Eating Disorders and Stress: DBT Coping Skills for the Holidays

Eating Disorders and Stress: DBT Coping Skills for the Holidays

Eating disorders and stress tend to “feed each other.” Let’s be honest about that. This is often a triggering and stressful time of year; the holidays are rapidly approaching, the change in seasons can be tough, and it’s getting dark earlier. This particular year may be even more stressful due to the recent election, no matter what your political affiliation may be. It is very important that we pay attention to stress and try to prevent it from becoming too overwhelming. DBT can help you!

DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. The word “dialectical” is defined as, “concerned with or acting through opposing forces.” This can mean that there are often two truths, or more than one truth in any given situation. If you live in Colorado you may have noticed that in mid- November the temperature was in the 70s! The holiday season can often bring on a dialectical feel: on one hand it is a time of togetherness and celebration, on the other hand it can feel isolating or lonely. There are mixed messages around food and holiday eating, too. We are surrounded with sweets and other decadent foods, yet our culture expects us to “be healthy.” This all adds to eating disorders and stress.

Using the Distress Tolerance and Mindfulness modules of DBT can be very effective for combatting eating disorders and stress. If you need immediate relief and want to improve a moment follow these steps. Think of the acronym IMPROVE to help guide you.

I: Use IMAGERY. You can do this by imagining a relaxing scene – either a place you have been, or create a beautiful scene in your mind and take yourself there mentally. You can also try to remember a happy time or memory and think of it fondly. Also, you can picture any hurtful or painful emotion draining out of you like water out of a pipe.

M: Find MEANING. Try to find a purpose in a painful or stressful situation, make meaning of what’s happening in the here and now. For example, “I cannot afford to fly somewhere to be with family for the holidays and this is stressful. I can find meaning in this by knowing I can create my own holiday here alone or with friends and do something to honor myself during those days. I’ll have more time to relax and traveling during the holidays can be stressful anyway!” Focus on all the positive aspects or positive reframes that you can think of – write them down.

P: PRAISE for yourself. Make a list in your mind or write it down of all the things you love or life about yourself or your life. Examples include, “I love my cat,” “I love my hair,” “I am grateful for my family,” or, “I am grateful for my health.”

R: RELAXATION. Take a hot shower or bath with nice smelling products that help you relax. Try adding lavender oil to your bath water or using pleasant smelling lotions when you are done. Breathe deeply. This is one you can do at any time of day no matter where you are or who you are with. Massage your neck and scalp. You can reach these spots and just a few moments of energy spent can relieve unnecessary tension. Change your facial expression. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, try it for 10 seconds. Practice right now as you are reading this. Even a few seconds of smiling changes your outlook, how others may see you and can create positivity around you.

O: Focus on ONE thing in each moment. Practice focusing on one thing at a time give your entire attention to what you are doing in the present moment. Let go of other distractions. You can focus in your physical body, too. Notice any stress in your body. Pay attention to your five senses. Breathe.

V: VACATION. This can be brief, or extended. You could turn off your phone for a day. Take a walk on your lunch break. Sit outside in the park. Go for a drive. Get into the mountains. Go for a hike. Plan a future vacation when you can take a few days off.

E: Self-ENCOURAGEMENT and rethinking the situation. Try statements like, “I will get through this,” “This too shall pass,” “Everything happens for a reason, ” “This will only make me stronger,” “I will be ok no matter what,” or, “Yay me!” You can make up your own self encouragement statement. The bottom line is that you are resilient and self-reliant. You’ve got this!

Remember that you CAN get a handle on your eating disorder and stress, and if you follow the steps above you will be on a path for a more peaceful existence. Take care of you and your needs. Do nice things for yourself and remember that you are number one.


If you’re looking for more guidance about DBT SKILLS, contact Rebecca Sculley, MA, NCC, LPC – the author of this blog article. Rebecca is an EDIT™ Certified Counselor, and has a specialty in DBT Skills. EMAIL REBECCA OR LEARN MORE:

Try our INTUITIVE EATING SUPPORT GROUP – Mondays, 6:30-8pm, your first group is FREE. This group is facilitated by EDIT™ Certified Counselors, and features an “Intuitive Eating and Mindfulness Skill” session before the group, from 6-6:30. MORE INFO about this and other groups:

Interested in a FREE consultation? We would like to get to know you and give you feedback about EDIT™ individual therapy and group options. Call 720-606-3242 or learn more:

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