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Holiday Indulgence: Bad for Mental Health?

Holiday Indulgence: Bad for Mental Health?

This material has been reviewed for accuracy by: Renee Albers, PhD

The holidays are a time for indulgence and fun. Parties are on the calendar. Favorite desserts are being made. Drinks are being poured.Friends toast with red wine at a holiday party, showing risk of holiday indulgence in food and drink

But will all that celebrating take a toll on your mental health?

Holiday indulgences like overeating and overdrinking often become more prevalent, as many family and friend traditions revolve around food and drink.

Yet, experts warn that excessive consumption can have an impact on mental health. In fact, a 2023 survey by Sesame found that “33% of Americans are reporting an increase in stress over weight gain this holiday season.”

And it is not just the issue of long-term weight gain. Overindulging in food and drink can impact our rest, which can subsequently impact mental health.

“People will stay up late to celebrate, clean up, or just have some much-needed alone time [after] a long day of festivities and socializing,” said Dr. Alex Dimitriu, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, and SleepFoundation.org. contributor, in Hello Giggles. “The trouble is that a later bedtime, alcohol, and late meals all have a negative impact on both sleep duration and sleep quality.”

Sleep quality and depression are intrinsically related.

“Depression and sleep issues have a bidirectional relationship,” according to SleepFoundation.org. “This means that poor sleep can contribute to the development of depression and having depression makes a person more likely to experience sleep troubles.”

With holiday indulgence on the horizon, understanding the risks and the reasons we may overeat and overdrink is important.

Holiday indulgence: Overeating 

Overeating during the holidays can lead to a range of emotional issues, including regret, guilt and – for some – shame. And it is hard to have good mental health when grappling with those feelings.

Holiday table overflowing with abundance of food showing how holiday indulgence may negatively impact mental health.Obviously, one of the biggest issues with overeating is weight gain, which can lead to negative self-image and self-esteem. Further, according to an article in Healthline, overeating can actually lead to more overeating.

“Eating foods high in fat, salt, or sugar releases feel-good hormones like dopamine, which activate pleasure centers in your brain,” according to the article. “Over time, your body may associate these pleasure sensations with certain foods, which tend to be high in fat and calories. This process may eventually override hunger regulation, encouraging you to eat for pleasure rather than hunger.”

Additionally, the Healthline article cautions that overeating can also increase sleepiness, lead to bloating and gassiness, and make you nauseous.

Holiday indulgence: Overdrinking

Many holiday parties will feature open bars or BYOB (bring your own beverages). And many people “get into the spirit” by getting into the spirits. But when people overindulge in alcohol during the holidays, it can negatively affect their mental wellbeing.Button with GeneSight logo and text learn more about the GeneSight test

“When you first drink it, alcohol can make you feel happier or calmer. But alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It depresses the activity of the brain,” Dr. Cory Walker, assistant professor at the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, said in a U.S. News and World Report article.

He also notes that “alcohol slows reflexes and speech, which is why people slur words and the ability to process information when they drink. If you drink too much, it can slow body temperature and breathing.”

So, as alcohol has an impact to how your body processes information and how you feel, it can also impair judgment and decision-making, leading to risky behaviors and impulsivity. That means hangovers can also make you relive regrettable actions or choices – and cause your mental well-being to suffer the day after.

Further, for those who recovering from alcohol dependence or addiction, seeing others imbibe can cause feelings of inadequacies and isolation.

“It has been deeply ingrained in us by the media, culture and our peers that alcohol is the best way to have fun, and therefore sobriety must be boring,” says Veronica Valli, a psychotherapist, recovery coach and author of Soberful, in The Guardian. “The truth is, with 23 years of sobriety behind me, I can’t think of anything that isn’t more fun without alcohol. But there’s more to stopping drinking than just stopping drinking. We have to learn a lot of new emotional skills.”

Mindful consumption may help mental health

There are steps you can take to try to reduce, or possibly prevent, the impact on mental health. Practicing mindfulness during the holidays can help individuals become more aware of their eating and drinking habits.Foreground picture of red wine with woman holding up hand to say, illustrating holiday indulgence may impact mental health.

For example, according to an article in The New York Times, mindful drinking is defined as “bringing awareness to your behaviors in terms of your decision to drink alcohol.” This can include everything to evaluating the reasons why you are drinking to determining how much you are drinking.

“Mindful drinking is the concept of being intentional with your decisions around alcohol. It empowers you to make an intentional decision instead of being swept along with the current,” Eliza Kingsford, a psychotherapist who specializes in mindfulness, told Healthline. “It’s all about changing the conversation with yourself. Culturally, drinking is socially acceptable — and almost socially expected.”

Another step to limit consumption is by actually setting limits. This takes planning ahead and having strategies in place to moderate intake, which can reduce the risk of overeating and overdrinking.

Some strategies to saying no, according to verywellfit.com, are to “change the subject,” “keep it positive,” and “be honest” as to why you are declining that second helping or turning down that “one last beer.”

For individuals struggling with overeating, binge eating, or overdrinking, talking to a trusted health professional may be helpful.

The holiday season is a time for celebration, but it is essential to be aware of the potential impact of overeating and overdrinking on mental health. By practicing mindfulness, setting limits, and seeking support, individuals can enjoy the holidays without compromising their mental well-being. Moderation may be the key to a happy and healthy holiday season.

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