“Many eating problems aren’t really about food. They are about self-soothing,” writes clinical psychologist Susan Albers, Psy.D, in her book 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.
And the holidays may be a time when we need extra soothing. While the holidays are filled with joyful moments, they can be stressful.
You might have to see family you’re not particularly fond of. Or add 20 tasks to your already long to-do list. Or travel across the country. Or deal with more responsibilities at work.
All the while you might be in desperate need of comfort and calm. And perhaps looking for it in all the wrong places.
All of us eat emotionally from time to time. And that’s OK. But when it becomes chronic, it becomes problematic. Plus, you deserve to have more nurturing options available to you when you’re feeling crummy and need comfort.
So, today, I wanted to provide you with several ideas for soothing yourself gently and effectively. All of these come from Albers’s book.
1. End hide-and-seek feelings.
When it comes to feeling your feelings, Albers suggests practicing radical acceptance: “a way of totally and completely focusing on what is, rather than what you want things to be. It’s accepting the entire situation without trying to change it or fight against it.”
Because it’s when we stop fighting our feelings, she writes, that we can find healthy and productive ways of dealing with them.
Before you start stress eating, Albers suggests repeating these statements:
- “I radically accept myself.”
- “I accept my roller-coaster emotions with all of their ups and downs.”
- “I accept that I cannot change how I feel.”
- “I surrender to this feeling and will commit to finding comfort in healthy ways that do not harm me.”
2. Shoebox it.
Albers suggests shelving some problems, which she says is different from avoiding or ignoring issues. She explains:
“Shelving a problem means to approach the issue strategically and commit to dealing with it at a specific time…This idea is quite like putting away the pictures of your ex after a difficult breakup. When you’re upset, pictures can trigger mournful thoughts and keep you stuck in dwelling on your breakup. When you’re ready to see them without becoming depressed, you can look at them again.”
She suggests creating a temporary storage place for anything that’s bothering you right now but you can’t cope with. Write about the problem and put it in your box. When you’re ready to deal with it, grab the paper from the shoebox. Commit to taking it one step at a time to solve it. Write out the necessary steps.
3. Pamper your senses.
Albers says that one of the reasons why foods are so soothing is because they appeal to our senses. But there are other ways we can effectively calm our senses.
She lists the following examples: sipping hot or cold tea (research has even shown that black tea may lower the stress hormone cortisol); applying a warm or cold washcloth over your eyes, feet or forehead; buying an inexpensive waterfall, which can be soothing to your ears; and wrapping yourself up in a blanket to feel protected and cozy.
4. Turn off the carnival in your head.
Not surprisingly, we can stress eat when we feel overwhelmed. Personally, I’m very sensitive to sounds (and other stimuli!), and my anxiety peaks with too many loud noises.
“When your senses are constantly in use and are continually processing information, overstimulation results…Eating may be a way of trying to temporarily tone down or drown out the barrage of sensations you experience during the day,” Albers writes.
So if you’re overwhelmed, remove as must stimulation as possible, Albers says. Here are some of her suggestions:
- Move to a quieter space.
- Turn off your cell phone, and close your email.
- Cool it on the caffeine.
- Turn off the lights, lower the shades and cover your head with a pillow.
- Put on loose, soft clothes.
- Use your hands to calm down. “For a minute, place your thumbs over your ears. With your thumbs still covering your ears, use your index fingers to cover your closed eyes.”
What are your favorite healthy coping strategies?