WASHINGTON – You don’t have to be an addict to need a holiday survival plan. With family gatherings, nonstop parties and marathon shopping expeditions, there’s more than enough stress and other emotional triggers to go around.
The key to keeping your sanity, say most mental health professionals, is having a strategy for dealing with uncomfortable situations, having friends on call for moral support and, if all else fails, abandoning ship.
A few tips from the experts:
— Skipping meals to save up for Thanksgiving dinner is a setup for overeating, says Raine Weiner, a psychologist at the Eating Disorders Center in Rockville. She says to eat normally through the day, then decide what and how much you are going to eat for your main meal, or bring a dish that fits in with your food plan.
— Set limits for other holiday eating, says Faye Berger Mitchell, a registered dietitian in Bethesda. Do not go to parties hungry, stand well away from the buffet table, and watch your alcohol intake — when people drink they also tend to overeat.
— At the office, move the candy, cookies and other holiday goodies to someone else’s desk or to the employee kitchen. “If need be, throw the food away,” Mitchell said. “If it’s going to create more distress than it’s worth, it’s OK.”
— Do not shop hungry. Faith Etheridge, a certified credit counselor in the Washington, D.C., area, says that people who shop on an empty stomach are more likely to end up overspending on impulse purchases. Similarly, she said, try to shop off hours, when you will not have the added stress of jostling with other bargain hunters.
— Turn off the television. Sticking to a budget can be hard when you are constantly bombarded with holiday advertisements, Etheridge said. She advises doing housework “instead of watching commercials, don’t get the newspaper . . . and don’t go to mall alone.”
— Have an escape route. “Sometimes the family is a dangerous place to be,” said Barbara McKenna of Crossroads Centers, an alcohol and drug treatment program in Baltimore and Frederick. For addicts, a family of heavy drinkers or overeaters may be another setup for disaster, McKenna said. Take a friend and have your own transportation so you can make a quick getaway if necessary.
— Go easy on yourself. Don’t stress out if you wind up eating an extra piece of pumpkin pie, Weiner said. Thanksgiving is “not every day. This is one day out of the year,” she said. “What you weigh is not determined” by one meal.
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