Spirituality & Health Magazine

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Child reaching for cookies
Wed, December 14 2016

Holiday Survival Guide for Addictive Behaviors

By:
Julie Peters

It’s the most wonderful time of the year....right?

The holidays can certainly brighten the darkest days of the year, but this season also comes with baggage. We see family or, pointedly, don’t. Cyclic grief pops up like it does every year. We have to go shopping.

This time of year can trigger the need for stress coping mechanisms. A little bit of overindulging is no big deal, but it can get dangerous if we start self-medicating with eggnog.  

The first thing we need for handling the holidays (and everything else) is mindfulness. This simply means taking time out to notice how we feel. I like meditating for ten minutes in the morning, breathing into my body and noticing what thoughts arise. If meditating doesn’t work for you, lie down for ten minutes without sleeping, take a walk without your phone, or take the bus without playing Candy Crush. Create some space to check in.

A big piece of this process is allowing any and all emotions to arise. When they do, we say hello to them—even if they are painful. If judgment, shame, or blame arise, we say hello to them, too. This takes a measure of courage. Honestly acknowledging how we feel is a simple practice, but not an easy one.

We can actually use our addictive behaviors as mindfulness tools. It can be hard to decipher what we feel; it’s much easier to notice that we just ate that whole bowl of shrimp. If we can catch ourselves in the behavior, we can pause and ask: What was I just thinking about? The behavior can lead us to the emotion or thought that triggered it.  

Here, again, shame or blame may arise. We must remember that the reason we turned to the behavior is because it helps. For many of us, we learned about using food or alcohol (or TV or whatever) as a way to cope with stress a very long time ago. It’s a deep urge in us, and it has made us feel better over and over again in our lives. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. If, however, the behavior is creating negative consequences for ourselves or others, then it’s an addiction, and we need alternative strategies for feeling better.

When we can cultivate healthier coping strategies, we can turn to them when we notice the urge to eat the whole plate of cookies—or when the plate is already empty. Even if we add the new strategy after the old one has already started, we are still laying new pathways in the brain, making it easier to reach for the alternatives earlier next time. Here are some examples of quick, accessible actions that might help:

  • take a walk
  • take a shower
  • take five minutes to lie in savasana or put your legs up the wall
  • go to yoga/the gym/dance class
  • call a friend you trust
  • play Candy Crush for five minutes (yes, there’s research to indicate this can help!)
  • play some music
  • write down your feelings
  • draw  

Please keep in mind that addictions are not solved quickly, and mindfulness isn’t always enough. Some of us need professional help, and reaching out can also be a rich and rewarding practice. We all need coping mechanisms, and it takes time to rewire the brain towards healthier behaviors. Noticing how we feel, practising being kind to ourselves, and having options at the ready for when things get a little hairy may help us have a happy holiday after all.

Julie Peters's picture

Join yoga teacher Julie Peters on an exploration into the real life of yoga—how the philosophies and experiences of the practice can help us learn from our bodies, enrich our relationships, face our deepest shadows, and laugh at ourselves along the way. Julie is the author of the  book Secrets of the Eternal Moon Phase Goddesses: Meditations on Desire, Relationships, and the Art of Being Broken (Turner Publishing). See www.jcpeters.ca for more details.

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