Edwina HawkridgeCounselling in Stamford, and City of London

Surviving Christmas with your Family

Articles. Family

When you come from a family with deeply imbedded toxicity, it’s difficult to imagine happy family gatherings without conflict. Add to the mix Christmas cheer and a little too much mulled wine and you have a recipe for a triggering family filled Christmas with complicated feelings of resentment.

These are the leading causes of unhealthy relationships with family:
  • Lack of communication
  • Miscommunication
  • Lack of boundaries
  • Controlling relationships
  • Lack of respect
  • Lack of empathy amongst family members
  • Unresolved conflict
  • Inequality amongst certain family members

    Toxic Family Dynamics – the Signs
    Here are 5 signs that you’re living within the most common toxic family dynamics:

    You feel like a stranger.
    Feeling like a stranger amongst your own family is a sad reality that many individuals face in their lives. Naturally, spending time with family should create lasting, healthy relationships.
    When you’re feeling out-of-place and unnatural, this creates many uncomfortable feelings. You may feel as if every encounter with these toxic family members is unpredictable. Hence, you tend to keep your distance.

    You’re ridiculed on a regular basis.
    Understandably, your family will occasionally nag you when they simply want what is best for you. However, some situations or comments are out-of-line. For examples, does unsolicited negativity sprout from any attempt you make at trying to maintain positivity?

    You can’t get a word in. I think we’ve all been there before with someone in our life: You’re trying to speak your mind with good intentions, when you’re suddenly interrupted with bursts of anger and judgement.
    Unfortunately, this scene is common in toxic family relations. Because of this, you may feel discouraged to communicate.

    You’d rather be anywhere but home.
    Feeling unwelcome in your home can build resentment. In turn, this may brew into a much larger issue; especially if it goes unaddressed.

    You’re walking on eggshells.
    Do you ever feel as if anything you say or do can set someone off? It may feel as if you’re walking in a field of landmines. Any step could cause a catastrophic event. Feeling on edge and as though you are continually watching what you do and say can be damaging to your self-esteem.

    Dealing with toxic family relationships may cause anxiety and a lack of confidence. And it’s not uncommon for people to distance themselves from family when this occurs. This can make Christmas feel even more jarring as the distance created between you and your family seems insurmountable to overcome.

    Toxic relationships can be improved and rebuilt

    Know your triggers: If you are determined to have a good Christmas, try to remember in advance of the day what the thing most likely to wind you up will be and avoid talking about them, or steel yourself not to rise to comments that ordinarily would set off a fight.

    Set Boundaries. Having a plan for Christmas when you will arrive, and leave can often provide a helpful framework which will help you cope with your family’s toxicity easier.

    Be open minded in conversations with family, if you are confused by what has been said, challenge it using I statements. ‘I am not quite sure of your meaning it sounded like you were trying to put me down is that the case or has there been a miscommunication? By using I statements you are taking responsibility for your feelings but also getting clarification from the other person which is important if they are to recognise their toxic behaviour.

    Be assertive. Just because someone didn’t mean to hurt your feelings doesn’t mean they don’t have to apologise. Apologies validate your emotions which is an important part of effective communication between families so that you can feel your voice is heard.

    Practice empathy. Sometimes family members get stuck in their patterns of relating. It doesn’t make it OK if you are always the butt of their jokes or receiving put downs, but your family aren’t going to instantly be used to the more assertive you. Practicing empathy just means seeing things from the other perspective, was the joke an ill-advised attempt to find common ground to feel closer to you? Does the other person realise what they are doing? What could be going on for them and why are they behaving in the way they are? If you’re able to look at both sides, it’s easier to tap into your empathy and see the bigger picture.

    Awareness of the Parent Trap. Often siblings who fought as kids will continue to fight as adults. Rivalry for parents' affections, one-upmanship, and simply having different characteristics can all be flash points for arguments when together under one roof for Christmas. Try to remember in advance of the day what is most likely to wind you up so that you can avoid talking about sensitive subjects. If the conversation drifts to something you don’t want to talk about it is OK to say so.

    Christmas can be a tough time for many with ambivalent feelings about spending more time with family and extended family. It can also be an opportunity to do things differently, recognise the toxicity and put a stop to it so you can move forward having happier, healthier relationships.

  • Are You Binge Watching TV & Overeating?

