Thanksgiving is coming right around the corner.
I don't think I had to tell you that. If you struggle with an eating disorder, you may be hyperaware of the upcoming holiday and have a level of anxiety surrounding it's presence.
Thanksgiving tends to be difficult for several reasons. First, there tends to be an unspoken expectation that everyone will eat and offense may be taken if someone at the table does not eat. This is, perhaps, the most stressful part of the holiday.
Secondly, extended family that you may only see once or twice a year tend to make their way to the Thanksgiving meal. Yes, uncle Jimmy and aunt Helen who you may have last seen several years back may feel the unbearable guilt of not having seen family recently and decide to attend ;) This adds several layers of stress because maybe aunt Helen is a bit of a wild card and tends to say triggering things. Do we all have these extended family oddities or is it just me?
Third, maybe even your immediate family (parents, spouse, etc) may have their own anxiety about the day and your experience of it. This may cause them to over focus on you and the event, thus resulting in even more anxiety for you and fears that they are "watching you." PS: It's never fun to feel watched in these situations.
Ok, so what can be done?
3 Tips to Minimize Fear and Enjoy Thanksgiving
Yes, you read that right. Enjoy... Wouldn't that be nice? Thanksgiving can become enjoyable again - it really can! Let's get back to that.
1. TALK TO YOUR INNER CIRCLE OF LOVED ONES
There are far too many unspoken things in many families. It is often best to put a few things in the air. It will likely help you feel better after you do it. Discuss your fears about the day and seek to figure out a plan that both you and they are comfortable with. This plan may involve food, amount of time you need to be present with everyone (if that is stressful), concern about parents/ spouse "watching you" during the meal, and any other area that may need to be discussed and planned for up front.
Maybe you can have your sister keep an eye out and help you get out of a conversation with Aunt Helen if she starts saying triggering things. Planning ahead will help reduce the stress you may encounter if you just wing it.
2. NO NEED TO CHALLENGE YOURSELF ON THANKSGIVING
I have spoken with many people who are in the early stages of recovery who feel like they "have to" challenge themselves on Thanksgiving day. I tend to think that if you desire to challenge yourself on Thanksgiving, that is fine, but if you are scared of it and are doing it because you feel like you are "supposed to," it not be necessary.
First and foremost, Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to enjoy family and friends. Even in the process of recovery from an eating disorder, the day does not have to be "used" as a way to challenge yourself beyond your comfort zone.
3. SCHEDULE SOMETHING IN THE DAY THAT YOU ENJOY
While there are often family pressures and expectations for the day, talking to your family ahead of time (#1) and scheduling something enjoyable or relaxing for you may be helpful. Schedule an evening bath, yoga (if medically appropriate), time to watch your favorite football game, go for a walk with a friend, etc.
As human beings, we tend to do better when we have something to look forward to. Stressful events tend to be more tolerable when we are excited about something coming soon.
Of course, all of these tips are dependent on your stage of recovery. They may look different dependent upon where you are in the recovery process. If you are not motivated to change and are looking for ways to hide your eating disordered behaviors from your family, then these tips are not going to be very applicable. These tips assume a level of motivation and a sense of openness and honesty with your loved ones.
I hope that you are able to take something away from this and find Thanksgiving far more enjoyable than you ever thought :)
The purpose of this blog entry is to share eating disorder recovery related ideas and does not represent professional medical of psychological advice from Mike Thomas or Recovery Spark. For professional advice, please connect with a qualified medical or mental health professional.