Advertisers and unrealistic expectations
Let’s talk about the messages we get:
EAT! Cooking and sharing food together is one of the ways we show love, reinforce bonds, and maintain some time-honored traditions. But lots of holiday food – laden with dairy, sugar, and gluten, for example – may not fit the healthy nutritional plan you’re now on.
SHOP! We’re told we should “get out there and shop,” spending money we may or may not have on things people may or may not need.
BE HAPPY! Images portray happy people living a life with no problems – they’re healthy and content, and their homes are spotlessly clean and beautifully decorated.
The much-messier reality and Holiday Anxiety
Think: do you honestly know anyone like that? We feel the pressure to measure up to what we see in the ads, and we feel badly about ourselves and our lives when we don’t. But the truth for many people is far from the fantasy projected on our TVs. And that’s OK.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had several people come into my practice, already experiencing what I call “Holiday Anxiety.” They’re feeling the pressure to create the perfect holiday experience for their families and themselves.
Holiday pressure is difficult enough for anyone, but if you haven’t been feeling yourself for quite some time, or if you’re managing a serious illness such as an autoimmune disease, PCOS, infertility, cancer, or mental health concerns, this time of year can be especially challenging.
There’s not much we can do about advertising and other people’s expectations, but our inner attitudes can have a very positive impact on our holiday experience – and those are often within our power to control. Here are some tips and tools to help you navigate this holiday season.
Tools for overcoming Holiday Anxiety
The holiday season involves lots of food: parties, meals out, people bringing sweets into work, connecting with people through sharing food and eating together. Temptation is everywhere, and often there’s pressure to eat what someone’s made “special” for you. You can’t turn down someone’s beloved grandmother’s recipe for chocolate cake, can you?
Empower yourself. Staying on your healthy nutritional regime with all this temptation and pressure is tough, but having the right mindset is a great start: adopt an attitude of empowerment, as opposed to making yourself a victim. You’ve chosen to take charge of your health, and to actively make changes that will result in a healthier you.
Become a menu expert. With that attitude inside of you, it’s easier to stick to your healthy nutritional plan. In most restaurants, it’s relatively simple to find food on the menu that is within the parameters of your health recovery plan – look for some form of protein, opt for salad and vegetables.
Come prepared. Potluck parties present their own challenges, as it’s not possible to know what kinds of food will be there. I recommend bringing a dish that you can eat and having a healthy shake before you go so you don’t arrive hungry.
Be proactive. I think invitations to a relative’s house can be the most challenging. There is often the expectation “of course you’ll want to eat the special food we always make,” even if that’s really not possible because it’s no longer healthy for you. A gluten-filled pasta or dessert are good examples.
Call in advance of the event and let your host know you are on a health recovery program. Explain that even though you love their food and appreciate all the effort they’ve put into making it, you won’t be able to eat certain dishes this year.
The holiday season brings its own special challenges for people who have a tendency to over shop and over spend. Advertising bombards us to go out and spend money! It’s almost impossible to avoid these ads as they are on TV, in the newspaper, and they show up in your email and newsfeeds throughout the day.
Practice mindful shopping. I could tell you to “make a list” of the people you need to buy presents for and set a budget, but I’m sure you’re already aware of that. I think it’s important to realize that where you spend your money matters. When you shop with local merchants, as opposed to large chain stores, you are supporting your neighbors and directly impacting your local economy.
Personally, I like to donate to small organizations that are helping to change the world. Here’s are three that I think are doing very important work:
- Acupuncturists Without Borders. AWB’s mission is “to interrupt the devastating effects of trauma by reducing suffering and helping individuals and communities find greater balance and resiliency.” I know firsthand the healing power of acupuncture. AWB brings groups of acupuncturists, like myself, to people who have gone through natural disasters, as in the recent Northern California fires, or who have escaped from childhood sexual slavery in Tibet, or are living in a refugee camp in Greece. These people, who live with conflict, poverty and social injustice as a way of life, are given a time of calm in the midst of their loss and chaos.
- Malala Fund. Co-founded by one of my heroes, Malala Yousafzai, and her father, the Malala Fund works tirelessly to give every girl access to a “free, safe, quality education.” That right is by no means guaranteed in many parts of the world, and to me it’s one of the most fundamental building blocks for a healthy life for girls, their families, and their communities.
- Genneve. While genneve isn’t a non-profit like the others, its mission is still an important one – helping women in midlife find solutions to health concerns and thrive during these most vibrant years. We have so many resources for women in their reproductive years, but there’s very little information to navigate the challenges of menopause, and genneve is working to change that.
The message conveyed through the media is, “It’s the holidays! Everyone is happy and all is well!” – with the not-so-subtle subtext of, “If you’re not, it’s your own fault.”
Truth is, if there is family dysfunction and discord before the holidays, it will still be there when the holidays arrive. If you’re managing mental health challenges, anxiety, depression, insomnia, they can often become worse with the seasonal weather changes, not to mention the holiday pressures.
Connect with your support network. Seek support and connection, and lots of it. There is no such thing as “too much” support, though our society may not acknowledge the importance of it. Make time with those friends who support you. Yes, you’re all busy, but chances are they’re as stressed as you are, so providing an oasis for one another may help you all be calmer and more balanced in the holiday season.
Let routines provide structure. The holidays are often a time of throwing our routines to the wind, but routines provide an important way to self-manage during this time of added commitments and pressure. Our normal practices of shopping for fresh vegetables, cooking healthy food, exercise, meditation, etc. are often the first to be abandoned in busy or stressful times, but this is exactly the time when you should hold on to the routines you’ve worked so hard to make part of you.
Reduce commitments. Finally, I recommend limiting the number of activities you’ve committed to, for you and your family. It’s so very important to maintain your inner connection to your self and your health recovery routine as the year ends. Be selective and choose only those activities that will support your health and your joy.
Define your own happy holiday season
Advertisers want to sell products, and to do that, they have to create a need in you for what they have to sell. Well, this time of year, they’re selling “happiness” – the kind of happiness that comes from lots of beautifully wrapped presents, rich food galore, and smiling, shiny families. And if only you buy X, Y, and Z, you can have this too!
But what “happy” looks like in your world is up to you. Maybe your happy is having the family take a walk together during the holiday, or cooking and enjoying nourishing food with friends, spending time meditating, doing a creative project, or volunteering at a local shelter.
However you define it, I’m here to help you be truly happy and healthy throughout the holidays, so please let me know if you could use some extra support.