    Articles. TV

    As the holidays approach many people are looking forward to time off catching up on TV and the different treat foods that will be around. The term ‘binge watching’ TV has become common to most people. The term binge watching has become synonymous with a reference that until now had been reserved for food. The link between watching TV and overeating is an established link and has been for many years. However now that binge watching is here to stay with popular streaming sites offering full seasons of shows at the click of a button its impacting on the way we eat.

    There is a correlation between the amount of TV adults watch and the likelihood that they will become overweight or obese. The reasons for this are vast such as sitting and watching TV promotes a sedentary lifestyle. You are also far more exposed to unhealthy food and drink marketing through the advertising. The light from TV is like the light in your phone and can supress melatonin production which interferes with your sleep.

    If you watch TV whilst eating, you are distracted which means you miss the satiety cue from your brain telling you that you are full. Research at Harvard University found that ‘watching TV is a sedentary activity that actively encourages snacking’.

    Research has also found that what you watch also impacts on the amount you eat. In a study of over 500 people it was found that people ate almost twice as much if they are watching something suspenseful or sad. It is thought that watching something that produces a stress reaction (which raises your cortisol levels) leads to overeating, the overeating feels necessary as eating makes you feel better. People do not realise they are experiencing emotions not hunger and eat to rid themselves of feeling tense or sad.

    Some things you can do to help
  • Stop snacking in front of the TV altogether
  • Make it a rule to eat mindfully, bring your full attention to the food in front of you, engage all your senses how does it taste, smell, sound? What’s the texture like?

  • Make healthier swaps for snacking in front of the TV, put limited amounts of food in a bowl.
  • Leave the snack on a table in the same room but ensure you must get up and down to get a healthier snack.
  • Keep junk foods out of the house
  • Fast forward adverts or find something else to do whilst they are on so that you are not being targeted by endless unhealthy food and drink choices.

  • What is Bulimia?

    Articles. Bulimia

    Bulimia is an eating disorder and mental health condition. People who have bulimia go through periods where they eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time (binge eating) and then make themselves sick, or do excessive exercise, or a combination of these, to try to stop themselves gaining weight.
    Bulimia is often a vicious cycle of binging and purging, triggered by things such as hunger, sadness or stress. You may set very strict rules for yourself about dieting, eating or exercising. Failing to keep to these then leads to periods of excessive eating and loss of control (binge eating), after which you feel guilty or ashamed. You then purge to get rid of the calories, leaving you feeling hungry again, and the cycle continues.

    Who gets Bulimia?
    Men and women of any age can get bulimia, but it's most common in young women and typically starts in the mid to late teens. There is no cause for bulimia but it is widely recognised that some predisposing factors make you more susceptible to developing an eating disorder. Predisposing factors include things like; eating disorders, depression alcohol or drug addiction within the family. If you have been criticised for eating habits, body shape or weight or if you have been abused, anxiety, low self-esteem, obsessive personality or are a perfectionist.

    Health Risks
    There are many health risks associated with Bulimia and this eating disorder can quickly lead to physical problems associated with not getting the right nutrients, vomiting a lot, or overusing laxatives. Possible complications include feeling tired and weak, dry skin and hair, swollen glands and muscle spasms as well as sore throats damaged tooth enamel and bad breath, heart, kidney and bowel problems and bone problems.

    Symptoms of bulimia include:
  • eating very large amounts of food in a short time, (binge eating).
  • making yourself vomit, or using laxatives, to avoid putting on weight after a binge
  • Doing an extreme amount of exercise after a binge to avoid putting on weight
  • fear of putting on weight
  • being very critical about your weight and body shape
  • mood changes – feeling tense or anxious
  • behaving secretively around food

    What it is like for the Sufferer
    All eating disorders including Bulimia are a complex relationship between the mind, body food, control and emotions. It often starts when there is a period of stress for the person and develops as a strategy to help them cope. Bulimia is Maladaptive which means it changes and there comes a point when the sufferer realises that they are no longer in control of the binge-purge cycle. People with Bulimia feel trapped and often become frightened of how out of control their binge eating and purging has become. A competent eating disorder therapist should work with you in all areas of the sufferers life to assist recovery.

    "we clear our plates, yet we are still famished- starving for something other than food’ – Kate Wicker

    Getting Help
    If you are worried that someone you know may have bulimia encourage them to see their GP as soon as they can as the earlier an ED starts to get treated the better the prognosis for recovery. For the sufferer it can be very hard to admit they have a problem and ask for help. It may make things easier if you bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointment.
    You can also talk in confidence to an adviser from the eating disorders charity BEAT. Their adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711 has advisers that will be able to give you further information.

