Surviving the Holidays
Most of the time, I think it’s rude to keep my phone out while hanging with people. Thanksgiving is an exception. At least once in the food-saturated day, I’ll get a text from a friend who needs a little support dealing with an eating disorder. “I had a game plan going in and stuck to it for hours, but then my folks started in on me and I ran out of willpower,” they might say. We chat until the panicked feeling subsides, and then we go back to our respective festivities.
Everybody has difficulty with moderation in the face of a gluttonous holiday smorgasbord, but for those who suffer from anorexia, bulimia or other disordered eating, it’s like an addict having to hang out next to a heroin buffet… while an aunt asks how school is going.
This is far from the only reason someone might have a rough time with holidays. Sappy milestones can highlight the pain of a recent loss or breakup, and financial frustrations are exacerbated by the costs of travel and throwing parties.
Seeing family can be rejuvenating or undo years of therapy, depending on dynamics. Maybe you find this season to be pure, unfettered joy, in which case I hope you invite me to your upcoming 8th birthday party. But if you’re one of the many folks who finds this time of year stressful, here are some tips for survival. And remember: holidays are optional. There might be negative reactions, sure; but the beauty of adulthood is that you can eat ice cream for breakfast, stay up as late as you want and not participate in holidays if you don’t feel like it.
LET GO OF PERFECTION
Goals are great; perfectionism is a guaranteed route to Bummersville, population: you and your family. When hosting: delegate responsibilities (everyone likes to feel like they contributed and are useful), and don’t stress over details. People remember feeling welcome, not flawlessness. In fact, flawlessness makes a lot of people feel super uncomfortable.
BALANCE OLD AND NEW TRADITIONS
We appreciate traditions that tie us to our cultures and mark the passage of time. Especially if they involve mac and cheese. But “because we’ve always done it” is also a terrible reason to do something, and situations can change dramatically, making long-held practices awkward or distressing. Keep the traditions that continue to foster connection and community, ditch the ones that no longer serve you. If there are new folks joining the festivities, give them an opportunity to introduce some of their traditions. I, for instance, will be bringing the Mango-ritas and mac and cheese this Thanksgiving.
You plan when and where festivities take place, and it’s equally important to have an exit strategy if family get-togethers are a source of anxiety. Even though there’s enough room at the house and it’s possible to get rides, in some cases, it makes more sense to get a hotel and rent a car. This is especially true if you’re struggling with establishing your independence, or bringing a partner to meet everyone for the first time.
Know what triggers you and plan specifically how you’re going to do to deal. For instance: if I experience social anxiety, I make a beeline for the pets and kids (who are incredibly unlikely to make small talk) or offer my services to the host setting tables or washing dishes.
Balance your need for self-care with the experiences of others. Sacrificing your sanity to please others isn’t ok, but neither is creating drama for everyone because you and your brother have a beef dating back to the era of Zubaz. There’s no law that says you have to argue about politics across the dinner table.
STAY CONNECTED, ASK FOR HELP
If you have specific anxieties stoked by the location or situations around holidays, set up a buddy system. Identify someone ahead of time who will have the ability to support you, and ask them if they can be available. The friends who hit me up about eating concerns do so because they know my history of recovery. It’s not a lack of love for their parents or siblings, but a desire to connect with someone who, like an AA sponsor, gets the panic they feel and has worked out solutions for enduring.
The whole point of holidays is to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate. Keep that perspective, do what you can to contribute and don’t look for opportunities to be stressed. And hit me up if need be.