Avoiding Holiday Overindulgence
The holiday season is here, and for most of us, it comes with mixed feelings and conflicting agendas. The season often brings out a tendency toward overindulgence, which can be risky for many reasons.
Why Do Most of Us Tend to Overindulge During the Holidays?
There are a number of psychological triggers that influence our desire to depart from our normal conscientious commitments and give ourselves permission to “spoil” ourselves a bit during the holiday season. Whether it be eating a heavy, carb-laden dinner and forbidden sweets, spending money with abandon on decorations and gifts, or consuming alcohol so that we can share with others the holiday cheer, we somehow feel “entitled” to such overindulgences at this time of the year.
- Seasonal Expectations and Traditions
Food and festivity are long-held traditions of the holiday season. We may be cautious about our food and drink choices all year long, but holiday celebrations and get-togethers seem to call for “more” and “better” selections, whether you are hosting or bringing a hostess gift. Rich foods that are prepared and consumed only on such occasions tempt us, not only because of their rarity, but because of their specialness. We know that these choices will not be available for long, so we figure we’d better indulge now or we will lose our chance.
Another unique holiday tradition is gift-giving. Gift-giving, while a generous and thoughtful way of expressing our appreciation of one another, often gets out of hand, as we are influenced by advertising and our own internalized motivations. Even though we may try to stick to a budget, it is common for most people to spend more than they are really comfortable with to buy gifts for others. The desire to make others happy (especially children), the positive feelings we get when we see the joy on a recipient’s face, and sometimes a sense of obligation (a gift for the boss; for someone who gifted you last year) can all be reasons that we override our logical mind’s sensibleness and go with the feelings of increased generosity that the season seems to elicit.
- Holiday Stress
Almost everyone, to some degree, becomes more stressed during the holiday season. Even though the extra demands on our time and attention may be due to fun events and celebrations, when we are feeling pressured for our time, money and attention, it causes stress. A common remedy for stress relief is overindulgence. We often eat or drink to relax. We may become frazzled trying to find just the right gift, and end up spending more that we’d planned just to complete the shopping expedition.
- Not Wanting to Feel “Left Out”
When everyone else around you seems to be enjoying the festive atmosphere of the season, it is just natural that you’ll want to have that same experience yourself. This psychological trigger is especially risky for those addicted to alcohol, since alcohol consumption is naturally high during the holidays, when multiple parties and celebrations are common. Time Magazine ranked the top 10 drinking holidays of the year (Time.com; Mar. 17, 2011). On the list were Cinco De Mayo and New Year’s Eve, which can be expected, but interestingly, also Thanksgiving Eve, which was referred to as ”‘Blackout Wednesday.’”
Why Overindulgence is Especially Risky for Those in Recovery
You are probably aware that both the psychological triggers listed above and the circumstantial triggers (seeing others consume certain foods or drinking alcohol, partying with friends, co-workers or family that you previously drank with, etc.) put you at greater risk for relapse, if you are currently in recovery. But there is an additional reason that these triggers put you at risk.
Promoting Addictive Personality Traits
There is no comprehensive definition of an “addictive personality” that covers all varieties of people and addictions. But different types of addicts do share some common traits. Some experts believe that there is a distinct set of psychological traits that predispose some individuals to addictions. Unfortunately, these traits can reinforce any natural tendencies toward overindulgence.
Below is a list of some of the addictive personality traits that researchers have identified. People who have these traits should know that they are at increased risk for prolonging any seasonal overindulgences and making them more permanent.
- Low tolerance for distress: Poor stress management skills or a lack of coping skills are commonly recognized risk factors for the likelihood of using alcohol or other substance to manage emotions. Because the holidays can be not only stressful, but they are often a time of increased depression for some people, such emotional distress can create possible lingering problems once the season is over.
- Difficulty delaying gratification: People with addictive personalities are often impulsive. For an impulsive person, the temptations associated with the holiday season–excessive consumption of food or drink, excessive spending and partying–can easily overtake their better judgment.
- Compulsive behavior: People with addictive personalities struggle with enjoying pleasurable activities in moderation. They often feel “compelled” toward the seeking of pleasure. The amount and variety of temptations associated with the holidays makes it extremely difficult for people with compulsive tendencies to abstain.
- Depression: People who experience anxiety or depression are more likely to develop addictions as a way of managing their painful emotions. The holidays can be exaggerate both emotional highs and emotional lows, so those with depression can be more at risk during the season.
Everyone would love to have a perfect holiday, but reality rarely lives up to our fantasies. The American Psychological Association gives the following tips to help one manage expectations during holiday season
- Be realistic. Know that no holiday celebration is going to be perfect, so view any missteps as opportunities to exercise flexibility and resilience, and as possibly future family memories to laugh about together.
- Be proactive. Focus on what you and your family have in common. Plan activities that foster fun and laughter, such as playing a family game or looking through old photo albums.
- Keep things in perspective. Maintain a longer-term perspective. If something goes wrong during the holidays, remember that this situation will pass. After the holiday season, you can do some of the things were overlooked or that you did not have the time for during the holidays.
- Remember what’s important. Commercialism can overshadow the true sentiment of the holiday season. Remind yourself that family, friends and your relationships are what matter most.
- Take time for yourself. You may feel pressured to be everything to everyone. Remember to practice self-care, and others will benefit from having you as a less stressed companion.
Happy Holidays to one and all!
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