According to the iconic holiday tune, " 'Tis the season to be jolly."
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Unfortunately, popular myths about the magic of the holidays set many Americans up for a struggle with real life. For the millions of men, women and children recovering from an eating disorder, the holiday season can bring heightened stress associated with an overwhelming schedule of events, painful or frustrating family dynamics and a seemingly constant focus on food that begins at Halloween and continues through New Year's Day.
As a result, eating disorder treatment professionals frequently see an increase in eating-disordered thoughts and behaviors and lapses in recovery during the holiday season.
In reality, the holiday season may not actually be any more stressful for individuals in eating disorder recovery than everyone else -- at some point or another, we are all likely to deal with anxiety stemming from any variety of sources, including the hassle of holiday travel or overspending on obligatory gifts.
However, it is important to remember that the people struggling with eating disorders are biologically "wired" to experience higher levels of anxiety than the rest of us, and their go-to tools to manage their anxiety -- including starvation, bingeing, purging or over-exercising -- can be unhealthy and sometimes even life-threatening.
Add this predisposition toward heightened anxiety to the perfectionistic, overachieving and people-pleasing temperament of many people with eating disorders and common holiday stressors can compel those in recovery to revert back to worrisome thoughts and behaviors in an effort to manage their anxious feelings.
The following strategies can help individuals protect their recovery during the holiday season:
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Dr. Kenneth L. Weiner