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Food, families, and stress: How to Handle Holiday Anxiety

Mental Health
Author name: Lee Health

You probably won’t be humming “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” when stuck behind a line of shoppers, drivers, or post-office patrons. And you might feel an extra tinge of irritability when finishing that work project before holiday vacations or going home to clean the house before the in-laws visit.

You’re going to get stressed this time of year. And it’s OK. Most of us are all in the same boat, says a Healthline survey.

Some common holiday stressors include overspending worries, dealing with difficult family members, lack of time to get everything done, commercialism or hype, and travel woes, according to the American Psychological Association.

Holiday stress causes unhealthy habits

To cope with all that stress, we often develop unhealthy habits. The most common coping mechanism is snacking. In another study, 74 percent of people said snacks get them through the holidays, with another 60 percent saying they felt guilty about it – another stressor.

Then there’s all those social events and gatherings centered on food, which encourage us to eat and drink more -- and exercise less. Erika Graziani, a registered dietitian with Lee Health, says it’s no wonder many of us struggle to button our pants after the holidays. Even when we commit to controlling our eating it’s easy to stray when well-meaning friends and relatives say things like, “Come on -- is that all you’re having? You’ve got plenty of room left on your plate!”

So as the holiday season looms – with its infinite amount of decorative cookies and comforting carbs – here are a few things you can do to battle those food temptations:

Just say no to peer pressure

Erika says it’s understandable why we often fail to honor our dieting pledges.

“So often peer pressure can lead us to ‘fall off the wagon,’” she says. “Don’t be afraid to say no. Remember, you’re entitled to do what feels good for you. It’s your health. It’s your body. Try not to feel like you need to please people.”

Avoid foods you don’t have control over

“If eating a small amount of a certain food will lead to binging and over-consumption, then leave it alone,” says Erika, who is also the Outpatient Nutrition Program coordinator with Lee Health Solutions. “Try to be mindful of not overeating foods that are fried or fatty meats and maybe stay away from skins of chicken or turkey, sugary items, foods made with butter, cream, cheese, and egg yolks and processed foods.”

Color your plate

Add nutrition and vibrant color to your holiday spread with cranberries, pomegranates, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, turnips, Swiss chard, grapes, pumpkin, citrus fruits, apples, and pears. Aim to fill half your plate. Eat the rainbow!

But holiday stress goes beyond food. Here are some other quick tips to help keep you calm over the next two months:

Be real about it

Let’s face it, no Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or other holiday celebration is perfect. An overcooked turkey, a toppled Christmas tree, a last-minute dinner cancellation; try to see these challenges as a chance to “go with the flow.” Life is not a Hallmark movie. Who knows? You might even create a cherished holiday memory.

Stay within your bank account

Ease the stress over spending by letting your family know ahead of time what your budget is, along with the reminder that the holidays are about time together, not costly gifts. Advocate drawing names so family members are only responsible for one gift each. Have an artistic streak? Try a handmade gift or card instead of the latest expensive gadget. That will help stress the meaning of the season.

Handle tense situations with a game plan

We’ve all endured those uncomfortable gatherings that involve family members who test our better natures. You know it’s going to happen, more than likely. Have a game plan ahead of time you can refer to. The key is to focus on making fond memories. Plan activities that foster fun and laughter such as playing a favorite family game or looking through old photo albums. And learn to walk away if things get tense.

Take time for yourself

No, you don’t have to please everyone. During a hectic holiday season, self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re feeling less stressed. Go for a long walk, get a massage, listen to your favorite music, read a new book, or give yourself a holiday project that only you know about. All of us need some time to recharge. Be mindful and focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.


If you would to contribute to Healthy News, please contact us at Social@LeeHealth.org