You, You & Yule: Staying Emotionally Healthy During the Holidays center for change; staying emotionally healthy during the holidays

You, You & Yule: Staying Emotionally Healthy at the Holidays

Center for Change

I get it. I really do. I mean, if you think about it from 30,000 feet, it all seems quite manageable: all the planning, all the shopping, all the traffic, all the travel. (Pause while I dig through my bag for the ibuprofen already.)

Throw in the dysfunction — right out there on the table in some families, more dormant but very present in others — fueled by the season’s emotional caffeine, and what we’re facing is a perfect storm. Everything we struggle with throughout the year inflates to carnival size during “the most wonderful time of the year.”

For those in recovery from eating disorders, the holidays are the equivalent of malfunction at the peak of the highest roller coaster on the planet. Every gathering seems centered around a long, spiraling buffet. It’s one endless, anxiety-producing feast. (Pause for deep, concentrated breathing.)

The truth is, what should be the most relaxing, joyful and beautiful time of year can be especially rough. So … is there any way to calm the storm? Any way to deflate that carnival balloon or even make a slight adjustment to avoid being stuck in malfunction mode?

I’m going to go out on a sparkly Christmas tree limb and say, “Yes. Yes, you can.” In fact, I like to think of it as giving yourself a gift. Preemptively. Before all the craziness ensues. You don’t have to shop for it, buy batteries for it or even wrap it. It’s a gift that only requires a little thinking ahead, a little pre-planning, a little speaking up for yourself and a lot of being intentional. Here’s a few ways to make the ride safer, less stressful and more grounded in gratitude than ever before.  

Mind Over Matter

It’s important — sanity saving, even — to actively engage your mind in the pursuit of balance and presence. To keep the main thing the main thing in this season of excess and stress, to be fully present in whatever the day brings.

There are many ways to stay focused on the positive. Yogaworks’ blogger Melanie Meltzer points out two really important ways. One, she suggests is taking a few minutes either in the morning or at night to write down five things you’re grateful for. “The act of writing them out forces my brain to pause and all of my attention focuses on that,” she says. “It’s impossible not to feel better after doing so.¹"

You can do this in a way that works for you. Write down your five things on a scrap of paper, fold it and put it in your pocket or in the Notes app on your phone, so when or if the day hits a stressful point, you can remind yourself of what’s good in this day.


Meltzer also says spending time in nature helps keep everything in perspective. “Even if it’s 5 minutes at sunset, a stolen moment under the full moon, or a few minutes before the rest of the house gets up, time silent in nature every day keeps things in perspective,” she says. 

Time being still in nature is a powerful reminder of time and space, the bigness and smallness of life and your place in it. Take a 10-minute walk in the park, look at the night sky, breathing in the smells, sounds and sights of nature brings a sense of peace, even in the middle of a stressful season.

Your Recovery Comes First

It’s easy, during the holiday season, to be swept away by the expectations of others. When that happens, you’re caught off guard and give in to negative impulses. But nothing is more important this holiday season than your emotional well-being and staying on track in your recovery.

Let’s be honest, food will be everywhere. Food you love, food you hate, and food you’re convinced hates you. But you can keep temptation and stress at bay this year by being intentional in the following ways:

Plan and schedule ahead of time when you will be where, and make your plans known in advance to those who might be expecting you. When you communicate in advance, even about simple things — how long you’re comfortable sitting at the dinner table, the fact that you’ll be bringing your own snacks, what you need from them to feel safe, etc. — you’ll feel less stressed.

Set your own boundaries. Avoid triggers and people who aren't supportive — and create time and space to give yourself a break. “Slow down, enjoy food, be flexible and compassionate to [yourself] about what [you] eat,”² says Cleveland Clinic psychologist Susan Albers who specializes in eating issues.

Create a code word and/or phone a friend. Before the holiday, talk to an ally who will be present and come up with a signal or code word that means, “Help me get outta here!” It’s kind of like that friend who calls 20 minutes into a blind date to give you an out. If you don’t have an ally at the family event, phone a friend with whom you can talk about your feelings, one who can help you refocus on your recovery.   

Engage and Enjoy

Even in recovery, surrounded by food, it is possible to find new ways to engage and even enjoy the holiday season with your family and friends. Once you discover how beautiful time with these loved ones can be, how to focus your mind on the non-food details, on the things and people and conversations and moments all around you, you’ll see how much there is to celebrate.

Here are a few helpful reminders:

  • If you love being with children, sit at the kids' table and/or join their play time.
  • If you’ve always wondered how Aunt Carol became a doctor, talk to her about it.
  • Take photos or video of the party. Capture moments that speak to you. It will add to your recovery.
  • Whatever interests, distracts or fascinates you (family photo album, anyone?) about the environment you’re in, jump in and find out more.
  • Make a point to smile, hug, encourage, compliment and be transparent with others.  

You are fighting hard to be healthy. Sometimes that ring has a buffet table in the middle of it. But you can go in with a plan, not just to survive, but to make the most of it. Set your own boundaries. Plan the time and experience and inner dialog in advance, so you go in prepared to succeed. Reject any negative thought, person or exchange that might derail you. Don’t let your eating disorder take one more holiday from you. Grab onto the gratitude around every corner, and “merry and bright” will soon follow.


1. Metzer, Melanie Lora. “Four Ways to Stay Present During the Holidays.”  26 November 2013. Accessed 2 December 2017.

2. Miller, Anna Medaris. “How To Cope With an Eating Disorder Over the Holidays.” U.S. News. 21 December 2015. Accessed 2 December 2017.

Center for Change contributor

Center for Change. Center for Change was founded on October 28, 1994, by a team of psychologists and a physician with a long history together. On that day, Center for Change began to live out its mission to heal women from the inside out. From those first days, Center for Change began to design the current facility and develop its core treatment programs. A handpicked team of experts forms the backbone of what we do, and they are committed to helping each girl or woman get back their life and restore a sense of freedom that may have been absent for far too long.


The Center is licensed with the State of Utah as a Specialty Psychiatric Hospital, and in April 1998, Center for Change received accreditation from The Joint Commission. This accreditation is limited to top organizations delivering high levels of patient service, reducing patient risk and creating an environment for continuous improvement. The Joint Commission has recognized Center for Change for its high standards of patient care and commitment to ongoing education.

The message of “hope is real” can be found woven through the entirety of the treatment experience at Center for Change. From those early days, our primary goal hasn’t changed: to improve lives. And research proves we’re doing just that. A Center for Change study showed that patients were able to significantly decrease negative behaviors and improve body image and health-management skills.

We understand the dilemma in trying to find the best care available for you or your loved one. So many options can make it difficult to decide which one is right for your situation. At Center for Change, our holistic approach, rigorous medical and clinical program, wide range of levels of care and nurturing environment set us apart. Our extensive team includes seasoned medical, psychological and nutritional experts who have been carefully selected because of their expertise in treating both the outward symptoms and underlying causes of eating disorders. Call us and get your life back.