Holidays are a stressful time for almost everyone. We battle traffic to see family and friends, stretch our budgets on gifts and tips, deal with difficult family relations, face loneliness, fear of missing out, and in general, take stock of where we are in life. For those who battle addictions or disorders such as alcoholism, eating disorders, gambling, social anxiety or compulsive shopping, the holidays can be more than challenging. We turned to Carrie Carlton LCSW at Beachway Therapy in Boyton Beach, Florida for some tips on how to cope if you suffer various afflictions.
For Those With Eating Disorders
Carrie Carlton suggests, “Talk to your treatment team and help identify what difficulties you may expect and problem-solve some strategies for dealing with them. If you are following a meal plan try to stick to it over the holidays. Try to anticipate some of the situations that will make following it harder, such as time in transit, time changes, and not having access to your usual foods. If you are traveling, plan how or where you will get the food you need.” Have the phone numbers of your treatment team and friends available to you.
Carrie Carlton cautions, “If you need to be at a function with certain people who make you uncomfortable, plan some ways to excuse yourself from their immediate presence. Put your own health above anything else at all times. Try not to count calories and try to avoid the scale. If you feel yourself starting to panic because you are feeling too full or if you allowed yourself to eat foods that you consider to be forbidden, remind yourself it is okay to eat what you did, that food will not make you fat, and it is normal to eat more during the holidays. If you end up binging or purging, do not beat yourself up over it. Just put it behind you and move forward. Try to get back on track at the next meal.
Recovering Alcoholics Attending Parties
Carrie Carlton offers the following tips:
Tell a reliable person about your desire to stop drinking. This may hinder you from sneaking away to have a drink.
Bring your own non-alcoholic drinks. This is important to remember if you think that only alcoholic drinks will be served.
Choose only to attend parties you will really enjoy. This can limit the stress of not drinking and will reduce the chances that you will.
Avoid attending parties with alcohol.
Take along a friend. An A.A. friend or someone else you trust will help in keeping you from drinking alcohol.
Show up at a later time. If you have been invited to a dinner party, showing up shortly before dinner may limit the amount of pressure to drink beforehand.
Ask if any food dishes contain alcohol, especially if it is uncooked alcohol.
Attend an A.A. meeting or party so that you can find support in fellow members.
Schedule other plans. Figure out something else to do on the nights you are invited to parties where alcohol will be served. This will keep you from deciding to go last minute!
Remember that choosing not to drink is not rude. Forcing someone to drink is rude.
If You Are Addicted to Shopping
Carrie Carlton advises, “Avoid going holiday shopping alone. Present shopping during the holidays is inevitable. Avoid shopping alone; bring a friend with you and ask them to keep your spending in check. This is not a sign of weakness, it simply means that you know yourself well enough to know what you need this holiday.”
Here are some tips:
Avoid online shopping, period. Block sites if you need to.
Practice a 24-hour rule: No purchase can be made inside of a 24-hour “thinking” period.
Give your credit cards to a trusted friend, keeping only a debit card for daily necessities.
Find an alternative to a shopping expedition – make a plan to volunteer during the holidays or stay home and bake cookies for your neighbors.
Seek help either from a therapist or a support group like Shopaholics Anonymous, Overspenders Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous.
If You Have a Gambling Addiction
Budgeting – If you are a newly recovering gambling addict, you may have already put someone else in charge of your finances. If you are concerned about urges to gamble during the holidays, make sure you do not have access to a surplus of funds or any significant amounts of cash that could raise temptation.
Family Gathering Decisions – Request that family and friends refrain from gambling when playing games together this holiday season. Card games can be enjoyable without the transfer of money or other material goods. While it may be wise for you to refrain from playing these games at all to keep from being reminded of your past gaming activity and the feelings associated with wins and losses, a request that no gambling occurs will allow others to play without posing any immediate danger to you.
Avoid Dangerous Gifts – Similarly, request that no holiday gifts come in the forms of cash or scratch-off tickets. Carrie Carlton cautions that, “Both could trigger the urge to gamble “just this once,” and that action can spiral into the return of a your more serious addiction.”
Know Yourself – Remember what caused you to gamble before, and make sure your behaviors and habits do not change during the holiday season and trigger gambling impulses. This may mean monitoring your alcohol intake, turning down vacation daytrips to casinos with friends, and making sure no extra vacation time causes you any feelings of boredom or loneliness.
For Those With Social Anxiety
Calm Breathing: This helps you calm down quickly. Carrie Carlton say, “We tend to breathe faster when we are anxious. This can make us feel dizzy and lightheaded, which can make us even more anxious. Calm breathing involves taking slow, regular breaths through your nose. It is important to realize that the goal of calm breathing is to make it a little easier to “ride out” the feelings in social situations, not eliminate anxiety completely because anxiety is not dangerous and it’s normal to feel anxious at times.”
Muscle Relaxation: Another helpful strategy involves learning to relax your body. This involves tensing various muscles then relaxing them. This strategy can help lower overall tension and stress levels, which can contribute to anxiety problems
3. Realistic thinking
People with social anxiety tend to have negative thoughts about themselves and about what could happen in social situations.
In closing Carrie Carlton adds the following, “If you believe that social situations are threatening or dangerous, then you are more likely to feel anxious. However, it is important to realize that your thoughts are guesses about what will happen, not actual facts. People with social anxiety tend to over-estimate the degree of danger in social situations.”
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