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Managing Holiday Overwhelm

If you’re feeling immense pressure and stress, rather than excitement, about the holiday season, you’re not alone. A clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School says that the holidays intensify all feelings, including “anxiety, depression, and family discord.”

So, it makes sense that amongst the merriment, joy and family get-togethers, a lot of us have feelings of overwhelm surrounding the holidays. Whether these initial feelings come from seeing family, trying to make every party invitation, or finding, without luck, that one of a kind gift, it’s tricky to feel and experience the joy and peace that the season is all about.

But, for emotional eaters, the most significant stressor is how will we make it through the season with all of that on our shoulders and not turn to stress eating and our favorite foods to comfort us and help through it all. It’s easier than ever this time of year to consume comfort foods because of family members and holiday parties that not only encourage but pressure us to indulge and enjoy those comfort foods that the season brings. You know what I mean: the ooey, gooey, chewy treats that are full of salts, sugars, and refined carbohydrates, that once we have a taste, we can’t stop.

So, while it may seem that the rest of the world is 100% joyous and present in every moment, we are failing because our focus is elsewhere and it makes us feel less than or a failure for not appreciating and enjoying the season. This cycle of overwhelming emotions, holiday stress, comfort eating, and feeling guilty can be incredibly damaging to weight loss and our mentality moving into the New Year.

A big reason why the holidays are so stressful is that it is particularly triggering for an emotional eater. In my book, I discussed the personality traits that govern our lives and, in a big way, contribute to the holidays being so difficult for us.

Below you will see a few of these characteristics. Try and identify the ones you relate to and that you know dictate your decisions and actions.  Being honest with ourselves and admitting that we have a few or several of these traits will bring us great freedom. Why? Well, by knowing that these characteristics exist in our lives, we can stop beating ourselves up so much for feeling weak, or sensitive, and move through the season with more peace. We can recognize them and then take steps to move past them.

A racing mind may be one of the most influential dictators of our wellbeing. When your mind gets away from you, and you overthink every moment, obsess over one thing day in and day out, your time is filled with fear and anxiety. For emotional eaters, our weapon of defense is turning to comfort eating to escape these racing thoughts. During the holiday season, these foods can be readily available wherever you go, exemplifying the stress eating and in turn magnifying the negative feelings surrounding it. A pretty dangerous cycle, don’t you think?

Seeing family or old friends at Christmas can be a rollercoaster ride. First, you’re excited and overjoyed to see them. Then your aunt will comment on your weight as a child or your sister will bring up an event that was particularly embarrassing for you. These innocent anecdotes hit emotional eaters like a brick and will push us past the joy and into the realm of sensitivity. These emotions are triggers that beget non-stop overeating.

Overeaters are incredibly critical of themselves and others. A lot of this ties into perfection and people pleasing. What an incredibly difficult time to be facing all of this!

A lot of actions around the holidays can be done in love, but an emotional eater will see this as lack of support or sabotage. If your Aunt Susan made your favorite cookies, it can be incredibly difficult for you to not only say, “no thank you” and you may resent her for tempting you. What she has done to bring you joy, you may perceive as a personal threat to your progress.  Rather than hurt her feelings you may eat the cookies or treats, thus continuing your emotional eating and resenting her.

We are our own worst critics. Around the holidays this can be exemplified. You’re not pretty enough, compared to your sister. Your career pales in comparison to your wealthy cousin. Your life doesn’t even compare to a lot of your family members, and to get through all of this self-judgment we can turn to comfort foods and binge eat to escape those feelings.  This results in us sabotaging ourselves and affirming all of the negative emotions and messages in our self-talk; we prove ourselves right and continue to live in the negative self-image we have created for ourselves.

In my book, I’ve laid out “7 Steps to End Emotional Eating Now.” For the holidays, I want to focus on one of them in particular: Centeredness.

Finding a way to get centered amid the chaos and stress of the holidays and our everyday life is vital to overcoming emotional eating. The holidays happen every year. There’s no way to avoid them. It’s how we handle life and the events in them that determine our success or failure.

Overwhelm is a symptom of stress, and stress is the result of the lack of self-care. While a lot of people associate self-care with exercise and diet, I believe the most powerful aspects of self-care are around the emotional and spiritual.

It’s important to acknowledge and accept that you are deserving of self-care. By taking time for yourself, you are addressing the negative emotions in your life that contribute to comforting yourself with food. If you address the emotions head-on before they cause you overwhelm, you are then able to handle situations with more grace, and you are also energized to help others without resentment.

Make no mistake, self-care isn’t a one and done event. Self-care, just like almost everything in our lives, takes practice. When you take just one small step, say 30 minutes a day for just yourself, you can create a habit of doing this daily. By creating this space for yourself, you begin to build an inner environment of peace and calm.

Once you have created this environment for yourself, your approach to the rest of your life will begin to feel more stabilized, and your enjoyment can come from your experiences, rather than food.

It may seem daunting to start a self-care routine at such a busy time of the year. However, it’s crucial to take steps now, rather than wait for the new year or some other “perfect time.” It’s also essential that it isn’t perceived as another stress or a thing to put on your to-do list. Self-care can be as easy as reading your favorite blog for 30 minutes or walking through your neighborhood. Remember, making progress is all about small steps, taken one at a time, and building yourself up little by little.

As you move through this month, take a moment to step back when you feel any of the triggers of overwhelm and try to recognize why you’re feeling them. If you can take one moment to consider the triggers, you can address these feelings during your time of self-care. By reflecting on these triggers and removing any self-blame, you are better able to move through them and past them without relying on food to help you through.