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Setting yourself up for success during the holiday season

Setting yourself up for success during the holiday season

Written by Amanda Turco, Therapist

The holidays are fast approaching, which comes with both excitement and for many, some (or a lot of) anxiety. Holidays are centered around food, celebration, and family and friends. For those struggling, it can also be a time centered around a change in routine, triggers, and intrusive thoughts. You may be facing a lot of anticipatory anxiety surrounding this time and pressure to be happy or put on a brave face. Or, you might be unsure how to manage the holidays in a different way than you had before – and without engaging in behaviors that hurt your overall mental health. 

It is hard to do the hard thing (and recovery and mental health work is HARD) when things feel overwhelming. Please remember- no matter where you are in your journey, it is completely valid and okay to not be okay during the holidays. It’s part of the process! Our therapist Amanda created this holiday series to help you lean into the discomfort, to help make this time feel possible, and help set you up for success in recovery even during the holiday season! 

Have a plan. My patients often hear me say, “when things feel overwhelming, break it down.” During the holidays, you may be traveling, following a more flexible/unknown schedule, and facing lots of fear foods all at once. In recovery, you are likely following a regular eating schedule and doing a lot of planning. Keep following that plan to the best you can, but know that odds are, things won’t go exactly as planned and that’s okay. Ask for details leading up to the holiday event so that you can create your own schedule for that day. Plan what you are going to eat to incorporate balance. Remember, it is okay to eat breakfast on Thanksgiving despite others who might be “saving space for dinner.” If your family doesn’t eat all day except for dinner, make sure to plan to eat regularly yourself. Or if you tend to binge on holidays, make a plan to eat regularly and set yourself up for success.

Attempt to include some challenge items– ask yourself, what does my body need and or craving? Identify distractions such as activities or supports before and after a meal. You may find yourself comparing yourself to others and wondering why other people can have such an easy time or not eat until dinner and be okay. The comparison game is a losing one! Focus on what YOU need, and let that comparison voice fade to the background when and if it pops up. 

Find supports. Share your plan with a support who you trust such as a parent or sibling. Holidays may be surrounded by extended family members or friends who don’t understand what you are going through. This can spark some pressure to be “normal” or feelings distress when faced with unhelpful comments. It’s important to validate your needs and feelings in the moment and reach out to loved ones when you need them. Maybe you plan breaks into the day so you know you have some downtime to decompress! Whatever you need, having a support, like a parent or sibling, can help keep you in your more rational mind in times of feeling overwhelmed. 

Don’t look to the past. You may be inclined to look to previous holidays, whether it was before or when you were deep into your eating disorder, and compare to now. You might have feelings of grief, even, for how it used to be or blame yourself for not being able to do things the way you used to, even if those ways were disordered or harmful to you. Either way, this could bring up unhelpful expectations for the present. Remind yourself of where you are today and practice self- compassion. You are working hard to be in a new, healthier place and that takes time and it often gets harder before it gets easier. Be gentle with yourself and know every holiday won’t feel the way it does this year.  

The holidays may feel isolating, scary, or not as exciting as they may have been previously. That is okay and temporary. Having a plan filled with skills and supports is so important in making the day feel more manageable. Do the best you can in allowing yourself to be present with family and friends, and engaging in activities. This will help keep body image and food on the back of the mind, and remind yourself of the other important parts to self- worth. And at the end of the day, it’s just one day! Know that the sun will rise on the day-after-the-holiday soon enough, and focusing on the next best thing every day is the best thing you can do. 

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