorder and those who love and support that person, plan how to make meals less stressful. Families we have worked with have found some of the following to help: inviting fewer people to the special meals, planning a meal that allows the person struggling to succeed, being strategic about who sits where, creating a policy of no food or body image talk at the table;   creating plans to redirect “great aunt Hilda” who always says something triggering.

·         Knowing that food and eating generates stress, create new traditions and new ways of being together that are not focused on food so that everyone can feel a part being together.  Have a family and/or friends snowball fight, build a snowman or snowwoman together, go for a walk, sit around the fire without food, play a board game, sing karaoke, go bowling. The list is endless, find your creativity to connect in ways that do not include food.

·         Start new traditions that promote positive mental health and well being for all:

o   Positive affirmation traditions:  say something nice or that you appreciate about the person to your left or right (note be sure that it is clear this is not to be about body image related things)
o   Share what you are thankful for this year.
o   Find the best media story that promotes caring, compassion, and self-acceptance.
o   Share your rose and thorn:  What is something that made you happy today; what was something difficult or challenging today

Wishing you a few moments of self-acceptance and self-care this holiday season!