Christmas is often a source of anxiety and can be overwhelming to those struggling with mental health issues. Couple Christmas with an eating disorder and fear about all the food and drink that surrounds the holiday season, and what is meant to be an enjoyable time can become too much to handle.
The good news is that there are some things you can do to limit your stress, and hopefully find a way to enjoy the time with your family and friends. Here are our top tips for coping with Christmas:
1. Remember, it’s only one day.
- Christmas doesn’t have to change your recovery plan, so don’t allow guilt to creep in about what you “should” be behaving like. If you want to do something different to everyone else because it will make you feel better, then do it. If you want to eat something different to what everyone else is eating because you’d feel more comfortable with it, then eat that instead. Remember your long-term plan. But communication is key (see tip 5 below) to ensure everyone, including you, is happy.
- Don’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to. Whether that is going out for a meal, accepting a mince pie, or eating more for Christmas Dinner. It won’t make or break the day, but your stress levels will.
- Don’t feel you have to be happy all the time. No one expects that. Allow your emotions just as they are. Acknowledge them and let them go.
2. Have a plan.
- Plan your meals ahead of time so that you still feel in control. Talk to your family and friends about what is being served and think about how much you would like to eat so that on the day you feel comfortable.
- If you’re going out for dinner, look at the menu beforehand and decide what you’re going to eat so that you don’t have a moment of panic when the order is taken. If there is nothing on the menu that you are comfortable with, have something healthy beforehand to avoid being hungry there, or compensating when you get home.
- Don’t starve yourself in preparation to eat more in one meal. Eat healthy meals throughout the day, as you would try to do normally.
- Don’t forget to make a relaxation plan too – whether that’s a music playlist that you can relax to, an app on your phone to remind you to take deep breaths (it works!), or a good book to enjoy and escape into.
- Plan for small talk from friends or family you’ve not seen for a while. Also plan for some potentially unsettling remarks from those who do not know better. Make a list of what people could say to you and what your response could be to them so that you are ready.
- Have a ‘getaway plan’. If things do get ‘too much,’ it’s okay to leave the table/event, and do something that helps you feel better.
3. Involve your family.
- Let your family know about your getaway plan for if you are feeling overwhelmed – if it is to go out for a little while, or retreat to your bedroom – so that they understand if it happens. It will stop them from feeling concerned, and it will stop you from beating yourself up about if you want to implement it.
- Ask your family beforehand if they can try not to comment on your food choices through the day so that you feel safer. They will feel happier knowing they are supporting you and together you will all have a better day and enjoy it more.
4. Talk to someone.
- Ask your therapist if you can write to them or if they can speak to you over the Christmas period to help you stay on track. Touching base, even if it’s to write an e-mail expressing thoughts and feelings, can help you feel connected and less alone.
- If you can, speak to your family about how you are feeling on the lead up to Christmas and what your concerns are, so that they are aware too.
- Have support line numbers on hand if you need to talk to someone urgently. Beat have a free Eating Disorder helpline which is staffed from 4pm – 8pm over Christmas and an online chat if the lines are busy. They also have message boards if you want to chat online with other people.
- If you have supportive friends, arrange a plan to meet up with them over this period to get some relief. Perhaps they would be able to meet you on Christmas or Boxing Day, too. It’s always worth asking.
5. Enjoy yourself.
- You might be feeling overwhelmed with the pressure around the food over this period, but try to focus on the good things about Christmas. About spending time with family, a walk on Boxing Day, a board game you always play together, the Christmas TV. Things that make you happy. It’s all memories and the happy ones are the ones you want to remember.
- Most people aren’t watching what you eat or drink — they are enjoying themselves. So try not to feel self-conscious. If they comment on how much they have eaten, this is because most people eat more than usual at Christmas – it’s not aimed at you.
- Remember that food is not your enemy. You can enjoy it and use it to celebrate. Healthy food nourishes your body and gives you energy.
The key thing is preparation. If you spend a little time thinking about what will make your Christmas relaxing, then chances are, it will be okay.
So, try not to worry about what is in the future, don’t dwell on what has happened in the past, and above all, be mindful, appreciate and enjoy yourself right now.
Happy Christmas! ?