Monday, December 14, 2009

The Dark Side of the Holidays


By now, you have probably heard more times than you care to how much weight the average person gains over the holidays. The usual assumption is that people gain weight because they can’t resist the temptation of all the yummy foods that are everywhere this time of the year. I think some of that weight gain may be caused by the darker side of the holidays – the negative thoughts and emotions this time of year can engender. If you are an emotional eater, you may want to dive into that plate of Christmas cookies to push down those unsettling feelings. Many people turn to food for comfort, and I can be at the front of that line.

I honestly believe that one of the best ways to combat emotional eating is to try to work out the negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions that you’d rather suppress by eating. Furthermore, working out these feelings can help you control other, more negative reactions than stuffing your face. This is hard stuff, but awareness is the first step of that battle. Are you feeling any negative thoughts or emotions because of the holidays? Does any of the following sound familiar?

Stress: The holidays are supposedly a time of joy and happiness and all you feel is stressed out. There is so much to do this time of the year, and a lot of it is left to the wife or mother to accomplish. You may be struggling to get it all done and feel resentful that you aren’t enjoying all the work you are putting into the holidays or the fact that nobody seems to appreciate your efforts. You are starting to skip doing the stuff that you do just for yourself and sliding back into bad health habits. You may resent that this seems so much easier for everyone else. You may even be looking forward to January when things return to normal. You deserve a pick-me-up in the form of a cookie or two or three. Eating for reward is so tempting.

Financial Concerns: The holidays are so expensive. I’ve often thought that I just can’t save during the holidays and have, at times, worried about acquiring debt from the presents I feel I have to purchase or the travel plans I make to spend time with family. This is an even tougher year financially for most. Are you worried about money and feel like the holidays are making you lose control? How many presents do you need to give your children so that they aren’t deprived? How much do you splurge on your plans for the festive meals? How do you pay for it all – especially if you are worried about being laid off or you have recently lost your job?

Loneliness: The holidays are supposedly about family. If you don’t have one, you’re estranged from your own, or you live far away from them, you may feel lonely now. You may not feel like you should fuss over the holidays or decorating if it’s all just for you. All the commercials, holiday specials and holiday movies show perfect looking people bonding over their family ties – or at least that’s how it looks to you. Single people may feel their lack of a life partner most keenly right now. Many profiles on EHarmony or Match.com have been completely rewritten in the past few weeks. The latest version of those darn match and eHarmony commercials are showing up on TV during your favorite shows. You feel like everyone in the whole world has someone to share this special time with but you, so why shouldn’t you bake dozens of your favorite cookies and eat them this weekend.

Who’s Missing at the Celebration?: Is someone you love currently deployed? The year my father was in Panama for Operation Just Cause instead of in Connecticut for Christmas Eve is not my favorite holiday ever. Has someone you loved passed away in the past year? You’re going to miss them keenly at the holidays and relieve part of the grieving process. You may miss someone who passed away 10, 20 or 30 years ago. The loved one may be at the celebration but seems so changed that you still miss him or her. You may be with your in-laws or friends and wish you were with your own family or vice versa.

Merry Christmas from the Family: Have you ever heard this Robert Earl Keen song? It’s about a dysfunctional family celebrating Christmas, and it’s not Currier & Ives type stuff, but it may be much more realistic than your favorite holiday movie. Are there suppressed emotions, disagreements, or other unpleasantness that always seem to erupt at dinner – or are you so sick of seeing others ignore it?

Time Flies: How can it be the holidays again already? Where did the time go? It’s another year gone and you’re getting older. You had so many things you wanted to accomplish this year with nothing to show for it.

Spiritual Emptiness: Christmas is a major religious holiday for some, and Hanukkah has become more important than it was for centuries. Are you feeling it? Do you want to? Do you believe? Did you before but not anymore? Are you a Christmas/Easter Christian and feeling guilty? Do you resent the questions?

I’m not Christian and I wish everyone would stop talking about Christmas: You cannot escape from all the Carols. You are so sick of secular and religious celebrants of Christmas shoving the holiday in your face and making it more difficult for you and your family to stay true to your beliefs.

Does any of the above sound familiar? Are there other issues that you are struggling with right now? Are they making you overeat? Figuring out what’s bothering you may help you start working out the issues and help prevent the average weight gain of the holidays. More importantly, it’ll help you feel better and help you enjoy the festive aspects of this time of the year.

Photo: Elise Hayes and I enjoyed the festive aspects of the holidays at yesterday's WRW Holiday Party.

4 comments:

Elise Hayes on December 14, 2009 at 8:22 AM said...

Stress is definitely an issue for me at the holidays. My family's visiting this year and while it's great to have them here, it's a complex kind of joy.

Grief is part of the visit, since my sister sustained a major head injury many years ago and is now a very different person from the girl I grew up with. I only see her once a year or so, so I know I haven't really gone through the full grieving process yet (a process that's complicated, anyway, since she's still alive, but radically different). So the visit will mix holiday and mourning for me.

Running will definitely be my friend during that holiday week--I'll take longer, more frequent runs to get some alone time in the morning and clear my head before the day gets started.

Michelle Butler on December 14, 2009 at 9:42 AM said...

Best wishes for the family visit, Elise. I'm so glad that running is such a healthy outlet for you.

I know it's a different situation - but I've had to work out a lot how much guilt and jealousy defined/influenced my relationship with my sister after she had her stroke at 5. One big thing I had to learn/am learning is that denying myself something because she can't have it does not make her better or help her while it can very much hurt me. It feels better at the other end of that working out process. Acceptance is part of that, but I can't articulate it well - and it still hurts at times. There's just some moments when it hits you all over again - and it can feel so fresh and new in those particular seconds and you just want to rage all over again.

Best wishes for you and your family during the visit!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on December 14, 2009 at 10:47 PM said...

Michelle, you have hit on so many things that had me nodding. I think one of my worst Christmas seasons was in 2004. My mother-in-law had died of cancer that year, I'd hit the 10-year mark of writing without getting published, family stressors brought by the holidays heaped on top of that and I literally had a bit of a nervous breakdown/depression. It was awful. I'd never not enjoyed a holiday season because I love Christmas.

I do think the regular exercise is a huge help with mood, especially during the colder, shorter, darker days of winter. I can definitely tell a difference in my mood on days when I exercise versus on the ones I don't.

Michelle Butler on December 15, 2009 at 9:22 AM said...

I remember 2004. I'm so glad that things are better now.

I can't believe what a difference exercise makes to my mood too. It's almost shocking. Really, Zumba can cure almost any bad mood or funk - at least for awhile.

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