The ghosts and goblins of Halloween have passed. The days are becoming shorter, the trees shed their leaves, and the air has a slight cold crisp to it. People are beginning to get into the holiday spirit. Home Goods, Marshalls, Kirkland, Pottery Barn, and grocery stores are packed with mask-wearing shoppers trying to grab the best holiday deals and must-have holiday foods to feast on.


As shoppers return home from the chaotic environments, they begin to cover their dining room tables with Autumn bliss linings, dust off their families antique china, and place perfectly folded napkins with phrases such as “Blessed” or “Grateful” on dinner plates. People are eager to stuff the turkey, prepare side dishes, and start baking homemade pies. A Thanksgiving feast will soon be upon us and the table will be filled with savory foods and loved ones.

Well let me tell you, while all of that sounds heartwarming; all my heart can do is pound out of my chest. The fear inside me builds and builds much like a balloon filling to its max, nearing its bursting point. Just thinking about this day brings me great distress. My head is flooded with Eating Disorder (ED) urges, negative self-talk, and body shaming. Every year this day comes and every year it is challenging. I want to engage with my family and friends without the whirlwind of thoughts entering my mind. I am worried that people will judge me for what I am eating, make comments about my body, or someone will say something to upset me with or without realizing it.  These are thoughts that arise for me every year and continue to increase my urges to isolate myself from the table, family, and friends. With the help of my DBT Emotion Regulation Cope Ahead Skill, I feel more prepared for Thanksgiving.

The cope ahead skill allows us the opportunity to plan ahead for a stressful situation. We prepare for the stressful situation (internal or external), by thinking about how to apply DBT skills we learned in an adult skills group or multifamily.

First, we describe the situation that is likely to prompt a problem behavior (in my situation ED urges). Then we use check the facts. Be specific in describing the situation, then name the emotions and actions likely to interfere with using your skills. Mine are shame and guilt.

Next, decide what coping or problem-solving skills you want to use in the situation. Be specific. Write out in detail how you will cope with the situation and with your emotions and action urges. This can be done with the help of your individual therapist at DBT of South Jersey.

After that, imagine the situation in your mind as vividly as possible. Imagine yourself in the situation now. This is a great way to practice imagery.

Then, rehearse in your mind coping effectively. Do this by identifying specific skills to use such as self-soothe, TIPP, IMPROVE the moment, Pros and Cons, and distract with Wise Mind ACCEPTS. Rehearse your actions, your thoughts, what you say, and how to say it. Rehearse coping effectively with new problems that come up, such as what you might say to a family member that makes a comment about your body.  Rehearse coping effectively with your most feared catastrophe.

Lastly, practice relaxation after rehearsing.

I also believe it is important to identify positive emotional supports to reach out to if you feel as though your skills are ineffective at the moment or your mind turns to willful thinking.

Although Thanksgiving is a battleground for me, with my DBT skills and cope ahead in place I have the power to act opposite, be skillful, and fully experience Thanksgiving as a positive event.


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