Harmful myths abound during holiday time, and they don’t help matters when it comes to eating disorder recovery. Here are the worst offenders:
Myth #1: The holidays are a happy time so there’s something wrong with you if you feel blue or depressed.
There are many, many reasons why the holidays can feel sad. Yet, people often experience shame about feeling down during this time. When you see all the commercials on TV about being together as a family decorating, and how happy and relaxed everyone looks, you may make the mistake of believing you are the only abnormal one who feels low. As a therapist, I can tell you that I have seen hundreds of people over the years in counseling and many, many people get depressed over the holidays! It’s the rule, rather than the exception.
Myth #2: Holiday time is family time, so why is your family stressing you out?
I’m sure you know personally that family drama, stress and painful issues can arise during this time of year. For one, if you don’t see your family often, and then everyone comes together over holiday time, proximity can ignite tension in the family. You may also be commemorating anniversaries of the loss of loved ones, which can throw your grieving into overdrive.
Maybe this is the first holiday season where you are dealing with the divorce of your parents or your own divorce for the first time. I work with a lot of clients who are experiencing divorce and it can be very stressful and sad to figure out what to do differently for the holidays.
Another family issue for those with eating disorders is that, most often, there are other people in your family with undiagnosed eating disorder issues. They might be dieting all the time or compulsively exercising, discussing how fat they feel, or emotionally eating. When you visit them over the holidays, their undiagnosed eating disorder issues can trigger you.
What if you don’t have anywhere to go for the holidays? Many of my clients don’t have a family to go to, or it’s too stressful to be with their family, or they’re in college and they have that big month-long holiday break ahead of them. That can be a lot of time to have on your hands when you’re used to being busy. All of these situations can trigger eating disorder symptoms.
Myth #3: The holidays are stress free so there’s something wrong with you if you feel overwhelmed.
Imagine once again all of those holiday commercials where everyone’s decorating their tree, or lighting their menorah, or getting their Kwanzaa candles up. Isn’t everyone looking happy and relaxed?
Most of us know the real truth - preparing for holidays is stressful! There’s the pressure to buy gifts you may not be able to afford. You may, as I said before, be grieving losses over the holidays. Even if you don’t have money stress, social obligations can become overwhelming.
People can tend to over promise over the holidays, going to lots of parties, office parties, parties at home, parties with friends, and helping prepare for those occasions. Or, conversely, you may feel utterly alone over the holidays and wish someone would invite you to a party!
Additionally, a lot of people don’t have time off over the holidays, so they’re trying to meet all of these responsibilities while needing to get to work or school and taking care of their families. So it is definitely not true that holidays are stress-free for most people.
Myth #4: Everyone loves the holidays so if you don’t, you’re a party pooper.
There’s a lot of stigma about admitting you may not be happy for the holidays. I can’t tell you how many people come to see me for counseling and confess, “You know what? I really hate holiday time. I don’t mean to be a scrooge but it’s just so stressful. I can’t wait until it’s over!” Please know this - you are not a bad person if you dislike the holidays.
Myth #5: Everyone else is having an awesome holiday since they’re constantly posting about it on Facebook.
The perfect family images we see in the media and on Facebook are unrealistic, just like airbrushing models to make them look perfect for ads. It can be painful to see family members and acquaintances taking fabulous trips or having amazing parties and being with tons of friends over the holidays.
It’s not that those events are not true, but I’ve always believed we should have a Facebook called “the real Facebook” where people post information that isn’t so great, such as how stressful it was to get ready for those parties, or unspoken tensions between guests at the parties. People don’t post about those facts - Facebook filters out much of real life stress. So please try to take it with a grain of salt.
Be aware all of these harmful holiday myths and try to let go of the guilt about feeling happy and perfect during this time. You’re not abnormal, okay? I almost forgot about one last harmful myth – the holidays are a time to relax and be happy, so you shouldn’t ask for extra support or help during this time. To the contrary! Putting support in place during, or ideally before, the holidays, will actually buffer you from symptom relapse.
If you are feeling holiday stress start to build up, you can always get support here at The Body Image Counseling Center. Having a place to vent and be validated that is totally confidential can do wonders. Just call us at 904-737-3232 or set up a free 15 minute consult and we’ll lend a shoulder right away.