    You can recover from bulimia, but it may take time and recovery will be different for everyone. Your bulimia plan will be tailored to you and will take into account any other support you may need for depression or anxiety. Your recovery plan may include elements of CBT, nutrition rehabilitation, psychoeducation and habit formation. As well as keeping a food diary and making a plan for meals.
    ‘There is no magic cure no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward: an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore – Laurie Halse Anderson
    If you think you may have bulimia or know someone who does get in touch for a non-obligation chat 07784 105 769.

  • Self Certified Chocoholic?

    Articles. Chocolate

    Many people think that they are addicted to chocolate when in fact they have a dependency on it or like it a lot. Chocolate like most things that contain sugar stimulates your opioid system. Your brain is one of the biggest users of glucose (sugar) in the body. Over time sensors in your brain become down regulated or desensitized to sugar and therefore it takes more and more of the same substance (sugar) to feel the same ‘hit’ or level of happiness after something sweet. It is this process that happens within the body that has people thinking they are addicted to chocolate as they seem to be eating more and more of it. If you’re concerned about the amount of Chocolate, you are craving or eating there are things you can do to break the cycle and curb your cravings.

    Low Battery
    We crave sugar for many reasons one of which is low blood sugar which translates to low energy. The brain relies on glucose to function properly. When our blood sugar drops rapidly our brain releases chemicals that has us craving something sweet like chocolate.

    Poor nutrition, through not eating a range of foods can lead to us being deficient in magnesium and chromium which can sometimes lead to sugar cravings.

    High Stress
    Stress can have a huge impact on the number of sweet things we eat.

    Serotonin Imbalance
    Serotonin imbalances may also be leading you to crave something sweet. Sometimes people with depression try to eat their way out of their depressed state as food is mood changer especially sweet things that spike your opioid system which is your happiness and reward system.

    Lack of Sleep
    When excess sugar is consumed the body converts sugar into glycogen, when these stocks are full the body converts excess sugar into adipose tissue. Adipose tissue is excess fat that normally hangs around the midriff and is accurate at determining health risk factors.
    When blood sugar levels rise too quickly our body produces too much insulin which can lead to insulin resistance or prediabetes so how do I curb my cravings for chocolate I hear you ask?

    Curb the Craving

    By eating a range of foods that include chromium and magnesium, mainly whole grains and leafy greens you are giving your body what it needs to beat cravings. The nutrients within these foods increase cell sensitivity to maximise the amount of sugar your body can metabolise and burn off.

    Balance out your blood sugar levels by eating regular meals that contain protein, good quality carbs and good fats to help maintain satiety and blood sugar levels. Cinnamon, Cardamom and Nutmeg have been shown to help people with type 2 diabetes gain better control over their blood sugar level. Adding healthy fats like Avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, salmon, nuts and seeds to your diet can help keep your blood sugar levels stable which can reduce the risk of insulin resistance developing.

    High stress and cortisol levels can lead to sugar craving, manage stress to manage cravings, move for fun, exercise, take a bath, try a breathing exercise it all helps.

    Stimulus control
    It is much easier to say no once in the supermarket to a bar of chocolate than every single day that it is sat in your cupboard! Practice not rationalising having chocolate in the house ‘for someone else’ chances are you will be the one that ends up eating it and sending your blood sugars on a rollercoaster ride which will have you craving more…. sugar.

    Sleep Right
    Get plenty of sleep. Lack of energy is one of the reasons people go for chocolate in the first place. Pay attention to your environment, keep your bedroom clutter free and at the right temperature, minimise light and noise so that you can get good quality sleep.

    Don’t Skip
    Try not to skip meals this will force your blood sugar to drop and will have you craving something chocolatey. Stick to a regular schedule of eating breakfast lunch and dinner minimum.

    Swap it out
    Make a swap dark chocolate is a sensible swap for milk chocolate products. Dark chocolate is classed as a superfood it is packed with antioxidants has a much lower sugar content and can assist heart health.

    I’m a firm believer that most things should be present in your diet and that cutting out entire foods or food groups can be more detrimental to your physical and mental health. It is much better to learn how to moderate and make sensible swaps to support your health.

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