It's the holidays. Ho Ho Ho. That means lots of food, sales, crowds and getting together with family. In the movies it's always happy, loving, warm and inspiring. In real life, depending on your family, it can be stressful, anger-producing and even tear-producing.
One of my old friends had a saying in her family that went, "It's not Thanksgiving until somebody cries." I found that saying very comforting.
I am a psychotherapist. My two areas of specialization are grief and eating disorders. My clients often ask me if I am going out of town over the holidays. I never do because it is the busiest time of year for me. If I were an accountant, the holidays are my April 15.
The holidays are the worst time of year for people dealing with eating issues and/or grief. Many of the people I work with, myself included, have death anniversaries around the holidays. My brother died five years ago Thanksgiving weekend. That means every year since then there has been an empty chair at the Thanksgiving table. It is extremely sad. I miss him every day and because he died at such an important time of year, the holiday is now tinged with grief.
One of my clients lost her mom when she was only 13 right before Halloween. For her the grief starts when she starts seeing the Halloween costumes and doesn't end until after New Years Day. Another of my clients lost her mom on Thanksgiving day. I think it should be illegal for anyone to die around the holidays. It makes a potentially happy time of year extremely sad.
Then there are my eating disorder clients. I can't think of a worse holiday than Thanksgiving for those of us dealing with weight, body image and eating issues. Combine that with family stress and it's a time bomb for many. This year several of my clients have mentioned how their family members feel just fine about commenting on their weight and what they are, or are not, eating. Even though these clients are fully-grown adults, it doesn't seem to matter. When one gets around the family everyone tends to revert back to their childhood roles.
So, how can you enjoy the holidays and deal with grief, the potential to overeat, relatives who overstep their bounds, etc.?
Here are some thoughts on how to do that:
1) Realize you are not alone. Not everyone is happy over the holidays, and in fact it can be a time of deep sadness, loneliness and despair.
2) Honor your feelings, whatever they may be. If you are sad, it's OK to feel sad. We have a tendency, in our culture, to try to fix everything.
3) Speak up if a family member is saying or doing something that hurts, offends, or intrudes on your space. Let them know that it is upsetting to you and ask them to please refrain from doing or saying that ever again. That may not go over too well, but it's worth doing if it will nip that behavior in the bud.
4) Remember, it's not the Thanksgiving dinner, it's the leftovers that can lead to real weight gain. One meal will not affect what you will weigh a year from now. Weeks of overeating just might. So make it a point to enjoy the meal and then get rid of the leftovers.
5) The holidays will be over soon. Keep that in mind if this time of year is very hard for you. It will pass. If it's hard because of grief, the grief does get better with time but it never goes away. If it's difficult because of eating issues, practice doing it differently this year. Maybe you can put new traditions in place that will allow you to stay on track and feel good about yourself.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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