The holiday season is all about catching up with friends, spending quality time with family, unwinding from the shit-show that was 2020, and of course, food. All of the food.
However, often all that goodness comes a side of stress. Stress over holiday plans, your never-ending social calendar, dwindling finances, finding the perfect gift, spending more time than usual with the fam, maintaining a balanced diet. Pretty much everything and anything can be stress inducing at this time of year.
The holidays can also be particularly challenging for those recovering from an eating disorder or still struggling with one. Navigating these situations — where there’s an abundance of pressure, family and food — can be overwhelming, triggering, isolating and emotionally draining.
As someone who has struggled with disordered eating for most of my teenage and adult life, I get it. The expectation to return home for the holidays looking better than when you last left feels high. You’re probably already anticipating the skewed comments from those who haven’t seen you in a while (and you’re not really sure how the f*ck to take them . . . thanks, Karen). And the pressure to eat healthily and not overfill your plate for fear of putting on the ‘Christmas kilos’ is real.
Deep down, you know all of the above deprives you of the joy that the Christmas break is supposed to bring, but you still do the mental gymnastics and somehow hope that it burns calories.
If, like me, you’re in that position right now and the anxiety of holiday season has already started to creep in, know that you’re not alone and you will be OK. To help you (and me) cope, we spoke with Lysn Psychologist, Noosha Anzab, who shared her tips to help get you through the holiday season.
(Sorry, we can’t do anything about your crazy in-laws though, that one’s on you.)
The difficult family member:
We’ve all got that family member that can sometimes be incredibly hard to manage. “They may constantly make comments that are insensitive and often inappropriate, they usually don’t have boundaries and don’t acknowledge yours either,” explains Noosha.
“Whilst it’s hard to engage in this song and dance — it’s important to remove any forms of accommodation on our end. We simply don’t have to and don’t need to put up with this type of toxicity.”
*Meryl clap* Louder for the people in the back. This goes for any and all toxicity.
“Often that simply means we need to reinstate our position in a firm, yet calm way,” says Noosha. If you find a family member is making comments about your diet, what’s on or not on your plate, your appearance and or weight gain/loss — it’s perfectly ok to let them know that that makes you uncomfortable.
Noosha recommends saying something along the lines of: “It makes me uncomfortable to hear these remarks and would like that to stop, please. It’s a boundary for me and I’d rather not spend my day in a negative state, and I would appreciate support with that.”
“Often when conveying our message, it’s so important to try to refrain from using the word “you”, and instead come forward with “I” statements so as not to offload blame”, she explains. “Using explanations of “I feel x because of y” helps really explain your position without room for negotiation and helps communication be effective and clear.”
The days leading up to the event:
The days before and even after main events in the holiday season can be really hard, the anxiety about what’s to come can often be more stressful than the event itself.
“It may bring about a load of questions such as “what do I wear?”, “what do I eat?”, “what if x person says y?”, and naturally we can fall down the rabbit hole of negative cognitions,” explains Noosha.
“It’s so important to slam on the breaks well and truly before the event and engage in some self-reflection!” She recommends asking ourselves questions like: “How do I want the event to turn out?”, “How would I like to feel throughout the day?”, “How can I soothe myself if it gets a little rough?”
“These are great starting points in getting the self to be curious about what it needs and naturally gravitating towards achieving just that.”
She also recommends engaging in a lot of self-care to help prepare yourself for the holiday season, so get those face masks ready.
The relationship with food and the plate:
Considering the fact that such a huge part of holidays is based around eating (hello Christmas Day breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts) and socialising, it only makes sense that there is a fair amount of anxiety around food, especially if you’re recovering from/dealing with an ED.
“When food and the plate feel particularly daunting, it’s important to step away for a minute and take some time to get grounded again (coming into the present) by concentrating on what’s happening around you rather than turning into the inward distress,” says Noosha.
“Stepping away for a minute (or more) when you need it is perfectly acceptable. It may be worthwhile to convey your reservations with a family member or friend who you are comfortable with and let them know where you’ll be ducking out to another space, room or even if things get a bit too much.”
Noosha recommends focusing on spending time with your loved ones and the spirit of the day rather than meals it often revolves around. “This is where our values are a great helping point as we can help our day turn more towards what’s important to us.”
She also understands that whilst that is easy to say and super hard to do when you’re recovering from an eating disorder — consider it as a form of self-care. “Immerse yourself in conversations you enjoy and don’t steer away from leading conversation either, busy yourself doing things you like versus doing things as a formality and try to treat yourself gently.”
If things do get too overwhelming or you find something triggering, open up to family, friends or a health professional about how you’re feeling and seek help.
Noosha Anzab is a clinical psychotherapist and psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.