Counseling Center Offers Holiday Coping Strategies

Pigging out is not the answer to coping with holiday stress, the Counseling Center says.

“Anticipating the holiday season can be challenging and stressful,” said Lauren Weitzman, a psychologist working at the U’s Counseling Center.

According to Weitzman, everyone has their own brand of the holidays. Whether that “brand” becomes best- or worst-case scenario directly relates to the type of strategy one adopts to cope with stress during the holidays.

On Tuesday, the Counseling Center held a clinic titled, “Coping with the Holidays: Body Image and Food Concerns.”

Whether linked to long shopping lines, concerns about social situations, worrying about weight- gain or the fear of having to spend time with annoying relatives, the center believes that because of the abundance of food, many people soothe anxious feeling by eating inappropriately?skipping meals, overeating or snacking on sweets.

Body image is “how we see ourselves in the mirror, or how we picture ourselves,” said Jennifer Tolman, a graduate student working at the center. Height, shape and weight contribute to how you feel in your body, and not just about it, she said.

According to Tolman, studies show that 44 percent of women and 35 percent of men feel their body image was shaped by people who teased them when they were younger.

Family and friends are also big influences in creating pressure because of expectations.

When you view your body shape as a failure, that’s when it becomes dangerous, Tolman said. The important thing to realize is that physical appearance says little about a person’s character.

The average woman is 5 foot 4 inches, weighs 180 pounds and wears a size 14 dress, Tolman said, “and yet those are never the women we compare our body to.”

According to Suzi Lyons, a social work intern, concerns with body image are existent in men as well as women today. Historically, only 3 percent of eating disorders afflicted men. Now it’s up to 10 percent, she said.

Danielle Oakley, a psychology resident, offered strategies on behalf of the Counseling Center on managing eating patterns, as well as coping with holiday stress in general.

Strategies included tips on exercising during the holiday season, limiting alcohol consumption, creating a positive body image, budgeting holiday expenditures and balancing food intake. “None of us are here to tell you not to eat holiday food,” Oakley said. “Just balance it out.”

“We’re hoping [people] will take the tools we give them and make this a happier, less stressful holiday season for themselves,” Oakley said.

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