Ready or not, the holiday season is among us. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a holiday that is supposed to be about what you are thankful for, but is really all about eating until you feel sick. For some people, it is a time of year where their families get together, which may or may not be a joyous occasion. I am lucky enough to have a supportive family and one that is in tune with my triggers and are ready and willing to help me through. Unfortunately, that isn't the case for everyone, which I hate! I don't have all the answers, but I have survived the last 12 holiday seasons while keeping my anxiety, depression, and eating disorder in check. In an effort to hopefully help others make it through the holidays I am making a special post about some things that have helped me in years past.
Make a plan: Whether you have anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, or all three like I do, making a plan is key! Know your schedule. What places do you have to visit and when. How long will you be at each place. What food will be served, and what food will you choose to eat. One of the best advice I was given from my previous treatment center when it came to Thanksgiving, was to make a mental plan of your plate. Decide ahead of time what you will put on your plate and breathe knowing that what is on your plate will nourish your body. For example, I know that I will be at two places that will have more food than I could ever imagine eating. In the moment, it can be very overwhelming. Think "all you can eat" buffet stress. It helps me to know before that I will put a serving of turkey or ham (whichever is offered), my Grandma's noodles, and a deviled egg or two. No matter how loud my eating disorder yells, I know that my plate offers my body the carbs, proteins, and fats that it needs to be the badass that it continues to be. I will give my body time to digest while we visit with family and head to our second stop. My plan for the second stop is to have my dessert. I also know roughly how long each visit will be, so if my anxiety becomes triggered, I know it is temporary.
Have a support on Stand By: Be proactive and reach out to a support and ask them to be on "stand by" for you. A simple text will do: "Happy Thanksgiving, I am worried that today may be a struggle for me, would you mind if I called or texted you throughout the day for support?" Support can look like a lot of things. It can be simply a listening ear, someone to send you funny Gifs or memes, or your "getaway car." This is something I do all year, not just on holidays! I have severe social anxiety, so it is not uncommon for me to be texting a friend or my sister when I am feeling uncomfortable. It helps me feel less alone or uncomfortable in the situation I am in. If you don't have someone, email me! I have plenty of go-to Gifs, Tik-Toks, encouraging words, and memes saved and ready to go! (firstname.lastname@example.org) I have the email on my phone, and because I am an avid Black Friday shopper, I will be checking my email frequently tomorrow :)
Focus on Four: Part of my full time job is teaching children coping skills for their emotions. One of the most helpful and practical skill I teach them is different breathing techniques. One of the reasons I teach this one is because it is something they can do during class without anyone noticing. Unfortunately, we can't always hide in a dark room and turn on some TSwift when we feel triggered. There are times when we have to function through the anxiety, and breathing is key. For this one, you are going to pick four words that are meaningful to you. They can be intentions, like hope, love, happiness, or they can be names of loved ones you are grateful for. As you inhale, you will touch one finger at a time to your thumb and say the words/names in your head with each finger touch. For example: My words are "love, family, pets, friends". I will touch my pinky to thumb and think "love". Touch ring finger to thumb and think "family". Touch middle finger to thumb and think "pets". Touch pointer finger to thumb and think "friends". At the same time, you are taking one big breath in. After you touch all four fingers, reverse the finger taps and exhale. Breath in (love, family, pets, friends). Breath out (love, family, pets, friends). This serves lots of purposes. It helps you control your breathing which can help your anxiety, it also helps focus your brain on something other than whatever the trigger is.
5,4,3,2,1: For someone that doesn't like math, I use numbers a lot when it comes to my coping strategies! This is a mindfulness technique I learned back in therapy years ago! The goal of this skill is to ground you and help you be more mindful and present. When you catch your mind spinning into the mental health Twilight Zone try this. Notice five things in the room, four things your body feels in the moment, three things you can hear, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. If I were to do this right now it would look something like this: See my cat, tv, toes wiggling in socks, plants, pillows. Feel an itch on my back, my hair against my neck, tension in my shoulders, pillows behind my back. Hear the turtle's water filter, tv show, keyboard clicking. Smell cinnamon from my diffuser, clean pajamas. Taste peppermint patty. This is another one you can do in your head and no one will know you are doing it!
End your day with a treat: Getting through tough situations can be more manageable if you plan a little light at the end of the tunnel. Schedule some self care for when you get home. Maybe it is taking a long hot bath, putting on a relaxing face mask, watching a movie you love or one you haven't seen before. For me, it will be taking a nap! Knowing that when I am finished doing something I will get to take a nap is a huge motivator for me! This girl loves her sleep. No matter how stressful the day may be, find a way to end it on your terms doing something that makes your soul smile.
Set Boundaries: Setting boundaries with people you love may be one of the hardest things to do! It is okay to know your limits and say no. If you have too many places you have been invited to for Thanksgiving, it is okay to not visit every single one! If you are a people pleaser this can be really hard to do. But, if you are stretching yourself too thin or stressing over making it to all the stops, then are you really enjoying yourself or the people you are with? If conversation at the dinner table enters a zone you aren't comfortable with, it is OKAY not to engage in that conversation. You can excuse yourself for a moment. Go to the bathroom even if you don't have to go, just take a moment to yourself. If the topic hasn't changed when you get back, it is okay to say "I really don't want to talk about that right now." It is your holiday too!
Brainstorm: This could really fit with number 1, but if you struggle with social anxiety like I do, carrying on conversation isn't easy. Sometimes it can be hard to do even with family. Before. think about who you will be visiting with and what are some things you can talk about, ask them about, or memories you can talk about. Make a list on your phone if you need to! This can help in the moment when the only thing your brain is thinking and feeling is your mental health struggle.
Wear something comfortable: there is nothing worse than feeling uncomfortably full and feeling the waistband of your pants feeling tighter. Wear something you won’t feel triggered in. My holiday looks are either leggings, or a dress! Both options give me room to bloat with one less trigger to stress over!
I certainly don't have all the answers, and my list is just based on me experiences. I'm not a mental health professional, just someone that struggles and has learned a lot through the years. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency PLEASE go to your local emergency room or call 9-1-1. The holidays are a very triggering time. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide during the holiday season, or anytime, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Save it in your phone as a contact! It is always better to be safe and prepared. Your lives are too important! Feel free to share the link to this post if you feel it could help even 1 person!
I hope that everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving. I am forever Thankful for all of you!
<3 Stay Strong and Beautiful