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5 Ways to Create a Safe Space for Those Struggling This Holiday Season

Lexi Haggert and Ashley Balliett

The holidays are stressful for everyone and there tend to be a myriad of events to attend with friends and family. The emphasis on food, especially in very social settings, plus the stress of seeing family and friends you haven’t seen in a while makes for a difficult holiday season. No one wants to say outright that they need help to manage their anxiety and stress, especially during a season that is supposed to be about celebration, joy, and gratitude. However, there are many different ways to change an uncomfortable situation and support someone who is negatively impacted by that situation.

Here are five simple ways that you can create a safe space for those struggling with an eating disorder this holiday season:

1. Let your loved one know you are there for them by checking in every once in a while.

It is easy to feel alone when you’re struggling with an eating disorder. It is important to make sure they know they are not alone and they have people who will love and support them. Check in with them periodically and get updates on how they are feeling. Let your loved one know that you are there for them by being available to listen to their daily struggles and achievements.

2. Give your loved one space if they need it.

This goes along with the previous tip. It is important to let someone who is battling with an eating disorder know you are there for them, but it is counter-productive if you are checking in with them every minute of every day. It can be overwhelming if someone is constantly checking on you. Give them space to figure some things out for themselves and give them room to breathe.

3. Be patient with your loved one.

Be patient with your loved one.Your loved one who is struggling may not be open to talking about their problems the very first time you approach them. It can be very difficult to open up to someone and talk about personal battles. Give them the time they need to feel comfortable enough to talk to you.

4. AVOID CONVERSATIONS CENTERED AROUND WEIGHT AND EATING HABITS.

By avoiding these uncomfortable situations, you are creating a space for someone who is struggling with eating and body image concerns to feel safe and free from worrying about what they are eating as well as the pressures of body scrutiny. One important thing to keep in mind when talking to anyone, not only someone battling an eating disorder, is that a conversation that doesn’t necessarily make you feel uncomfortable may make the person you are speaking with feel uneasy. For example, discussing another friend’s weight gain may make the person you are speaking with feel uncomfortable. This type of conversation may make them worry that you will discuss their weight and/or eating habits with other friends as well. Ultimately, be aware of the lasting impact your words can have on another person.

5. ADVOCATE FOR YOUR LOVED ONE.

Lastly, advocate for your loved ones who are struggling this holiday season. Someone struggling with an eating disorder faces a tough battle every single day. Don’t let them face their battles alone; stand up for them if someone makes a rude comment or just won’t drop an uncomfortable conversation. Advocating for them is the ultimate way to show someone battling an eating disorder that they are loved, valued and have people there for them.

This holiday season, support your loved ones who are struggling by letting them know that you are there for them. Check in every once in a while, but also give them space if they need it. Be cautious of what you say to avoid uncomfortable or triggering conversations, and advocate for your loved ones.

With these tips and resources in mind, remember to give yourself a break and know that you do not have to be perfect to provide support to your loved one. Just one little action can speak volumes and give love and support to someone struggling with an eating disorder. Have a great holiday season and get ready for a great new year!

Lexi Haggert is a sophomore studying Accounting and Business Information Systems at Lehigh University. She spends her time working at her school's Women's Center on eating disorder and body confidence projects. When not working, Lexi enjoys traveling, hanging out with her roommates and watching way too much TV.

Ashley is in her third year at Lehigh University. She is majoring in women, gender, and sexuality studies, minoring in psychology, and completing the five year master’s program for elementary education. Ashley works at the Women's Center focusing on body image and eating disorders as well as at the Lehigh University Childcare Center. When she graduates, she hopes to become an elementary school teacher.

A version of this piece was originally published on Proud2Bme.org in 2015.

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