Friends Around the SnowmanThe holidays are an exciting time of year, no matter what you celebrate.  It is a time for reflecting upon beliefs, sharing time with loved ones, and acknowledging what has changed over the past year.  Although this season brings comfort and joy, it is no secret that time with family, holiday parties & meals, and recognizing change can increase stress, particularly through treatment for an eating disorder.

When facing an upcoming stressor, it can feel very easy to abide by the, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there” philosophy, and ignore the stress until you are facing it head on.  Sometimes, this may be effective, while other times, it may leave you feeling overwhelmed when the situation arrives.  This holiday season, try coping ahead – or planning for how you can handle potential holiday stressors using skills and supports.

Think About What Has Worked Before.  Just a few weeks earlier, adolescents in Walden’s Braintree Intensive Outpatient Program spent the night before Thanksgiving brainstorming ways to cope with family struggles and challenging meals on the holiday.  Thinking back to a recent holiday gathering and identifying helpful coping skills and social supports that were effective may assist in planning for upcoming celebrations.  If it worked before, it may work again!

Plan Your Supports.  As one adolescent shares, “The most helpful coping skill I had

[on Thanksgiving] was the support … other people around me were eating, it felt normal.  Later, when I felt guilty, I just thought about the pros and cons – I just had meals with people who care about me.”  Being around people who care for you and can help provide support through meals or family gatherings can be a critical aspect of recovery.

Talk It Out.  If you are concerned about a family member making a comment that bothers you, discuss it beforehand by making a request.  This often seems challenging, so try writing out a script before addressing the issue.  It can feel easier to address something before it happens rather than responding to it in the moment when emotions are already heightened.  Perhaps suggesting to family members that it would benefit you for them to be mindful about their own food or body comments will help you feel more at ease going into a holiday gathering.

Turn the “Don’ts” into “Dos.”  It becomes easy to focus on telling people what NOT to do (“Don’t pressure me,” “Don’t yell about how much food I have left on my plate,” etc.)  When discussing what is or is not helpful, provide tips on what loved ones CAN do to provide support.  For example, rather than saying, “Don’t pressure me,” you might try changing it to, “Do ask me how I am feeling if you notice I’m struggling.”  Or rather than, “Don’t yell across the table telling me to finish,” try, “Please pull me aside if you want to talk about how much you expect me to eat at dinner.”

Give thanks.  This time of year is all about appreciating what we do have, rather than focusing on what we do not.  Not only does this help us count our blessings, but it can also serve as a distraction during times of distress.  Identify what you have appreciated over the past year, month, week, or even day.  Perhaps this will even begin a new holiday tradition!

Stay strong and happy holidays from Walden Behavioral Care!

About the author:

ErikaVargasErika Vargas, MA, is the Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program Clinician at the Braintree location.  She is trained in the Maudsley Method/Family Based-Treatment and works with adolescents to decrease eating disorder behaviors with the support of their families.