Eating disorders are often coined ‘family illnesses’ as they don’t impact the individual alone, but rather, touch all different family members in different ways.

The festive period is an opportunity to come together, but when someone is struggling with an eating disorder, there can be added complexity to this.

We spoke to our Consultant Family Therapist, Karen, to hear how families can use this time to reconnect and create joyful moments and memories together…

When I was asked to write a festive blog, I turned to enquire of one of my long-time friends, The Cambridge Dictionary, which took pleasure in reminding me that ‘festive’ means “having or producing happy and enjoyable feelings suitable for a festival or other special occasion”.

As family therapists, we like to look for unique outcomes in family interactions, so with that said, for this festive season, I would like to prescribe that families prepare to:

1) Start a new tradition

Remember, although there are long held legacies and traditions around your festive period, there are always room for more.

With a restriction on movement last year, we may have already initiated new ways of being together, that may look like a new tradition.

My new festive tradition from 2020 was my pear and apple crumble! Yes, it was a surprise from our usual desert, but I like it, so I was sure that everyone else would! They did!

2) Miss those who are no longer around

The reality of this time of year does not allow us to forget those who are no longer with us. Loss at this time of year can be very difficult in very circumstances, whether by death, divorce, separation, or by unavoidable distance. We can feel a mixture of emotions.

It is important to give time for this, and perhaps talking openly as a family about what you value, and miss is one way of being open about your loss. How you honour those who are no longer with us may take place in so many ways according to culture, custom and family traditions. Allow yourself to find your own way to acknowledge your feelings and leave some room for something new.

This reaction causes a sense of numbness in the mind and body; our muscles can feel fatigued and we move into a state of immobility and dissociation. Here, the purpose is to numb the body to the external stimuli because, sometimes, it’s easier to be less sensitive to pain.

3) Create a new game!

Festive times often involve games, movement, and permission to be sedentary.

These times can often feel quite competitive, but if we re-frame these interactions, it is also an opportunity for laughter, finding out something new about one another, and physically being closer. Some of those old games like Cat’s Cradle, are lovely for pacing regulation and distance from one another, and just spending time together, learning something new.

4) Secure your internal “feel good factor”

How does one do that, you ask?

Well, by holding onto those micro-moments that you enjoy with others, revisit them in your mind, and hold them in your heart. Yes, even in the moment, you can all as a family intentionally practice this. The more often you are able to do this, the easier it is to bring these feel-good moments back into present memory, including the physical sensations such as a laugh, a smile, and a warm feeling’ to help cement that ‘feel good factor’.

5) Try a new seating position

Getting ready to partake in a meal often leaves us with a dilemma of where to sit…

Whether you dine at the table, on a floor mat, socially distanced, in front of the fire, or by the TV, or even on the floor by the sofa – whenever you sit somewhere unfamiliar, you have the opportunity of a different view. Have your ‘go to’ person, give you a ‘nod’, or develop a code for encouragement. Try and keep the conversation light and easy. And if it becomes a little quiet, there is always a cue for background music.

6) Journal and document memories

Share these moments out loud! You can record these moments too, either by pen, pencil, words, drawing, audio recording or pictures for your journal. Who are you sharing these moments with?

For creative inspiration on the power of journaling, read our blog by Nikki, Orri’s Deputy Clinic Manager & Creative Arts Therapist, here.

“Whether you are preparing for a festive time, seasonal time out, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or just a break away, I wish you peace, joy, and lots of rest, until we see you again.”

Do you have any questions? Get in touch with us!