Off the Couch

Thoughts about the therapeutic process, and the dynamics of client-therapist interactions.

Indulge Mindfully this holiday

7 ways to make this a happy, almost binge-free holiday season

What is it about the holiday season that makes us throw caution to the wind, toss out all of last year’s resolutions, and overdo just about everything? Well, of course, there’s a mindset that we’re supposed to indulge at this time of year. And how can we not eat too much (think of all the wonderful foods we only get at this time of year!), spend much too much (think of all the gifts we have to buy), play really hard (which means drink too much, sleep too little, and have sex with the wrong person, sometimes in the wrong place – like the office holiday party)? All of this activity mixed with unrealistic expectations about what we should be doing and feeling is exhausting and time consuming, so then don’t sleep enough, stop exercising (who has time?), watch endless hours of tv, eat more, drink more…and end up with extra pounds, debt and discomfort just in time to make our New Year’s resolutions, which are, of course, to exercise more, eat better, budget our money, and maybe even do something meaningful.

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Well, okay, but nobody wants to go through the holidays like Scrooge, throwing a damp blanket on all of the celebrations, dieting through the wonderful spreads of delicacies that don’t appear the rest of the year, being a sober dud at parties, and of course, not giving the perfect present to each person on our list.

So how about this? Let yourself indulge, please! But do it mindfully. Or, if the word “mindful” conjures unpleasant images of incense and odd chants, just call it Intelligent Indulgence.

Here are seven suggestions to help you get through this season in a way that will make you feel so much better about yourself that you may not even need to make any New Year’s resolutions this year!

1) There is now a well-established connection between bingeing and feeling. Therefore, before you decide to binge on any given day, at any given moment, try to take a few minutes to understand what you are feeling right then. Find a private spot, and breathe deeply two or three times. Then make an assessment. Are you feeling nervous? Lonely? Unhappy? Tense? The answers may be in your body as well as your psyche. Perhaps you’re just hungry or tired or exhausted from all of the activity.

Remember, good feelings can make you binge as much as bad ones. Therefore, when you’re doing an assessment, be sure to consider what pleasurable emotions may be making you feel out of control. Are you too happy, too excited, too filled with eager anticipation?

2) Having made this brief survey of your body and mind, it’s time for a quick decision. Do you want to eat, or buy, or drink, or whatever, to make yourself feel better? To stop some of the feelings you’re struggling with? To enhance some of the good feelings, or get them under control?

3)  And now you have to – again, very quickly – ask yourself if a small indulgence will work as well as a big one? Could you nibble at some of the very best treats on the buffet table? Could you have a white wine spritzer instead of a full drink? Would a less expensive, but thoughtful gift for your best friend be every bit – perhaps even more – meaningful as a more expensive one? Could you have a fun sexual encounter with that cute guy from your office – away from the party, and with a condom?

4) If you answer yes to the above questions, the next task is to stay mindful as you engage in any of these activities. Parties, music, alcohol, food, sex and, weird as it may sound, even stores can remove inhibitions and make it hard for us to stay in touch with our more thoughtful selves. There are lots of books and exercises to help you stay focused. One I like, that’s really simple to perform, but takes some practice to make it a habit, is simply to take a moment to breathe deeply, to a count of three – three counts to fill your lungs, pause a beat, then three counts to breathe out, with another brief pause before breathing in again – three times. Many of my clients have found that with those three breaths, they’re able to stop the action, figure out what they really want to do, and move forward more thoughtfully.

5)  Remember that restriction inevitably leads to overindulgence. That’s why so many diets fail. Try to let yourself indulge a little in some of the things you feel you shouldn’t have throughout the holiday season. And if an indulgence turns into a binge, try not to beat up on yourself. Accept it and let it go. And get back on track. Beating up on yourself for “failing” will simply lead to more binges, and a worse sense of failure. Mindful indulgence means accepting an occasional lapse.

6) And along the same lines, accept yourself as a whole person, with a mixture of positive and negative qualities. Nobody’s perfect. And conversely, few people are wholly, completely bad. Binges tend to be about all or nothing thinking. The more you can remind yourself that you – and almost everyone around you – are made up of all sorts of complicated, interesting and sometimes confusing parts, the more you can stay out of binge mentality.

7) Several times each day – for example, when you get out of bed in the morning and when you get in bed at night, when you start each meal, when you arrive at work and leave work, when you feel overwhelmed by all that you have to accomplish – say these words to yourself: The holiday season is only 1/12 of a year. It will not change my life if I fail to have a good time at every party, eat every holiday food, or purchase everything I want. But it is an opportunity to get to know myself better. To think before I act. This holiday season when I indulge and when I decide not to indulge, it will be with full awareness, self-acceptance, and even compassion. I will do it thoughtfully.  

 TEASER IMAGE SOURCE:http://www.detector-pro.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Office-Christmas-Party.jpg

F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist, teacher, and author in private practice in New York City.

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