Family holidays can be an incredibly stressful if you're struggling with your eating or body image. Family, food, weather, gifts, shopping...every day seems to bring some new activity, crisis, joy or obligation. So how do you navigate these unpredictable times of year?
Have a plan in place, ready to go, to help you cope. Here are some key coping strategies:
1. Build in a self-care regime
Carve out time for self-care well in advance. Put it in on your calendar and let people know that this time is off-limits. Be sure to build in a variety of self-care tools that are good for your body, mind and soul. Whether that's taking time for a long bath or a restorative yoga session, watching a movie, spending time with a loved one...book those days off now before you start to get pulled in every direction.
Leaving as little as possible, in terms of your eating, to chance is important. That way, no matter what the holidays throw at you, you've got your bases covered. Pre-planning for the coming week is one way to do this. Even let family members know your plan so that things will go more smoothly. Remember to leave room for some flexibility in your planning. Your body can handle a few big meals and treats!
3. Express your needs
Express what you need to be happy and safe during the holidays to your family and friends beforehand. This is not always easy. Some family and friends are simply not ready to receive and that's OK. You'll have to plan around them. However, you'll be surprised at how many people are willing to listen if you approach them gently. Let them know how they can help you and offer your own help in exchange. Give and take is always a good approach.
4. Stick to your routine
A lot of the stress around the holidays seems to be the sheer anticipation of the holidays. Many people feel they need to compensate beforehand so that they can indulge later. This isn't a great strategy and can easily spiral out of control. Just try and stick to your normal routine as much as possible, remembering that you're allowed to indulge here and there! Your body is remarkably resilient and things will go back to normal. Everything is not lost because of a few over indulgences!
5. Practice self-forgiveness
Although planning is important, things are bound to go wrong or not as planned sometimes...and that's OK! Be kind to yourself! If you don't follow through with your plan, just get up and try to get back on course as soon as you can. All or nothing thinking is a hallmark of eating and body image issues. Mantras: "I am not perfect, nor do I need to be" "I have not failed...I am trying and I am learning"
6. Take the time to breathe
Remember to breathe! It's easy to get caught up in everything. Before you know it, you're on auto-pilot and things seem out of control. Slow things down by taking time to breathe. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your natural breathe. Count backwards from 10 slowly. This will usually give you a moment to get out of auto-pilot and back into a place of awareness.
7. Always have a crisis plan
Have a crisis plan ready for when things get really overwhelming. Calling a trusted friend or family member, having emergency coping strategies listed, having a planned escape route from an event- all of these can be part of your crisis plan. Making sure that your support system is in place is very important. This could mean seeing a therapist more often before high-stress events or spending more time with people that can help on a daily basis. Most importantly, don't be afraid to ask for help!
The holidays can be wonderful. Going into them with a positive frame of mind isn't easy but it's possible. If you're already dreading this time of year, be brave! Try and set yourself up for success!
Wishing you all safe and happy holidays!