The holidays can be a source of joy and stress for people. This stress can be heightened for people with mental illnesses, including eating disorders. This is especially concerning for people with eating disorders since anxiety can intensify disordered behaviors .
Whether the holidays are stressful because of the increased focus on food or having to sit through triggering comments from family members, there are ways to cope so you can still enjoy the holiday season.
Here are five tips on coping with holiday anxiety during eating disorder recovery:
Make a Plan to Deal with Holiday Anxiety
If you know that the holidays are stressful for you, it can help to make a plan ahead of time for how you will cope. Even though it can increase anxiety to think ahead, being able to figure out what things about the holidays stresses you out can help you pick coping skills that can help.
For example, if you know that it is difficult for you to eat in front of others, you can make a plan on how to cope with this specific trigger. You may choose to sit in a smaller group of family members that you feel more comfortable with, or you may suggest playing a game during the meal as a distraction technique.
It can help to think through each trigger to identify a coping strategy for your holiday anxiety. Having this plan ahead of time can make you feel more prepared to head into the holidays.
Shift Your Focus
Often, anxiety can lead us to only focus on the negatives. While it may feel that focusing on the negatives can help you fix the situation making you stressed, it usually just steals joy.
If you head into the holidays worrying about the things that make you anxious, you’re less likely to enjoy this season. Even though there may be some things that stress you about this time of year, there are also things you probably enjoy.
Make a list of things that you enjoy about the holidays. Whether it be the weather, family traditions, or seasonal movies, giving attention to the things you do like can help make the holiday more satisfying.
Reach Out to Your Support System
Support is crucial for recovery . Holidays usually mean spending more time with family and close loved ones. Your family may be a source of support for you. Let them know how they can support you.
It usually helps to give family members specific ideas on how to help. For example, let your sister know that during the holiday meal that it would help for her to help start and carry on a fun conversation with you.
If your family is not supportive of your recovery process, then making plans to check in with your support system can be soothing. Whether it’s setting up a phone date with your best friend or talking with your dietitian before a holiday meal, relying more on your support system can decrease stress.
Self-care is extra important during stressful times. Give yourself permission to practice self-care during the holiday season. Your self-care may look different during this time of year, depending on what your circumstances are.
Self-care includes taking care of your mind, body, and spirit. Self-care may look like having more time in the morning to journal or setting aside time to do mindful movement.
Reframe to Help Ease Holiday Anxiety
Holidays sometimes come with a lot of pressure. Remember that at the end of the day, a holiday is just a day. Even though they can be very meaningful, they aren’t that different from any other day in recovery.
Reframing your view of the holidays can help take the edge off and keep you on track with your recovery-oriented behaviors.
Resources: National Eating Disorders Association. (2018). Statistics and research on eating disorders. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders  Costin, C. & Schubert Grabb, G. (2012). 8 keys to recovery from an eating disorder. W.W. Norton & Company.
About the Author:
Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published December 23, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on December 23, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC