Don’t Let Holiday Stress Hijack Your Healthy Lifestyle

December 23, 2014

Holidays are traditionally the time for family get-togethers. During these gatherings, the assumption is that everyone is happy to be together and enjoy each other. For many people, this is the reality of their holiday celebrations. For others, instead of holiday celebrations, it is full of dread and holiday stress.

During the holiday season, peace, love, and harmony are the theme. For some of us, interacting with certain (or all) family members can cause stress. Quite often, communication between family members is dysfunctional, at best, or non-existent. In fact, for many of us, the way we were able to endure and cope with family members was to emotionally eat. Rather than stuff the holiday turkey, we stuffed our feelings.

Family dynamics can be challenging and hurtful. To be with certain family members during the holidays that we don't choose to interact with outside of the holidays, can be a set-up for emotional eating. It makes sense, in these family dynamics that our emotions can run high so our desire to stuff our feelings can be equally as high.

A large percentage of us have dealt with pains from our past by turning to food. Whether we are pre-op or many years postop, those dynamics can still exist. Now that we have changed our habits and behavior to form a healthy lifestyle, the holidays can present many challenges.

Prevent a hijack of your healthy lifestyle, ask yourself these questions

  • What are my expectations for this family get-together?
  • What are the realistic expectations of this get-together?
  • What am I most concerned or stressed about?
  • What am I most looking forward to?
  • What specific steps would allow me to take care of myself during the get-together?

Take time to reflect on your answers to these questions. Your awareness of how you are feeling about upcoming gatherings and interactions with certain family members is important. When you are clear on your feelings, expectations, hopes with a plan to take care of yourself, you are empowered and more capable to be in control of your food choices.

Five tips to help you cope with feelings about family gatherings

  1. Sleep: Make sure to get a good night's sleep before the family get-together. If you are well-rested, your stress level may be lowered thus increasing your ability to cope without turning to emotional eating.
  2. ME Time: Start your day with some ME Time alone time. Spend a minimum of 15 minutes (preferably more) by yourself. This precious time will help to give you a sense of inner calm and well-being. You could take a stroll outside and enjoy the beauty of nature, a bubble bath, meditation or prayer, yoga, journal your thoughts and feelings, or anything that allows you to feel centered. Remind yourself that it is okay to have mixed feelings about spending time with family at the holidays. Revisit your answers to the questions and your plan to take care of yourself.
  3. Be Prepared: Think ahead as to how you can prepare for stressful situations that may arise at the family gathering. Have an action plan in mind as to how you will handle potential problems. Will you try to resolve the problem? Will you leave the room? Will you stay quiet? Will you avoid the topic and make a joke? Developing a game plan before you even walk in the door will help you manage your stress.
  4. Breathe: If you start to feel anxious or stressed, try to focus on your breathing. Excuse yourself to somewhere private and do some deep breathing to return to your calm. Breathe deeply and slowly to stay calm in the moment. Take a deep breath and slowly exhale to the count of four to six seconds. You can do this while sitting or lying down. Repeat a minimum of five times.
  5. Unwind: After the family get-together is over, now it is your turn to unwind. Make plans with your partner, children or friends to do something that is enjoyable to you. The goal is to end your day with anything that is fun or relaxing to you. The holidays can trigger various feelings for family members that range from happiness and appreciation to hurt and anger. For some people, the holidays are an opportunity to celebrate and bond with loved ones, for others they are a reminder of family conflicts, loved ones who have passed away, or hurts from the past. Some people look forward to spending time with family at the holidays, some dread it, and others feel conflicted about it.

Remember that whatever you are feeling is ok, feelings aren't right or wrong, good or bad. Acknowledge your feelings so the only thing stuffed is a turkey and not you!

Photo credit: Dylan Tweney cc

cathy wilson


Cathy Wilson, PCC, BCC, had RNY surgery in 2001 and lost 147 pounds. Cathy is a regular contributor to the OH Blog and authored the "Mind Matters" column in ObesityHelp Magazine. Cathy is a licensed pilot and loves flying. She is a member of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC).

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