“Eat, drink, and be merry!:” it’s a phrase with biblical origins and a mandate for the holidays, but living up to the quote may not be so easy or desirable for some. As a psychiatrist, I see my fair share of patients struggling with eating disorders, substance abuse issues and, of course, depression. Does the pressure to be happy and to partake in holiday festivities make these conditions worse?
When it comes to eating, the holidays are traditionally a time of socially- sanctioned overindulgence. There are plenty of tempting foods around, and it’s common to eat more than one’s share of pumpkin pie. This is where New Year’s resolutions play a role. But the best cure is often prevention, and being mindful of what we eat, at all times of year, will save us hours in the gym later on: “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” Moderation is key; you want to taste a variety of appetizing foods in small portions and keep to a regular exercise routine.
Along with food comes drinking, all in the name of celebration. Alcohol is plentiful at holiday parties, and it’s easy to have one too many drinks. As a result, there are more drunk drivers and alcohol-related casualties during the holiday season. There are also fewer visits to psychiatrists. People tend to check into rehab in greater numbers after the holidays are over, when they’ve resolved to quit drinking for the New Year. However, for many, these resolutions are difficult to keep; it is better for change to start now and be a daily practice, not something we wait to do until January 1st.
Last, but not least, there’s the pressure to be merry during the holidays. This is a daunting task if you’ve lost a loved one or don’t have close family members nearby. Even if you do live near loved ones, meeting family obligations can be stressful—we feel everything has to be perfect, and it’s difficult to juggle individual personality styles and demands. In our minds, we have to get the right gift or have the proper place settings or seating arrangements at the holiday table. The list goes on and on. If you are feeling down, and not the expected “merry,” acknowledge it and express it, be realistic about your expectations, give up on being perfect, learn to say “No,” take a breather. If the sadness or anxiety persists, reach out to a mental health professional—medication and/or therapy can be the ultimate gift to yourself this holiday season.