Holidays are not always merry

Although the holidays can be a time for festivities and parties, it’s those same occasions that can create additional stress for people living with an eating disorder.

Many social events around the holidays revolve around food, and when you pair that with the apprehension of seeing family and friends who you may not have seen in some time, it can quickly feel overwhelming for people in recovery

Loneliness can also feel especially heavy during the holidays.

To help those who are experiencing these emotions know that they are not alone, we want to share these insights.

Not all holiday traditions involve eating

Seek out holiday traditions that don’t include food to find ways to enjoy the holiday season. Take a drive to look at light displays and see the beauty and creativity people devote to lighting up the holidays. Find a meaningful way to give back whether it’s picking a wish for a child from your library’s angel tree or donating time to visit residents at a retirement home and ask them about their favorite holiday memories. Bringing joy to others is a gift that keeps giving.

Decorate a gingerbread house

Another fun holiday tradition that doesn’t have to involve eating is decorating a gingerbread house. Some people may see this activity as a way to interact with candy and sweets in a safe setting without having to necessarily taste it. When your house is trimmed with treats, it can be a lighthearted addition to your holiday décor.

Bring your comfort food to holiday gatherings

When you do have a holiday gathering on your calendar, it might be stressful to wonder what food will be there to eat. Plan to bring a dish that you know you feel comfortable eating, so you can focus on enjoying the party and even possibly opening the door to trying something new that’s being served.

Bring your support

Like being worried about the food options, it can also be anxiety inducing when you don’t know if you will have a friend there who can lend support if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It can be helpful to know (or bring along) a person who will support you if negative thoughts perk up. It may be helpful if you share with them ahead of time what they can say to help you use a skill you know or distract you from negative behaviors.

Prepare your talking points around ED

Holiday gatherings have the potential for everything from casual conversations to inept inquisition. Topics can span how you look to what you’re eating to where you’re considering going for treatment. It might be wise to think ahead about how you might answer possible questions and even write down your answers so you can rehearse ahead of time much like cue cards for a presentation. Preparing your answers to these uncomfortable questions and how you can shift the conversation can make you feel more at ease while heading into holiday social events.

Rehearse distractions

Disordered thoughts might crop up at inopportune moments, so make a list ahead of time of helpful distractions to minimize their impact.

“I use my phone as my go-to distraction to keep my thoughts from spiraling. If I’m feeling an urge to use a behavior or feeling uncomfortable, I take a few minutes alone and find an article that is completely unrelated to what I’m experiencing and that usually helps a lot. After I can clear my head, I am able to go back to the party,” said a past Walden patient.

In addition to finding a spot to get away, other distractions include affirming self-talk, breathing exercise, or going for a walk.

Give yourself compassion

It’s ok if you find the holiday season hard to navigate when you’re struggling with an eating disorder. It can be an emotionally charged time for many people, and when you tack on social outings that often involve food it can be especially challenging. Give yourself the gift of grace with a side of self-compassion.

Rather than thinking in all-or-nothing terms, take it moment by moment, and hopefully you can spot a bit of magic in the season.

Planning ahead can lessen worry

Whatever your plans are for the holidays, thinking ahead about how you will manage situations can help lighten the load of stress. And know that you do not have to go through this season alone. If you need extra support, we are here for you.

*This blog post does not necessarily represent the views of Walden Behavioral Care and its management. The Walden Blog is meant to represent a broad variety of opinions relating to eating disorders and their treatment.