Coping skills are crucial at holiday celebrations

Posted on 12/02/11 07:20:am

By Jessica J. Witt MSN, RN, CPNP
Clinical Services Manager - Eating Disorder Services Milwaukee

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December 1st has arrived – and it’s difficult to believe that only a week has passed since Thanksgiving, family get-togethers, and, of course, Black Friday shopping! These are all normal and fun things for children and families to look forward to.

However, for people with eating disorders the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the most dreaded. The spread of food, the relatives that have not been seen in a long time, the desserts, the inactivity, and the likelihood that other family members know nothing about one’s eating disorder is terrifying and triggering for people with eating disorders.

In my family, our celebration includes two Thanksgiving meals – a lunch at my in-laws and a dinner at my parents’ home. My children, therefore, will do the same. This is the reality for children in other families as well.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of a child or teenager with an eating disorder. How would one cope or not cope? Many kids and adolescents get admitted to the inpatient unit during this food overwhelmed holiday. Others – who are at less intensive levels of care, have developed coping skills in residential or partial treatment here at Rogers.

Coping skills at this juncture are crucial for these kids --- diversions include playing games with families, looking at old photo albums, journaling, reading, drawing, and even being able to talk to family members. It can be extremely helpful to talk about what they are experiencing, having an eating disorder and their treatment experience. Thanksgiving is the food focused holiday.

It is a grueling challenge for most kids – regardless of level of care. They have to be very strong and use those learned coping skills and lean on their families and support systems to make it through the day, and even the weekend. The Eating Disorder Partial Hospitalization Program is open the Friday after Thanksgiving and inpatient is always open 24 hours a day.

This time of year is quite stressful – but we are here to help children and teens to make it through the seasonal challenges of Thanksgiving dinner, St. Nick’s Day and, of course, Christmas and New Year’s.

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