by Dr. Susie Mendelsohn
For many people, the holiday season is typically a time to be with loved ones and a chance to reflect on all for which you are grateful. Unfortunately, the holidays can also mean high levels of stress and anxiety, particularly for those who struggle with eating disorders and disordered eating. It takes some preparation, but with a little planning and support, the holidays don’t have to be so daunting. Following are several tips to help you have an enjoyable and healthy holiday season:
1. Keep Your Appointments. This is always a good rule. Around the holidays, however, it is often particularly tempting to cancel an inconvenient nutrition appointment or skip your weekly therapy sessions. Try to remember that during difficult or stressful times, it is best to stock up on the amount of support you have rather than trim away at your normal therapy routine. Going without the support to which you are accustomed can make the holiday even more stressful than it need be.
2. Identify A Support Person. Ask someone ahead of time to be your backup at the holiday event. Your support person could help distract you from a triggering moment with relatives or help change the subject during an awkward dinner conversation about food or weight. Just make sure you discuss with them ahead of time exactly what would be helpful to you in specific situations.
3. Manage Your Time. (Dr. Susie’s favorite weapon against stress!) Your planner will come in handy here. If you don’t already have one, discuss this with your therapist and get started today. This is the key to your success in everything!
4. Plan A Time-Out. Think ahead about how you will give yourself an immediate break from the hustle and bustle of a holiday celebration if you need it. Offer to take the host’s dog outside to play when no one else is paying attention to him (mutually beneficial!) or find other creative ways to carve out some quiet time and fresh air for yourself.
5. Don’t Leave Home Without Your Toolbox. If you’ve established coping skills that work when you’re feeling overwhelmed or having thoughts of acting on your eating disorder, be sure to pack a travel-friendly version. If writing in your journal or listening to a special playlist on your iPod helps, throw them in your bag! This will also help to maintain some normalcy during the hectic holiday schedule.
6. Visualize The Holiday You Want. Before you reach your holiday destination, or before your own guests arrive, spend some time visualizing the day in a positive way and picturing yourself handling the stress and the meals in calm, healthy ways. It is much easier to get through the real situation if you’ve already “seen” yourself succeed at it beforehand!
7. Focus on Gratitude. Stay focused on what is good about the holiday and all the things you do have, instead of what you dislike about the holiday or what you are without. Sometimes that simply means focusing on the breath in our bodies, the ability to walk, to see, to hear, to taste, to touch, or the roof over our heads. You might be surprised to see just how many things you are grateful for this holiday season! Try to keep those in your mind, even if things are not going so well around you.
8. Try Not To Pack Too Much In. During the holidays there is often so much to do, so much we want to do, but too much of anything, even a good thing, can have negative results both psychologically and physically. In the end, trying to do too much will leave you frazzled, and it will make everything less enjoyable. Look over your holiday plans. Are there things you really want to do? Keep those things. If there are things that are less important on the list or do not HAVE to get done—like the two page holiday letter you were planning to write—maybe you can leave it for next year.
9. Set Limits. If there is a relative or two that cause you stress, it’s okay to set limits on what you are and are not willing to do. This might be the year that you do not visit with them (see #7) or the year you finally tell them ahead of time that it is NOT okay to discuss food or weight issues around you.
10. Set a Goal. (that has nothing to do with your eating disorder). Anxiety about holiday meals can be all-consuming. To make sure that the holiday season doesn’t pass you by while your thoughts are on your meal plan or on blocking symptoms, try setting a goal for yourself that has nothing to do with food. Perhaps you want to make it a point to ask your grandmother about her favorite holiday memory, or offer to read a bedtime story and tuck your nieces and nephews into bed. Working to meet your positive goal for the day will help to distract from the anxiety, and can also create a positive memory you can associate with the holidays for years to come.
11. Get Real! People too often have a fantasy about how “perfect” the holidays are going to be. When family members fail to live up to unrealistic expectations, it might be tempting to use your eating disorder behaviors in an effort to feel better temporarily. Try to anticipate some of the possible emotional traps in advance so you can cope more effectively (and maybe even laugh) when you encounter them.
12. HALT Slogan Works For Any Type Of Recovery. Don’t let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. This is especially important over the holidays.
13. Keep Your Support Team On Speed Dial. Call them at any time during or after a holiday celebration. Talking relieves the pressure. You’re not overburdening them. They will undoubtedly have stories to share, too.
14. Don’t Forget To Breathe! This may sound simple, but it is sound advice. Breathing affects the whole body. When you take a few seconds to breathe slowly and deeply, even in a stressful situation, you can actually produce a state of relaxation. Try the following:
• Sit as tall as possible, with your feet flat on the floor, and try to take your mind off of the stressful situation or activities around you.
• Take a slow, deep breath in while counting to three (your stomach should expand as it fills with air).
• Hold your breath for a count of three.
• Exhale slowly (your stomach should contract) while counting to three.
Repeat this whole sequence 3 times.
List your holiday support system contact info:
List how you intend to plan ahead for the holiday season:
List your specific method(s) of coping during the holiday meal:
Dr. Susie Mendelsohn is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, consultant, researcher, professor and certified coach. She offers a weekly spirituality group and a weekly eating disorder group therapy. She conducts her private practice in Fort Lauderdale, and consults with her clients either in person or via Skype/FaceTime.
To verify your health insurance benefits, contact Gerri at 513-304-3790. For more information on Dr. Susie’s services, contact her personally at 954-294-7036, via email: [email protected] or visit TransformEmpowerSoar.com. See ad page 56.