Navigating The Holidays
By Shaely Ritchey
We are heading into the holiday season with its bright lights, festive decorations, traditions and holiday favourites, from movies to meals. This time of year brings with it many emotions, such as joy, excitement, and love, but also moments of stress, loneliness, and overwhelm. For those in recovery from an eating disorder, it can be a challenging time as much of the holiday season centers on food and family – both sources of nourishment and stress.
Navigating triggers such as diet talk, social events or social isolation, and having to engage with different situations around food, can bring up a lot of difficult feelings. However, the holiday season can also bring with it the opportunity to challenge ourselves, create new memories, and engage with new experiences. Doing so is certainly not always easy, but there are ways in which we can protect our recovery when we find ourselves caught up in moments that put us to the test.
Creating Space for Ourselves
Amidst a flurry of holiday activities, finding space to recharge and ground ourselves is vital self-care. It is always okay to set boundaries around engagement and to take time away from activity to ensure we are looking after ourselves. Often it can feel as though if we are not committing 100% of our energy to something then we must be failing. However, offering 20% of ourselves in our efforts to engage is just as meaningful, even if we have to step away after a time or set a boundary around the type of activity we are engaging in. It is always okay to choose to partake in the activities that feel they support you and help you grow over other options that might feel more draining. We get to decide how we are going to engage and what is meaningful to us.
It can be quite helpful to have a few ideas of restoring activities or practices that we can turn to if we are feeling drained. Whether these are in the moment (such as deep breathing or stepping away for a second to ground ourselves) or practices we can carve out time for (reading, yoga, connecting with nature, talking to a supportive person in our lives.)
- What sorts of things help you find yourself again?
- What practices ground you or make you feel refreshed?
- How can you incorporate them into your holiday plans?
Disengaging with Diet Talk
One of the most challenging parts of the holiday season is the heavy presence of diet talk. It has become such a normal part of this season, starting with end of the year celebrations and moving on to new year’s resolutions. Watch what you eat, holiday weight, a sense of guilt for indulgence, weight loss as self-improvement... These ideas become more concentrated, discussed, and marketed around the holidays. However, just because this kind of attitude towards food and our relationship with our bodies has become commonplace, does not mean we have to accept it for ourselves and our lives. To reject the harmful notions of diet culture is radical act of self-love, but it is not always an easy thing to do. Toxic diet culture messages are pervasive in our personal interactions, from comments people make, to the broader cultural messages we receive at this time of year (and beyond). Still, there are some things we can do to look after our needs.
- Practice setting boundaries in conversations that lean towards the unhelpful. “Thank you, but I really don’t find it helpful to discuss these things.” “I’m working hard to practice gentleness towards my relationship with food and my body.” “I understand you probably mean no harm, but I don’t find this conversation helpful.” “I try my best not to focus on weight or food, I find it a much healthier approach for myself.” These are all statements we can reach for when a conversation starts heading in the direction of diet talk.
- Establish one person you can turn to during potentially stressful social events, especially those that revolve around food. Let them know how the event might be challenging for you and lean on each other as needed to help re-ground yourself in your own values around food and weight. It could be someone present at the event or a friend who is just a message away should you need them.
- Surround yourself with positive social media. It can be hard to tune out the constant advertisements selling a “new year, new you!” but we do have some control over the media we are exposed to. Follow body positive and positive mental health social media accounts, steer away from television advertisements, employ the blocking function in your browser for social media sites like Facebook, and seek out positive role models. Research shows that what we are exposed to shapes our body image and self-esteem. This means that we have the power to broaden our thinking and shift the way we see things on an individual and societal level, simply by creating more exposure of diverse body types and lived experiences.
- Finally, ground yourself in knowing that just because other people are pursuing diet culture values does not mean that you must. What do you want your life to look like? Does dieting align with this? What are YOUR core values? When you are reflecting on your life how do you want to remember it? Likely you want to be able to look back on memories that have nothing to do with your weight, shape, or size.
Practicing gratitude is a simple but powerful skill. It can help us to remember that “while every day may not be good, there is some good in every day.” It can help us pick out the good moments from the stressful ones. Human brains have the tendency to focus on the negative as it has helped our species adapt and survive. However, this is not always well suited to today’s day and age though and that is why finding the good in each day (no matter how small) can help challenge your brain to notice the details to be cherished and celebrated.
There are many ways to practice gratitude. I personally strive to take a photo each day as it helps me pause and notice the beautiful details in the every day. But you can also write down your gratitude’s, quietly reflect on them in a personal practice, or find some other way of connecting with them. It is what works for you that matters.
Reflecting on Progress
As the year comes to an end, it is the perfect time to reflect on and celebrate the progress you have made this year. You might not be where you want to be just yet, but that does not erase the steps you have taken this year even if you have just felt like you are surviving. Each time we face our fears, challenge ourselves, and survive our thoughts, we take something back of ourselves and fight for a future we deserve. Even when things have not worked out how we might have hoped or there were things that happened that we could not have foreseen. Even if these feel like steps backward or an unanticipated change in direction, you survived the best way you knew how and that is courageous. The pieces may not have fallen together yet, but that does not change the fact that you have learned and grown or that you are deserving of love and a future where the pieces do fall into place. Life is fluid and we move with it the best way we know how. You have survived, maybe you have thrived. No matter what, you are a warrior. Keep fighting for the life you deserve.
Here are some questions to consider in your reflective practice:
- What has this year taught me?
- What am I grateful for from this past year?
- What are my fondest memories from this past year?
- What challenges have I faced this year?
- What victories have I had this year?
The other gift this time of year offers is the chance to look forward and set our intentions for what is to come. Setting intentions can look like anything, from concrete goal-planning to simply holding space to imagine the future and what we hope it to be. Without a doubt life will bring its challenges and things may shift in ways we cannot anticipate, but we can still open ourselves up to thinking about the future (even if it feels hard to relate to) and what we might want to see from it.
Here are some reflective questions to get you started:
- What do I hope for this coming year?
- What am I looking forward to?
- What goals would I like to achieve in the coming year?
- Do I want this year to be different? How do I want this year to be different?
- What fills me with hope for the coming year and how can I stay connected to that feeling?
Last but certainly not least, this time of year is a wonderful opportunity to practice compassion for ourselves. Likely we will run into stresses that challenge us and make us want to retreat from engagement over the coming weeks. While it is often hardest to reach for self-compassion in moments of challenge, it is usually the time when we need it the most. So, this holiday season when you are faced with anxiety over food, stressed by social situations, or feeling isolated while it might seem everyone else in the world is connecting, be gentle with yourself. Look for the ways you can comfort yourself, practice self-care, remember you are human, and find what renews your soul.
The holiday season can be tough. Recovery can be tough, but guess what, so are you.
Shaely is a registered nurse with interest in further education in nursing or medicine. She is also a passionate mental health advocate in her community. In her spare time she loves taking photographs, getting outdoors, and petting as many dogs as she can.