Thank you for the positive feedback on the previous post titled, Stripped Bare. It was difficult to eloquently express my experiences, memories and feelings regarding the subject matter, and I’m ever so pleased that it was well received.
Within that post I mentioned how I truly enjoyed the collaborative piece on Women’s Mental Health, and wished to pursue similar opportunities in the future for different topics.
Today we shall be taking a dive into the management of eating disorders, depression, and anxiety during the festive period. I shall be discussing eating disorders, and another mental health warrior who was featured in my last post – shall be discussing depression and anxiety.
The person in question is someone I know well. Her name is Charlotte, an independent poet and someone with a passion to support the mental health movement through the medium of writing. Therefore, I am privileged to have her contribute today.
So sit back, get comfortable, get a snack, and take some time out of your day to enjoy this post dedicated to mental health throughout the festive season.
Take it away Char!
Follow Char on Instagram @char.whittaker @c.avities
As we’re approaching the holidays it’s important to acknowledge that although it’s ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ for many, for sufferers of mental illness it can be a very confusing and challenging time. The holidays are a time where people expect you to be joyous, present and involved… but for sufferers of depression, anxiety, and ED’s (as Lori highlights) this can be incredibly hard to achieve.
For me Christmas is a time with a lot of overwhelming activities. I find myself feeling lost and lonely in the big crowds, as well as feeling anxious about how the people I am spending the holiday with are perceiving my involvement with a conversation. I always feel guilty for not being able to engage with the people I love as much as I would like to, because of all the worries that the holiday season can bring. I feel like there are expectations which I should be living up to, but I fear I can’t.
This year, I am diving head-first into the holidays with a hopeful attitude because finally, after 18 christmas’ on this earth, I feel prepared for it. I know there’s going to be crowds, I know there is going to be stress and I know that I might not feel the best… but I’m not afraid of that anymore.
Here are my top tips for managing the holidays
- Take Breaks Big gatherings, family parties and lots of noise tends to be part and parcel of the holidays. These events can cause people with anxiety (myself included) to become very overwhelmed. So if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with everything going on, take a moment for yourself. It’s simple but effective. Go upstairs and listen to your favourite song, go for a walk as a family or even something as simple as asking anybody if they would like you to grab them a drink from the kitchen to distract yourself. Give yourself space to calm down and realise that it’s okay to be overwhelmed, it’s not shameful! If you can’t physically leave the situation that is making you feel overwhelmed, you can mentally overcome it, even checking out of the main conversation for a minute can be really refreshing.
- Talk about how you’re feeling I know that this is easier said than done but honestly, it makes the whole process of the holidays easier. This can completely remove the social expectations attached to how you should act around the holidays and at certain events. Tell your family that you’re feeling a bit down, tell them that you’re struggling with the crowds, the noise or the food. This will allow them to support you through it and even adjust certain things so that it makes you more comfortable. After all, the holidays are for everyone, you included! If you’re family aren’t supportive or won’t make adjustments for you, they can’t say you didn’t try and they can’t force those expectations on you.
- Show love Something that really helps me when I’m feeling down is to put kindness out into the world and make somebody else feel good about themselves. Embrace the loving, family aspect of the holidays. Give gifts, give advice and show kindness. You can do so many amazing things with your existence and even if you’re feeling guilty, lost or anxious… you can make someone else feel loved and happy. You may find that spreading love will make you feel warm inside too.
- You are strong but it’s okay to feel otherwise at times My other tips have all been about avoiding getting to a breaking point… but it’s okay if you need to break. Stars are one of the most beautiful wonders of the universe because they have exploded. I’m not suggesting that breakdowns are beautiful, just that we don’t judge stars for allowing themselves to break. Why do we judge ourselves? It’s okay to hurt sometimes, no matter what is going on around us. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, if you need to cry… cry. Then, you can begin to heal.
Eating disorders: food fears during festivities
As an E.D survivor, the festive period and new year can be difficult to manage. This is due to multiple factors, but mainly it’s because of the popular concepts projected in society surrounding food and appearances.
My E.D journey started 3 years ago, however I only fully embraced active recovery at the end of 2016. Prior to this and to this present day, I have experienced eating disordered thoughts surrounding my appetite, food choices, and fears of subsequent weight gain.
Coping with E.D’s
There’s a significant difference between my behaviours in the present day in comparison to the previous years. I am no longer acting upon E.D thoughts, and it has been difficult to do so; especially during the christmas period. But by golly has it made a difference!
To do this I took an active role in distinguishing E.D thoughts, processing E.D thoughts, and rationalising them.
