What better time could there be for a collection of posts germane to the seasonal holidays, with a few remarks about each one?
All over the world, in societies that are otherwise vastly dissimilar, people celebrate important days with communal feasting. They just do, and they are not going to stop because of a little diabetes or a few premature deaths from obesity-related co-morbidities.
What should we expect from schools and businesses, in regard to health hazards posed by the winter holidays? Is worrying about it simply an exercise in futility, or is damage control within reach?
In days of old, life was tough and boring, winter was dark, long, and cold, and any excuse was seized upon to fling mundane routine aside and boogie all night long. The tedium was relieved by raucous trick-or-treat type behavior, which later transmogrified into gentler customs, like the singing of Christmas carols beneath the neighbors’ windows.
But we still eat and drink enormous amounts, and maybe that set of behavioral expectations needs a makeover, too. This post mentions some of the psychological difficulties that trouble people in modern times.
Holiday stress comes in so many dismal varieties — financial, interpersonal, intergenerational. There may be harsh weather to cope with, and even in good conditions, the aggravations of travel can unravel a family’s equanimity. But relatives have to be visited, or hosted, and there may be religious duties.
Most of all, there are “refreshments.” From the most basic primeval instinct to share resources and preserve all members of the group, to the most cynical entrepreneurial ambitions of a glitzy gift-basket delivery service, everyone has reasons to ply their fellow humans with food and drink. Advertising goes into hysterical overdrive, urging us to eat-eat-eat, and eat some more.
What are the unique sources of stress at this time of year? Even when attendance at an event is mandatory, can forethought and planning, and just a teensy bit of beneficent manipulation, help a person, or a family, avoid some of the tension?
At gatherings that feature food, what are we doing wrong? (Hint: Skimping on food during the day, to “save space” for a gigantic meal, is not a viable plan.) Are there other “tricks” and workarounds we can employ, to spare ourselves some emotional anguish?
Many alcoholics are fortunate to be among caring, sympathetic friends who try not to make the festive season too hard for them. But what about people whose problem is food? Temptation is everywhere.
One of the most insidious and psychologically dangerous aspects of holiday feasting is the food-as-hospitality equation, and the tendency of people to be hurt and maybe even insulted if their guests do not eagerly devour every calorie in sight.
Along with home celebrations, there are the institutional ones. It takes patience and persistence to change policies in schools and churches.
It pays to explore the deeper meanings of festive gatherings that highlight food, through the writings of an associate professor of psychological sciences and a neuroscientist who are both experts on holiday binge-eating.
How can a person be part of a group without slavishly following every one of that group’s self-defined norms? By falling in with every nuance of peer pressure, what are we desperately trying to avoid?
Your responses and feedback are welcome!