When you think of the word “holidays,” the vision that comes to mind is of treats.
Specifically, holiday treats.
Specifically, those marshmallow chocolate sprinkled things your mother always makes….the ones with the mint centers and gooey tops.
And the peppermint ice cream with hot fudge that your family always has as a Christmas evening tradition. And the spicy-sweet popcorn mix with extra real butter for the night you watch “Twas the Night before Christmas” with all the kids. And the annual community-wide block party with the neighbor’s homemade fudge, and the home-fried doughnuts, and the…..
Your mouth is watering already. You have been SO good all year long…. for just such a season as this. While you can already see the New Year (and the New Year’s diet) looming, that dread can be put off for a month or so yet. You tell yourself that you will tackle the diet when you get to it.
To be honest, you are aware that you tend to indulge to excess during the holidays, to the point where you have an extra set of clothes waiting in the wings – all a size larger – and you dread New Year’s Day, when you have to squirm your way into something extra-tight to go to your annual family get together.
You’re just not sure what to do about it. Just the thought – not to mention the sight – of all those holiday treats, and you seem to lose all self control.
But this year, you have a new bag of tricks up your sleeve. You have been studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and your group leader has told you that using the four principles of DBT might help you.
Your goal is to maintain better self-control during the holidays, but balance that with a less restrictive, treat-aversive attitude throughout the rest of the year. Your group leader thinks that with some balance year-round, and a bit more willingness to indulge in treats here and there throughout the rest of the year, you won’t be as prone to excess when the holidays roll around.
You sure hope she is right!
You start by practicing mindfulness. As your table fills up with holiday goodies each night, you simply observe, with radical acceptance of what is, that they are maintaining a presence there. You feel that familiar craving deep in your abdomen. You witness yourself imagining how each treat will taste.
From there, you notice the frustration arising within you. You want all of the treats! Now! You feel stress – which ones should you start with? How many of each? What if you overindulge again and feel guilty like you did last year? You use your new emotion regulation technique to name each emotion as it arises – not engaging, but simply naming. Frustration. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Regret. Guilt. Shame.
As the emotions present themselves and you give them names, you are simultaneously practicing distress tolerance – the ability to stand in the presence of strong emotions without allowing them to overtake you. You accept that these are today’s events, like them or not, accept them or not. You choose to learn from (if not like) them, and to accept them by reminding yourself that you are stronger and wiser than any temporary disturbance that you may happen upon in the course of a day.
Finally, you use your newfound interpersonal regulation skills to remind yourself that food treats are not the only way you can reward and treat yourself. You can brew yourself a lovely warm cup of tea. You can invite a loved one for a brisk walk and watch the snowflakes fall while the moon shines above. You can pop in a good movie that you love to laugh at. You can draw a bath…or turn in early to get a few extra winks of sleep. You can read a favorite book or snuggle with your spouse.
In this way, you begin to relate to yourself as a whole being rather than as an emotion-driven stomach, and slowly, those cravings in your abdomen begin to unclench you and leave you in peace….turning a longstanding holiday woe into a true miraculous wonder.
If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.
Be Well – and happy holidays!