So when I have an E.D thought for example, ‘there’s too many calories in this I’ll have to leave some’, I rationalise this thought by thinking ‘if I feel full I’ll stop, if not I won’t’.
Why I no longer mistrust my body
This diverts my reliance upon mentally driven food urges, to biologically driven food urges. By listening to my body I am fulfilling the needs which my E.D thoughts would have deprived me of if I acted upon them. I am no longer depending upon the influence of my disordered cognitions, because even though it is still rooted in unconscious, I know that it is irrational, illogical, and something which can be overcome with time. Something I am capable of doing. Something you are capable of doing.
Maintaining recovery skills during the holidays
Recovery is a constant process which those working to overcome eating disorders, face. It involves recording what we have eaten, rewarding progress, recording our thoughts and subsequent emotions, managing emotions, and continuing to pursue recovery without being deterred. It’s something which can take its toll on you, however if you have the strength to maintain an eating disorder, you definitely have the strength to overcome and grow from an eating disorder. You can do this, but it isn’t gonna be easy. That’s why recovery is worth it.
As I have mentioned in a previous post regarding S.A.D, I no longer wish to separate myself from the festivities because of my fears and illnesses. I shall incorporate aspects of the Christmas period into my normal E.D management strategies; because why change the way we manage our disorder because it’s christmas? We celebrate in a way which involves every aspect of ourself, and accommodates our recovery.
I personally view recovery as something which is a constant, therefore to see it as something separate to my personal life, and exclude it from that, can make it seem more daunting, suppressing, and uninviting.
Firstly you need to ask yourself the ways in which you manage your recovery, reward progress, track your accomplishments, and challenge your eating disordered thoughts.
If you don’t know, or are unsure whether you do to begin with, that’s okay. Don’t worry we all start at the same place in our recovery journeys, by making the decision to take an active role in recovery. You are doing well enough, and you need not compare your journey to anyone else’s. You’re not running the same race, your lanes are completely different, with unique hurdles, distances, and time it takes to reach your set goals.
Everyone has methods which they prefer, or they find they didn’t see useful; so it’s trial and error – try ’em all, and stick to those which are most beneficial for you.
Some of the methods I have found beneficial include:
DISCLAIMER: please consult your dietitian or GP regarding any changes you make to your recovery process if you’re under the care of an eating disorder service. Furthermore, I am not a medical professional and I am speaking purely from my own personal experience. I am not suggesting that these methods will be better for you than those you already use, or have been instructed to use by an eating disorder service.
No longer counting calories
No longer do I count calories or check the calorie content in what I eat, because that’s not important to my recovery anymore. However, when I first embarked on my journey I did still count calories, and I used calorie contents to reach a healthy BMI; purely for health reasons. However once I reached this milestone, I didn’t count calories. I wanted to get out of the habit of doing so, and by challenging myself with fear foods and challenging my eating disordered thoughts – I was furthering my recovery.
As mentioned above, I haven’t included calorie goals in my food trackers for some time – but if you do, and find this works best to encourage you to gain weight or tackle E.D urges in a healthy way without restriction, then that’s totally fine. These can be incorporated into the techniques described in this section.
To fully embrace the festivities, I have found that using festive planners, pens, stickers, and stamps have been a cool way to personalise my holiday and consciously make the effort to involve my E.D recovery with the holiday I used to distance myself from; due to food related fears.
Firstly, I would record the foods which I have eaten in during the day for my breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and tea. At one point I would use the calorie goal which I was set to help schedule which foods I would be eating whilst ensuring nutritional balance, and challenging fear-foods.
When I overcome a fear-food, struggle to do so, and experienced E.D thoughts and urges, I would record them and use this information to set new goals for myself to achieve to overcome this hurdle.
Trying seasonal foods
During the autumn and winter we tend to see an influx of seasonal baked goods, cereals, drinks, and savoury foods hit the shelves. A tool I find to be very useful is to try as many of the seasonal foods as I can, within reason. I use these as a challenge food, something I would consider a fear provoking food.
You may think to yourself “why would you actively want to expose yourself to a fear?” Good question, because by allowing fears to discourage me from having foods that I would otherwise enjoy, I am acting upon my E.D thoughts, and unintentionally decreasing my control on my disorder.
So you go try those seasonal foods honey, why should you miss out? Set the consumption of fear-foods as a challenge for yourself, you can do it.
With this being said, we’ve come to the end of our post. If you enjoyed it, share and show some love with the like, follow and comment sections.
I hope that you all have a wonderful festive season, whether you celebrate or not.
The next post will be about new years, and what to expect from From Bud to Bloom, along with a preparatiuon guide to support your mental illness through into 2019.