by Hadley Smith
Note: This post originally appeared on recoverygem and has been cross-posted with permission.
The holidays. What a beautiful, crazy, stressful beast.
Let’s face it– holidays in general are super stressful for anyone. When you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, they can be even harder. Not only do many holiday traditions revolve around food, but it’s also a time where many of us get together with extended family and friends. And come on, we all have that relative (or two, or three..) who enjoys commenting on our appearance and whether or not we have gained or lost weight (especially if our family knows about our eating disorder/recovery). Sadly, diet talk is inevitable. There is such a pervasive message in society that holidays are a time for ‘splurging’ on ‘bad’ foods– enter the obsession over ‘holiday weight gain’ and the million people talking about how their New Year’s Resolution is to join a gym/go on a juice cleanse/etc. Like, thank you Aunt Sharon, but I really don’t want to hear about how you are going to have to ‘work off’ your dessert. Am I right?
Anyway, I wanted to share some of my tips on how to get through this time, in the hopes that maybe they will help!
1.Touch base with your treatment team before the holidays/events to talk through your anxiety and make a plan, and after the holidays to process what came up. Beforehand, it can be super helpful to make a plan to decrease your anxiety. I like to meet with my dietician to make a plan for how to fit my holiday schedule/meals into my meal plan, that way when the days come I know what to expect and I don’t feel as anxious. I also like to talk through some of my fears with her. For example, eating in front of others can often be anxiety-provoking as I can fear others are judging what/how much I am eating. Talking it through helps me realize that I am not a mind reader– there is no way to tell what others are thinking about me. So why assume they are judging me? It’s much more helpful if I remember that they are focused on themselves, and anyway, I don’t have to justify what/that I am eating to anyone. I’m human and all humans need food. I also like to meet with my therapist to set up a plan for in case something triggering comes up. This includes coping skills, setting up supports, and it can even mean checking in with your therapist via text or phone if that is something they are comfortable with and offer.
2. Communicate with your support system! I can’t stress this enough. A good support system can be one of the keys to coping with stress and triggers, and that comes from open and honest communication. Try to think about what makes you anxious about the holidays, what obstacles you anticipate, and how your family and friends can help. Then let them know! Most people in our lives don’t know the best way to help, and although it can seem ‘demanding’ to tell them what we need, they will probably be relieved and happy to help! For example, I like to ask my family for support and reminders following my meal plan, because it can be easy to act on urges/go off our meal plan when we are not in our normal routine. I also explain what kinds of comments are triggering. It can be super helpful to tell your supports ahead of time what kinds of conversation topics would be helpful to avoid, because not only can they avoid them but they can also help change the subject if an extended family member or friend does not know and starts talking about those things. It’s also helpful because if comments are made, your supports know already that they are probably upsetting, and can be there to offer support.
3. Actually reach out to your supports. I know this is hard, because we don’t want to feel like we are bothering them, but we aren’t. I promise. The people who love and support us want to help us if they can, and talking about things that come up can be super helpful because we don’t feel as alone. Triggering comments are pretty much inevitable, and it can be super helpful to text a friend and vent and get it off our chest. If we don’t tell someone what’s upsetting us, we are only hearing our eating disorder’s perspective on what happened. When we reach out, we get to hear a healthy, supportive perspective and it makes it easier to listen to our own healthy thoughts.
4. Focus on yourself. If our friends and family know about our eating disorder/recovery, it can feel like we are under a microscope. We might feel pressure to ‘perform’ for them and ‘prove’ our progress, but it is very important not to get caught up in focusing on others and what they think. If our family and friends aren’t aware of what we are going through, it can also be difficult because we may feel like we aren’t allowed to show if we are struggling and, again, we have to put on a performance. The most important thing is that we stay in touch with ourselves and focus on what we need. Take things at your own pace, do what you are comfortable with, and don’t push yourself beyond what feels right to you. It’s your recovery, so try to focus on that. It’s about making things as easy as possible on yourself, so be gentle with yourself.
5. Coping Skills! Here are some practical coping skills to use:
Journal! Journaling can help get out your thoughts, but even if you can’t just pull out a notebook and start writing in the middle of the celebration, you can always write in the notes app on your phone. I also like to write letters to myself. It sounds cheesy, but it helps a lot. Maybe try writing a letter to yourself reminding yourself of what recovery means to you and give yourself a lil pep talk. You may be surprised at how meaningful it can be coming from you.
Decorate your mirror. Okay bear with me on this one. This is something my dietician suggested to me, and at first I was like ‘that is cheesy and I’m not doing that,’ but after I tried it I found it helped so much. Amidst all of the diet talk that can happen, it may be hard to feel recovery-focused and body positive. So maybe print out your favorite recovery/body positive quotes, write out sticky notes for yourself, whatever works!, and stick them on your mirror. It can really help when negative body image thoughts come up.
Work in self care/enjoyable activities. Think about some things you like to do, that are good for your soul, that relax you, etc. Try to fit them into your schedule! Maybe take a bubble bath or read some of your favorite book before seeing family or entering a possibly stressful situation. Or plan for it after, so you have something to look forward to.
6. Breathe. Holidays are hard, but they won’t last forever. Know that you will get through this. Cut yourself some slack, focus on what parts of the celebrations are positive, and know that nothing is make or break. There is always a new day.
You will get through this. I hope this helps.