I struggle with challenging emotions—fear, loneliness, shame, guilt, worry, joy, excitement, sadness, despair. For years, I resorted to food, drugs, and alcohol to avoid them. Now, instead of stress eating, I turn to these five healthy habits.

Emotional Coping For Stress Eating

Feeling emotions is a normal part of life. It’s part of being human. Recovery isn’t the absence of emotion, rather it’s learning to cope with those emotions, as difficult as they are. It’s also letting go of ineffective patterns of thought and behavior. On a good day, this isn’t easy.  In times of stress, this can turn into a pressure cooker of emotions, ready to burst. Without drugs and alcohol, emotions can feel intense, overwhelming, and threatening.

Sometimes our emotions are so strong that they take control of our thoughts. The immense pressure tempts us to resort to old behavior to cope. This is why the holidays, certain seasons or any other stressful scenario, pose a risk of relapse or engaging in unhelpful and ineffective behaviors such as emotional overeating.

Emotional Triggers

Unfortunately, I feel triggered in the home environment. I’m the only female among many brothers, the only one who isn’t married and with children, the one without a corporate or medical career. And I’m in recovery. I feel different.  My self-esteem and sense of worth is deeply compromised. Ironically, this isn’t necessarily because of how they treat me. It’s more of how I compare myself to them. So I can feel very strong emotions in that environment.

And feeling overwhelmed by those negative emotions makes me want to do one thing: escape.

The very first substance I used for this was food. Eating my feelings has been a well ingrained behavior and coping strategy of mine since I was six years old.

Know Your Pattern Of Emotions

Knowing this pattern of emotions, thoughts and behavior has helped me make great strides in my emotional recovery. Now I don’t emotionally eat like I used to. However, at times of emotional stress, I can still revert back to it. Which is why I have a coping strategy for my emotions at stressful times. These are my trusted tools:

1. Mindfulness Meditation

I spend time checking in with my body. How do I feel? I note any difficult emotions I’m feeling. That way I can witness those feelings and emotions without letting them take over. How am I feeling, why am I feeling that way? It is just a habit to let negative feelings take over, or is there really something wrong today? These are some of the questions I may ask myself. I don’t let default bad feelings take over. That’s what mindfulness can do. If you’re not a meditator, deep breathing also helps to calm down.

2. Journaling

A lot of people in recovery use the tool of writing to identify feelings and then process them. Writing about my emotions is a great way to process them and take the power out of them. I also make it a practice to look at what I have done right that day, such as journaling, and meditating, and what I am grateful for to change my mindset to a positive outlook.

3. Exercising

Exercise lifts your mood. Many people in long term and successful recovery use exercise as a primary tool to feel good. During the holidays when food calls from every direction, the feel good spike that exercise brings is even more important. I exercise every day during the holidays, even if it is a walk around the block. Getting out of the environment helps me regain perspective.  The endorphins from exercise improve my mood and lessen the power of the emotions I feel.

4. Talking Therapy

Talking helps and should be a part of all recovery programs. During the holidays when reunions may get you down, talking it over with a trusted friend or mentor can made the difference between a good day and a bad one. Whether it is a friend in recovery, or a therapist, I make a point of checking in with someone every day who knows that I am at home, and that I can feel triggered. In the same way as journaling, it takes the power and intensity out of my feelings.

5. Taking A Pause Break

They say a craving passes in fifteen minutes. Is it a trick that works for you? When I feel like overeating, I try to pause and check in with my body and mind. Sometimes waiting ten minutes, doing a short meditation, or having a glass of water helps pass the craving to revert to overeating.

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Olivia Pennelle
Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is a freelance writer and the creator and managing editor of Liv's Recovery Kitchen: a website focused on the journey toward health and wellness for those in recovery.

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