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Given all of the traveling, family gatherings, food and high expectations that are associated with the holidays, it’s no surprise that celebrations can be simultaneously stressful and joyful. If you take care of yourself and find balance within the two experiences, you can usually come out on the other side of a holiday weekend with lots of memories of joy and little recollection of everything that had you totally stressed out. But when you’re working on recovery from an eating disorder(ED), the stress of holiday times can feel overwhelming, which can be quite triggering, even in the midst of what could be very joyful traditions for everyone else. That being said, an important part of recovery from an eating disorder involves learning to navigate the stress of the holidays and traveling without turning to the ED symptoms.
We were inspired by all of the wonderful sharing on this topic in our weekly support group one week and decided to put together a last-minute packing list for your holiday travels. If you’re headed out of town, consider using this checklist to make sure your suitcase is full of the recovery tools. If you’re hosting or staying home this holiday, grab the proverbial suitcase anyway and keep some of these things on hand for a healthy, joyful holiday celebration.
Don’t leave home without…
1. Your Motivation. If you’ve ever written a list of all the reasons why recovery is important to you, make a copy and keep it someplace where you will see it repeatedly over the holiday. If you’ve never made one of these lists, grab a pencil and get started. Each time you make it through a triggering moment without acting on symptoms you can put a star next to one of the items on your list for positive reinforcement that you are moving away from the ED and towards the things in life that matter most to you.
2. Your cell phone. Its true, most people don’t go anywhere without their phone these days but if you’re away from your primary support people and your not seeing your treatment providers this week, you phone can become your lifeline. Have several people identified in advance that you can call if things get overwhelming or you simply need to do some reality checking and get outside of your own head. Talk to them ahead of time to confirm that they will be available to answer your call or return a text during the holiday. Don’t forget your phone charger.
3. Comfy, cooperative clothes that show off your style but also feel good on your body the way it is right now. If you’re stuck out-of-town or at a party with clothes that don’t fit well, aren’t comfortable, or make you self-conscious, you may be setting yourself up for physical sensations and/or thoughts that are triggering. It’s very easy to be distracted by negative body image thoughts when you could be having fun, catching up with old friends or simply relaxing. Don’t sabotage yourself in advance by packing a wardrobe for the eating disorder. Remember – clothes should fit to your body, not the other way around.
4. Playing cards, word games or MadLibs – If things are tense or awkward you’re feeling like too much attention is on you or your eating disorder, be ready with an activity that can serve as a distraction. You’ll be surprised how quickly everyone, you included, starts focusing on verbs and adjectives instead of the ED when invited to join in a game of MadLibs.
5. Healthy Boundaries. Many people you see or spend time with around the holidays may not know that you’re in recovery from an eating disorder or even understand what that means. If you are put in charge of a holiday task or invited to participate in something that is not in your best interest or puts your recovery at risk, don’t be afraid to say no – you have the right to do that. If your cousin is joining a gym as part of her summer plan and keeps begging you to come along with her for moral support, find a way to let her know that at this time the gym would not be a healthy place for you. You could add that you support her in her efforts toward better health and hope she can understand and support you in your efforts too.
6. Your pet. Not only do they offer unconditional affection and a great distraction, but they can also set a good example for balance and structure during the holidays. Everyone else might be stressed, overwhelmed, or irritable, but Fido still needs to eat, drink, get fresh air and sleep the same as any other day. Follow his lead, just make sure you’ve okayed the furry visitor with your hosts.
7. A sense of humor, perhaps obvious, but it truly can offer a way to manage your own stress and de-stress everyone around you.
8. Your old standbys. If you have coping skills or items that consistently help you on a daily basis don’t take a vacation from what works. These types of things might include:
- an iPod with a motivational playlist
- your journal
- positive affirmations
- deep breathing techniques or meditation tools
- painting or drawing supplies
- CED’s online recovery forum - available 24 hrs a day
- Recovery-focused books like “Life Without Ed” by Jenni Schaefer and “Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder” by Johanna Kandel.
What other essential coping techniques or stress-relief strategies will you be packing for the holidays? Share your ideas on our Facebook page.
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Wishing everyone a healthy and happy holiday from all of us at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt!
Top photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and chokphoto