Worried About How to Get Through the Holidays Without Stressing Out?
The last thing a person struggling with the symptoms of an eating disorder usually wants is to draw attention to themselves or their disorder. But once again, it’s that time of the year. The holiday season is upon us. While many people may seem to be absolutely carefree and happy to focus on the food-centered celebrations of the season, if you, or someone in your family, has an eating disorder, this period could be an extra challenge to recovery from an eating disorder or a serious mental health issue. Here are some suggestions to help people cope, in a private and personal way.
Thanksgiving Menu: Mindful With a Side Order of Grateful
Thanksgiving, and the time of year that comes along with this holiday, can be a very stressful period for many people. The season may require us to spend considerable time with family members that bring up strong memories, and we may also be expected to act or behave a certain way. Plus, we may be surrounded by cornucopias at every turn, in the form of tables loaded with food and special treats. This combination of factors can easily compound what is already an anxiety-provoking situation. So, how can you balance these issues and practice positive self-care of your body and mind?
As many experienced cooks like to say before they undertake a complicated dish, the key is preparation. The same holds true for people recovering from an eating disorder. Begin by preparing yourself for making mindful choices – both for foods and any holiday activities. This is an excellent opportunity to use the techniques you may have learned in a comprehensive treatment program. Depending on where you are in your recovery, you can use a meal plan from your dietitian as a base.
This is a chance to look inward and explore a few questions. Ask yourself:
- What you are truly hungry for?
- What smells good to you?
- What looks appetizing?
This is an excellent time to recall what you may have already learned about eating intuitively. Are you eating because you enjoy the food that’s on your plate, or do you feel pressured to eat past the point of comfort or fullness while you are sitting at the dinner table among friends and family members? Are you feeling stuck in a good food/bad food mindset, or are you practicing the philosophy that all foods can fit into a meal with balance, variety, and moderation? (Yes, that includes pumpkin pie and apple dumplings!)
Try to be mindful before, during, and after the meal. When you aren’t at the table, you may need some time alone. To calm yourself during the holiday, some ideas for soothing activities might include:
- Reading inspirational quotes
- Spending some time with nature
- Playing with a family pet
- Writing in a journal
If you can approach a meal with a calmer mindset, it can help you get through the event, and carry over after the meal as well. Keeping a journal can also help you identify difficult feelings that you may have kept inside and avoided because of your eating disorder.
Need some help with concept of mindfulness? Don’t worry. Mindful magazine offers a basic guide for beginners. Their introduction is a sitting exercise:
First, find a good spot in your home or apartment, ideally where there isn’t too much clutter and you can find some quiet. Leave the lights on or sit in natural light. You can even sit outside if you like, but choose a place with little distraction.
At the outset, it helps to set an amount of time you’re going to “practice” for. Otherwise, you may obsess about deciding when to stop. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or ten minutes. Eventually you can build up to twice as long, then maybe up to 45 minutes or an hour. Use a kitchen timer or the timer on your phone. Many people do a session in the morning and in the evening, or one or the other. If you feel your life is busy and you have little time, doing some is better than doing none. When you get a little space and time, you can do a bit more.
The Steps to Sitting Down
Mindfulness meditation practice couldn’t be simpler: take a good seat, pay attention to your breathing, and when your attention wanders, return. By following these simple steps, you can get to know yourself up close and personal.
How to Sit
Here’s a posture practice that can be used as the beginning stage of a period of meditation practice or simply as something to do for a minute, maybe to stabilize yourself and find a moment of relaxation before going back into the fray. If you have injuries or other physical difficulties, you can modify this to suit your situation.
- Take your seat. Whatever you’re sitting on—a chair, a meditation cushion, a park bench—find a spot that gives you a stable, solid seat, not perching or hanging back.
- Notice what your legs are doing. If you’re on a cushion on the floor, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. (If you already do some kind of seated yoga posture, go ahead.) If you’re on a chair, it’s good if the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor.
- Straighten—but don’t stiffen— your upper body. The spine has natural curvature. Let it be there. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.
- Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Then let your hands drop onto the tops of your legs. With your upper arms at your sides, your hands will land in the right spot. Too far forward will make you hunch. Too far back will make you stiff. You’re tuning the strings of your body—not too tight and not too loose.
- Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids lower. If you feel the need, you may lower them completely, but it’s not necessary to close your eyes when meditating. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
- Be there for a few moments. Relax. Now get up and go about your day. And if the next thing on the agenda is doing some mindfulness practice by paying attention to your breath or the sensations in your body, you’ve started off on the right foot—and hands and arms and everything else.
- Begin again. When your posture is established, feel your breath—or some say “follow” it—as it goes out and as it goes in. (Some versions of the practice put more emphasis on the outbreath, and for the ‘in’ breath, you simply leave a spacious pause.) Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing this—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—return your attention to the breath. Don’t bother judging yourself or obsessing over the content of the thoughts. Come back. You go away, you come back.
That’s it. That’s the practice. While it’s often said that mindfulness is very simple, it’s not necessarily easy. The ‘work’ is to just keep doing it, they say. The results will come.
Again, preparation is the key. This could involve setting up your phone. When you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t forget to reach out to your support circle. Do you have a name ready to dial or text on your phone? Someone who can lend an empathetic ear? Many of us have that one relative who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to comment about a person’s weight or appearance. You may have already discussed this with your therapist and talked about ways you might deal with these kinds of shaming comments that empowers you. If so, this could be a perfect opportunity to practice that.
During this hectic holiday season, we are often encouraged to practice gratitude. It’s also perfect concept for anyone that’s feeling overwhelmed by negative feelings. Thoughts of gratitude have a way of getting us out of our own heads and helping us gain a more enlightened perspective on any given situation. Consider keeping a gratitude journal during your travels home, or even on your bedside table, every day. Start by jotting down two or three things you feel grateful for each morning, before you rise to start the busy day ahead.
Need More Tips or Techniques?
Center for Discovery can help. If you, or someone you love, are struggling with the symptoms of an eating disorder or serious mental health disorder, call us at 800.760.3934 immediately. We’ve been helping families find their way to long-lasting recovery for nearly 20 years. Our personalized behavior modification programs are tailored to fit your needs. Along with a wide variety of practical coping skills, Center for Discovery provides multi-faceted levels of care that range from residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, to partial hospitalization for adolescents teens, and adults that suffer from eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, self-harm behaviors, gender identity, oppositional defiant disorder, and most major mental health disorders.
Call Us Now at 800.760.3934
Mindful magazine: Mindfulness meditation – getting started. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation, by William Hart. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
Eating Disorders HOPE: Eating Disorders and Mindfulness, by Debra Cooper. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
How to Write a Gratitude Journal for Mindfulness – for dummies. Retrieved November 4, 2016.