Oh, the holidays...We receive a constant influx of messages that this is the “most wonderful time of the year”, yet we are inundated with anxiety-inducing information about what we should buy, wear, and eat. Not to mention, everywhere we turn people wearing Santa hats or holiday sweatshirts are running us over with shopping carts or fighting with us over the last on-sale blender. These mixed messages are obvious fodder for confusion and a gripping feeling of stress and overwhelm.
And this is just speaking of the external factors that make the holidays a difficult time. Internally, the holidays also bring up many painful memories, associations, and emotions. It is a time when grief becomes very pronounced, missing loved ones we have lost or longing for times when life felt easier or happier. We often feel incredible pressure for things to be “perfect” or “extra special”, which is a total set up to feel like a failure if these standards are not met (and they are impossible to meet!). The holidays also create opportunities for us to spend a lot of social time with family and friends...and often these are people who stir up a lot of intense feelings and send us right to the center of our core wounding and negative core beliefs about ourselves.
Then, of course, there is the FOOD. With the holiday season comes countless situations where eating is an expected component. These are not environments easily conducive to having a mindful meal or snack, fighting eating disorder thoughts and urges. You are not only around an overwhelming amount of food but often in social settings that elicit anxiety, anger, sadness, insecurity, discomfort, paranoia, grief, etc. etc. To put it simply, there are triggers everywhere! So how can those in recovery from an eating disorder navigate all of this without going completely crazy?
First, it is incredibly important to remember that perfection is impossible AND that it is normal for this time of year to be challenging and painful--even for those without eating disorders! Forgiveness of oneself is key here. Given all the difficulties present, any success or victory under these circumstances is HUGE and deserves to be celebrated. If you challenge yourself to eat a holiday food you have been restricting for years or make it through Thanksgiving dinner without purging afterwards, you are battling your eating disorder in probably the most difficult of times. See if you can be your own uber-supportive friend and listen for your healthy-self voice ready and willing to give you lots of love and encouragement. Take it in. You deserve it!
Here are a few general ideas and ways of thinking to help you set intentions for surviving (and maybe even thriving!) this holiday season:
~Step into the holiday season one bite-sized piece at a time. It is so easy to get overwhelmed this time of year. See if you can consciously focus on just doing one bit at at time. For example, instead of thinking about Thanksgiving as a whole, go through the day step by step. When you wake up, do something loving for yourself that feels good. Then, allow yourself to eat something, trying not to think beyond breakfast but just tackling this one activity. Then, bring your attention to what you want to do with the next hour of the day. And on and on like that. One hour at a time is a good amount of time to focus on to help reign in anxiety.
~Take time for yourself!
~In all things holiday-related, do your best not to be all-or-nothing. Take in the pleasurable aspects of experiences and allow yourself to step away and practice self-care when you need it. Give yourself room to be imperfect. Remember that overeating once will not make a difference in your weight and is very common during the holidays. If you are overfull, work with yourself around this truth.
~Be honest with yourself and those around you about what will be helpful. Allow yourself to draw boundaries and remove yourself from situations that are triggering. Take a timeout if you need it!
And now, a few specific strategies to help you navigate difficult moments during the holidays:
~Breathe. Anytime you feel anxiety ramping up, allow yourself to pause and take three full deep breaths. This behavior can do wonders to calm your nervous system and make the immediate situation more tolerable.
~Try to interact with others and your surroundings. Anxiety and eating disorder thoughts are seductive and can suck you into your own mind and out of your environment. Try to stay connected to a safe person in conversation or look around. Even take pictures of items, settings, or people that feel calming.
~If you feel yourself struggling or sinking, reach out for support right then! Talk to a safe person where you are or call someone. Even just leaving a message for someone you trust can relieve some of the intensity of the struggle.
~When you find yourself in self-attack mode, try to switch into a mode of talking to yourself as you would a close friend or loved one. How would you encourage them in this situation?
Whether the holidays are happy or not, know that getting through them is a huge accomplishment. Give yourself kudos for navigating the holidays no matter what it looks like.
Rochelle Greenhagen, MFTi #69763 - Supervised by Marcie Beasley (MFT47715)