Navigating Recovery Throughout The Holidays
‘Tis the season! A time for reuniting with family and friends, and sharing in the memories, traditions and the magic of giving and receiving. It is also a time of year that can bring many challenges to those struggling with an eating disorder. Many holiday gatherings tend to revolve around food and this can be a tremendous source of stress and anxiety, even for those in recovery. But to try and keep all of that extra stress and anxiety to a minimum, it can be crucial to mentally prepare oneself for what some of those challenges might look like by recognizing where you are in your own recovery.
1. Anticipate Setbacks - You are in recovery and this itself has its own challenges. Acknowledge that this time of year can be an extra challenge for you to navigate your recovery around and that it can bring up many more difficult emotions. Remind yourself that all of this is normal, that it is okay to feel what you are feeling and to take each moment as it comes. Anticipate that struggles may occur, that setbacks and lapses may happen, BUT it doesn’t define who you are, it doesn’t dismiss all the success and progress you’ve made in your recovery and it doesn’t mean you are no longer choosing recovery. A setback means you are human. If a setback happens, try to view it as a learning opportunity and see how you can use the knowledge you gained from the experience to possibly prevent the setback from happening again. Be patient and gentle with yourself to help get you through the difficult time and then choose your next best steps to move forward with.
2. Be Mindful Of Your Values - Allow yourself to enjoy some of your favorite past traditions, whether it’s decorating the tree, baking Christmas cookies, or playing games with the family, but try and do so without engaging the eating disorder’s urge to control or perfect each situation. Ask yourself what it is you like about the tradition, why it is important to you and focus on that rather than trying to make things perfect. You may also want to start new traditions, ones that reflect any newly discovered values or align better with your recovery choices. Every time you engage yourself in values-based living is less time spent engaging the eating disorder.
3. Set Boundaries - Sometimes the busyness of the holidays leaves you feeling like you need a holiday! Try not to over-extend yourself by committing to unnecessary get-togethers or feel obligated to do things you don’t really want to do in the first place. Remind yourself that it is alright to say no, especially if it means saying yes to yourself and your recovery. It can also be important to set up boundaries with certain people you may anticipate being a trigger for you or whom you may feel uncomfortable around. Plan ahead of time specific topics that might be easier to discuss with them, assert yourself if you feel like your boundaries are being disrespected and know that you have the right to change the subject at any point in time. Also, know you have the right to have an exit plan in place in case you need to excuse yourself from their presence and go somewhere quietly to ground yourself. By doing so, you are respecting your recovery. When you allow these moments for yourself to recharge, you will have more energy to fight any urges and behaviors the eating disorder tries to demand of you.
4. Respect Your Meal Plan - Following your meal plan may mean you will need to incorporate different food choices than what is being served at holiday gatherings, and that’s okay. If you are able to, find out ahead of time what will be served so you can plan around that meal. Try and keep your meal/snack times regular so if need be, especially if you are travelling, pack snacks and bring with you food choices you know you may be more comfortable eating if what is being served is too challenging. Remember, food is not the enemy. Let yourself enjoy the food you’d like to have this holiday season and challenge any distorted thoughts the eating disorder may have around them.
5. Presence vs. Presents - Searching for the “perfect gift” for loved ones can add a lot of unnecessary stress to the holidays. Especially, if you are on a budget. Try making up a list of all the people you’d like to buy for and set a reasonable amount you’re able to spend on each person. Be realistic. Not everyone needs a gift from you and it doesn’t need to be expensive to show them you care. In fact, maybe it’s just making time to be with someone this holiday to show you care. Being present rather than buying presents. Sometimes just a phone call, a video chat, going for a walk or a cup of coffee, or just spending time and making memories with loved ones can be the greatest gifts. Another option might be making that special someone a homemade gift. Again, try challenging the eating disorder’s perfectionistic tendencies so that your worth is not associated with the end result of the gift. Remember, you are a gift, and that alone, is enough.
6. Practice Self-Care and Self-Compassion - One of the greatest gifts you receive this season can be the gift you give yourself! If recovery is something you value, then keep making time to care for yourself. Allow time for relaxation and renewal. Whether it’s actually scheduling in the time to have a bath, mediate, read a book, eat a snack, or even just excusing yourself briefly from a situation to take a breather, then do so. And when you do, try doing it with the compassion and understanding your mind, body and soul needs and deserves. Whenever difficulty arises this holiday season, nourish yourself within and provide whatever kind attention you need to get yourself through it. The more you work on creating a better relationship with yourself, the less enticing your relationship with the eating disorder will be.
7. Stay Connected - Sometimes it feels like things would be easier if you could avoid the holidays and its festivities all together. But this is exactly what the eating disorder wants so that all you have is it to listen to. Although, it is important to take time for yourself, set the intension to check in with yourself to see if this is an important act for your recovery or if this is the eating disorder’s attempt to isolate you. Make sure to reach out to your supports whenever possible. Keep in mind that some supports will be unavailable because they might be on holidays, too, so have a backup plan for who you can contact, including any crisis help lines you can call. Don’t be afraid to build on your support system as well. Try including family members and friends with whom you trust to open up to and be honest with about your worries and concerns with your recovery surrounding the holidays. Let them know of some of your strategies and how they, themselves, can be helpful/unhelpful to you.
Remember, although the holidays can be a great source of unwanted stress and anxiety, they are actually meant to be a great source of joy, love, peace and wonder. By choosing to incorporate each of these gifts into your holidays you will be renewing your strength, courage, determination and commitment to yourself and to your recovery.
From all of us at Westwind Counselling, we admire and support your commitment to your recovery and we wish you all the best throughout this holiday season!!!