Christmas - Stress, 'comfort' eating and eating distress
With the Christmas and party season quickly approaching I recognise how for so many of us this can be an extremely difficult and stressful time. Yesterday I watched the scenes that appeared to have played out in so many stores throughout the UK as folks scrambled to buy items in the Black Friday sales.
I watched aghast as people fought in stores to grab and purchase items in what to an outside observer appeared a very stressful situation.
And then of course there are those of us who may feel lonely at Christmas, whether we are in a relationship or single, the media’s portrayal of the “perfect Happy Christmas” is everywhere - which doesn't help.
Some of us at these times may turn to food to ‘comfort’ ourselves.
We all have different ways of dealing with our stress but some of us may use food as a means ‘switch’ out our stress. Trying to numb ourselves with food, often trying not to feel anything at all, since feeling nothing is better than feeling upset. Some of us find our feelings difficult to manage, and may crave carbohydrates and sweet things which can help release serotonin into the brain. Sugar also stimulates the release of beta-endorphin, which can reduce pain, both physical and emotional.
If this sounds familiar, I wonder if you have ever considered that you are ‘self-medicating’ with food?
In the build up to Christmas, adverts for food seem to be everywhere, encouraging us to buy, buy, buy, with supermarkets offering ‘BOGOFs’ galore. And in a few weeks we will be then be prompted, cajoled, shamed by the diet industry to lose the excess weight we have gained – can we ever win?
And I wonder how often after the frantic build up we feel disappointed at Christmas? How many of us are so used to putting other people first all the time and never giving ourselves a thought, believing others needs are greater than our own?
If any of this feels familiar to you here are some useful tips to help reduce the stress;
- Give yourself a gentle hug - this may sound silly but this can help to calm you down. Our body responds to a hug the same as a baby responds being held in its carers arms. Our skin is an incredible sensitive organ. Research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin, which provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions and calms cardiovascular stress.
- Breathing - sit upright and take some soothing breaths, slightly deeper and slower than normal to encourage a sense of calm, five to six breaths per minute.
- Gentle exercise can stimulate endorphins and some research has shown it is an effective anti-depressant - so get wrapped up and go for a walk.
- Self-soothing - having some calm time to read a magazine, talk to friends, soak in a scented bath, wear perfume or paint your nails.
- Treat yourself to a body massage as it is thought to have good effects by reducing stress hormones like cortisol.
- Mindfulness is also thought to act as a natural tranquilliser, reducing cortisol levels. Much literature is available but for an easy introduction I have enjoyed - Williams Mark & Penman Danny (2014) Mindfulness a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, Piatkus. This book also includes a CD with short mindfulness exercises.
- Changing your self-critical voice. There is an inner critic inside of each of us that can say mean and negative things about ourselves in a hostile voice. After eating at a party the inner dialogue may go like this “I can’t believe I ate so much, I’m disgusted with myself. I guess I may as well finish off that bowl of crisps.” Criticising yourself in this way will probably make you eat more as a means of self-comfort – eating to feel better because you feel bad about eating. Try reframing the comments made by your inner critic by imagining what we would say to a child or a dear friend in this situation.
You may find the following books of interest;
Buckroyd Julia (2011) Understanding Your Eating, how to eat and not worry about it, Open University Press
Gerdhardt Sue (2004) Why Love Matters, how affection shapes a baby’s brain, Routledge
Longhurst Astrid (2003) Body Confidence – How wonderful, just as you are, Penguin
Roth Geneen (1992) When Food is Love, exploring the relationship between eating and intimacy, Plume
Williams Mark & Penman Danny (2014) Mindfulness a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, Piatkus
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