Despite its festivities, the holiday season can present a number of challenges for those in eating disorder recovery. For some, family time can be stressful. Food is often abundant and not on a regular schedule. In many cases, individuals leave the comforts of their homes and routines in order to celebrate with others. Those with co-occurring illness, such as alcohol/substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, or trauma may face additional challenges during this time.
Toward the goal of relapse prevention, a little planning can go a long way. As the holiday season approaches, consider these five “S”s that can help reduce the likelihood of symptoms escalating or re-emerging:
Going into the holidays, take a personal inventory. How have you been doing? What has been challenging for you recently? What have you learned from past events? What types of triggers do you anticipate going into the holidays this year?
Planning is the enemy of relapse. While it might be impossible to predict every potential scenario, strategizing certain situations can go a long way. For instance, if you’re attending a holiday gathering, discuss with one of your treatment professionals how you’ll approach food before, during, and after this event. How will you respond if someone comments on what you’re eating or your weight? If you’re sober, assume someone will offer you a drink; have a response ready to go. Have some topics in mind to discuss if the conversation turns sour (e.g., when the inevitable New Year’s diet talk ensues).
Think about who your supports are and reach out before the holidays approach to see if they’re on board to provide you help if needed. Your interpersonal arsenal might include specific family members, friends, treating professionals, peers from treatment, or others who have identified themselves as healthy supports. Ask your supports if they’ll be available to talk/message at designated times. See if you can check in before and after specific events that you anticipate to be particularly challenging, a practice referred to as “bookending.”
Knowing that the holidays can create additional stress necessitates a ramping up of your standard self-care routine. What can you do that calms you/centers you in preparation for this time? Now is the time to be particularly gentle with yourself. During a stressful situation, are there specific tools you can use to help you through? Do you have an escape strategy ready to go? If something triggers you, and you’re at an event, can you step outside and get some fresh air or contact one of your supports? Are there any pleasurable activities you can get on your calendar following your holiday commitments?
Recognize that, despite your best efforts, setbacks can happen. How you respond to potential setbacks can influence their duration and severity. Recovery is a process of learning from experience, maintaining motivation and commitment, and cultivating self-compassion.