Making the Most Out of the Holidays During an Inpatient Stay

By Alexa Rivera

Spending the Holidays in the Hospital

The holiday season is back. The days are getting shorter and colder, stores are putting up holiday displays and loved ones are planning their trips home for the holidays. Unfortunately, eating disorders don’t take breaks, and there are many people living with an eating disorder who enter inpatient programs during the holiday season. While being hospitalized during the holidays can be upsetting, there are ways to make it easier.

Putting Treatment in Perspective

It’s common to have mixed feelings, relief and excitement about getting better but also disappointment or sadness about being away from your loved ones during a time that’s supposed to be about joy and community.

Remember You Are Making the Right Decision

The holiday season is a special time where people connect with their loved ones and it can be tempting to delay treatment for an eating disorder because of fear of missing out on the holidays. However, severe eating disorders are often life-threatening and require medical stabilization and treatment can’t wait.

It’s never an easy decision to enter or re-enter an inpatient eating disorder program during the holidays, and you should be proud that you’ve made the decision to put your health first. There will be other holiday seasons, and getting care for your eating disorder now allows you to enjoy more holidays in the future.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Even though receiving care is the right decision, it’s completely natural to feel sad or disappointed that you’re not going to be able to participate in the holidays like you usually are. Many people enjoy the deep familial or religious traditions of the holidays and look forward to celebrating the last few months of the year with their loved ones. It’s important to make space for and acknowledge these feelings. There is no wrong way to feel.

Have Self-Compassion

If you are a parent, it can be especially difficult to take time away from your kids during the holidays. You might feel ashamed, embarrassed, frustrated or guilty. You might feel like you’re ruining their holiday or robbing them of memories. Remember to be kind to yourself. Your children love you, appreciate you and will be happy to have you on holidays for years to come.

Consider That Your Holiday May Be Less Stressful

While the holidays are often joyful, some people have very turbulent or stressful holidays. Spending the holiday season in treatment means that you can avoid many of the stressful and uncomfortable situations individuals with eating disorders experience during the holidays, like remarks about your body, social gatherings, holiday food and other triggers. Being in an inpatient program also provides an opportunity to fully focus on your wellbeing and health, helping you prepare for challenges once you are discharged home or to a lower level of care.

Additionally, the holidays are one of the few times a year some people see their unsupportive, abusive or insensitive family members. Entering inpatient treatment during this time can be an opportunity to get treatment and not interact with estranged family members. There is also the added benefit that if there is a triggering or stressful interaction, you are surrounded by clinicians who can help you manage that.

Coping with Inpatient Treatment During the Holidays

As you prepare to enter inpatient treatment during the holiday season, it’s important to remember what you can do, not what you can’t. Here are a few things to remember to help your stay be a little brighter.

Ask Your Loved Ones to Visit

While not everyone lives close to Denver or has the means to travel, those that can are welcome to visit you during the holiday season. Guests are allowed to visit on (days) during (hours). There is nothing like being able to see, hug and talk to a loved one in person, especially when you’re feeling lonely or homesick.

Use Technology to Cross Distance

If your friends and family are unable to visit the unit over the holidays, consider how you can connect with them from a distance. Video chat, phone calls and texts are all great ways to stay connected during the holiday season. You could also handwrite letters or cards and mail them. With internet access at ACUTE, you might even get your holiday shopping done and mail gifts directly to your friends and family. 

Bring Holiday Traditions to You

Even though you won’t be home for the holidays, we encourage you to bring pieces of home with you. Maybe there’s a specific item or decoration that you’re fond of. Ask your loved ones if they can bring it with them when they visit, or you could mail it ahead of time. Just make sure to keep in mind the limitations of the unit and adapt your item to them – for some this might mean a small table-top Christmas tree or a menorah with electric lights. You can also get into the spirit by watching your favorite movie or listening to your favorite holiday album.

Relax & Craft

During your stay, we encourage you to continue with your hobbies given they can be performed within the limitations of the unit. Art and crafting are great ways to keep busy and can be adapted for the holidays. You can try:

  • Knitting or crocheting
  • Painting or drawing
  • Papercrafts
  • Weaving or Macrame
  • Jewelry Making

Attend Religious Services From the Unit

You can also use ACUTE’s internet access to participate in religious services. A growing number of communities now livestream their services and this is a great way to stay spiritually connected during treatment. If you’re interested in something more in-person, ACUTE also offers chaplain services upon request. Our unit chaplain delivers non-denominational spiritual support and healing to help patients in their recovery process.

Even though you won’t be able to spend time with loved ones this holiday season, think of your eating disorder treatment as an investment. Treatment can help ensure you’re healthy enough to experience all the special occasions soon to come – birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and future holidays. Your length of stay is a drop in the bucket compared to the quality time you will gain to celebrate with your family and friends in the future. 


ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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