Do you need some extra climbing gear to help you survive the holidays?
The holidays may loom like an unscalable mountain for which you may feel ill-equipped. The pressure starts mounting long before the actual festivities roll around. The very thing we need and have been working on in therapy – balance – is often the hardest to find. The rhythm of routines in the holidays may feel different and unfamiliar, compared to the rest of the year. Plans change at short notice – for better or for worse!
Families get together. Whether they will get along or not may seem uncertain. Your regular recovery supporters may become less available.
The festive season struggles are real
It may look like everyone else is having festive fun. There is a lot of pressure to seem like you are also blissfully happy. Why is it so taxing?
Anyone with Anorexia, Bulimia or any other eating disorder can tell you, it is not just about the amount of food you eat or the roller-coaster of binging and purging. That is only one part of the equation. Past experiences had fueled unhelpful thought-patterns, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and destructive behaviours. The above affects your relationships with people AND food.
Rewriting the script
As you have seen at the clinic, you need to learn a new way of thinking if you want to learn how to manage your eating disorder. You need to challenge your own behaviour and build new relationships with yourself, others, and food. It is hard! It takes sustained practice!
Having the time and space to regularly reflect on your experiences is a vital component of success. There is 12-step recovery work to do. You need to attend counselling. You cannot do this without the support from others who understand your rehabilitation journey.
False messages supporting thought distortions
Many people who do not know or understand may applaud you for losing weight or criticize you if you gain weight. Surely this is good feedback!
They may not realise that their opinions and ‘jokes’ may contaminate your internal dialogue.
Focus on YOU – it is not selfish or self-centred
In recovery work we often use the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to
Accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
The relevance of this prayer cannot be clearer than when we contemplate the holiday season. You cannot change others. You can, however, continue to work on yourself.
Below, you can find some tools to help you remain sane:
1) Identify what is important and true to you
It is easy to be swayed by other people’s opinion when you really want their approval. This could present you with an opportunity. Draw up a personal manifesto – a statement of your own beliefs and values. Think broader than just the behavioural aspects of your eating disorder. Link each statement to an action or a strategy.
Remember these points:
1) Use positive language – focus on what you want or do, not what you do NOT want or will avoid doing
2) Use active voice – state what actions you will take
3) Use ‘I’ statements – start every sentence with ‘I’ as this will focus your attention
e.g. I believe I am worthy of love. I take care of myself and hold onto the good messages I received and continue to receive from loved ones.
2) Deal with distraction
Remember the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetie). We are easily thrown off track when there are too many competing priorities. You may start to feel frazzled and anxious.
Take a deep breath. Read your manifesto. Ask yourself what you really want and need in THIS moment. Then do just that, no more.
3) Track your journey on your calendar
There is something very satisfying and motivating about ticking things off as DONE. Look at the holidays as a whole. Highlight the days you are looking forward to. Do so, too, with those that may be stressful. Think about something that you can do before, on or after those days to maximise self-care. Write the goal down. You may want to add the SMART goals you have set for yourself (see our blog on preparing for the holidays here create a hyperlink) to the rest of the days.
Look at the calendar every morning. Every evening, give yourself a behaviour-based score (1 = I need help to find better solutions; and 5 = I did better than anticipated). ALSO give yourself a mental health-based score (1 = I need help to process the negative feelings; and 5 = I am satisfied that I moved through this in the most mentally healthy way). Breathe deeply. Now tick off the date – you survived another round!
You are not going to win every battle; fix every relationship; practice every skill; stick to every resolution; or meet every goal. Make yourself a list the length of your thumb (about five items). This list, in order of importance, should contain the physical and mental health self-care priorities for the day. Tick these off as you go.
5) Deepen the power of self-care
Humans are creatures of comfort – use this to boost your self-care. Think about the things that bring you comfort. What about scented candles? Do you have a favourite blanket? A special mug? Does a special pen glide more smoothly across your journal? Do you need a cushion to sit on?
6) Use mindfulness exercises to stay present and to self-regulate
Think back to the time you spent in the clinic. Remember the yoga? The relaxation exercises? The deep breathing? The mindfulness meditations? Which worked the best for you? Start using these every day. Do not wait until you are stressed out. You want your brain and body to work together to find equilibrium. Just as a dancer develop muscle memory through practicing dance steps diligently, so you want to be well-rehearsed in the steps you need to find your balance.
7) Gratitude journal
Count your blessings daily! Go on a mental treasure hunt every day. Some days will be harder than others. You are likely to find that the darkest days often shed the most light on how far you have come. Be specific. Look ONLY at today.
8) Worry box
To develop a healthier relationship with your eating disorder, you must be honest with yourself – EVERYTHING about yourself. Give airtime to your concerns without letting them overwhelm you.
People with eating disorders and the underlying mental health issues that sparked it have usually survived through suppressing uncomfortable feelings. Are you repeatedly getting stuck on a subject, event, or personal interaction? Worry is usually born out of concern about the past or the future. You may find yourself asking ‘what if?’
Write your fears down. Sit with these for a short period. Notice where in your body you are feeling discomfort (you could jot your observations down in your journal). When the time is up, take a deep breath. Read your manifesto and/or say the Serenity Prayer. Put the note in a sealed box with a slip in the top.
You could take it out after surviving the stressful festive season and reflect on how you feel about these issues now. Discuss these with your recovery counsellor or therapist.
9) Check-ins are important because you are not alone
Make regular appointments with people in your recovery support network. These can be in person or virtual. You should not cancel these unless there is a compelling reason. It isn’t necessary only when you are in a crisis! Talk. Listen. Ask. Share.
when the going is good Make balance the focus of your chat. Think of a well-balanced meal – there are different food groups present in the correct proportions. Just like you need to learn alternatives to address the difficult relationship you have with food, so you need to do the same for relationships with people.
10) Make it meaningful
We all want to know that our lives mattered. Your journey is tough. You are still here though! Maybe you feel guilty about what you have put others through in the past and if you will hurt them again in future. Let us focus on today. We are not talking about brokering world peace or saving the rain forests in Borneo. What can you do to help, encourage or make someone laugh right now?