The last few months have been incredibly challenging for all of us, putting an enormous strain on mental health. For those navigating eating disorder recovery, it has brought particular challenges: many have found their treatment put on pause, are stuck in homes that feel unsafe and triggering, or may be struggling with urges to return to comforting behaviours in a world that feels so out of control.
Now, more than ever, putting your mental health (and your recovery) first is key. Exactly what this looks like will be different for everyone: it might mean sticking religiously to your meal plan, slowing down your pace at work, or finding an online support group.
Wherever you are in your recovery, there are some basic things we can all be doing to look after our mental health in lockdown.
1. Reach out
With everyone facing their own challenges at the moment, you might be worried about burdening others
with your problems, which might feel small in comparison to all that’s going on in the world. Remember:
everything is relative. As Brené Brown pointed out in a recent podcast, the fact that others might be going
through even greater hardships doesn’t devalue the legitimacy of your feelings, and telling yourself they’re
not important won’t make them go away.
Eating disorders thrive in isolation, so connection is your best weapon against yours. Even if you don’t have
the right words for what you’re feeling or why, reaching out for support can help you get outside of your head
and feel less alone. In these times of enforced disconnection, any kind of social interaction can be beneficial,
even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing.
If you don't feel comfortable speaking to friends and family, there are so many helplines and online support groups you can reach out to, including some new groups and resources set up specifically to support people through COVID. Head to our support page to find out more about these.
2. Routine, routine, routine
For most of us, lockdown has stripped away the routines that usually help us feel grounded and give us purpose. Maybe you’ve been furloughed and have suddenly found yourself with a lot of time on your hands, or maybe you’re having to adapt to working from home. Whatever your post-coronavirus life looks like, it’s important to build your own routines into your day. Getting out of bed and getting dressed at roughly the same time each day can do wonders for your state of mind, even if the only one who gets to see your outfit is your dog.
It’s also a good idea to set boundaries between work and home. If your living room is now your work space, creating a clear separation between work-time and chill-time is key: maybe go for a quick walk around the block to replace your morning commute, or create a daily ritual like turning off your laptop or lighting a candle to mark the end of your working day. Time might feel arbitrary at the moment, but try to make clear distinctions between weekdays and weekends, even if you’re unemployed.
Having a good bedtime routine can also be helpful: evenings are often tricky for people in recovery. Don’t put too much pressure on getting the perfect night’s sleep: sometimes forcing ourselves to wind down can have the opposite effect. Instead, experiment and be curious about what helps calm you and what tends trigger a more difficult night. This could mean turning your phone on airplane mode a few hours before bed time, or doing some mindful yoga or journaling just before you sleep.
3. Set small, achievable goals
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from ticking something off a list.
Setting small, easily achievable goals can help you feel purposeful and accomplished, at a time when it’s
easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed.
These could be recovery goals, they could be work goals, or they could be something simple like calling
your grandma, making a nice breakfast or getting out of bed. No goal is too small.
4. Listen to your body
Our bodies are very good at telling us how we’re doing, whether it’s a raised heartbeat to signal anxiety, a growling stomach before lunch or twitching eyes from a bad night’s sleep. We’re very good at ignoring these signals, distracting ourselves from difficult feelings with screens, stimulants, food or movement.
Of course, listening to your body becomes complicated when you’re recovering from an eating disorder. Getting in touch with our bodies can feel uncomfortable. You might be out of touch with your body’s natural responses after years of restriction, purging or bingeing. Maybe you’re on a meal plan or are fighting urges to use behaviours, which might mean ignoring signals from your body that have been hijacked by your eating disorder.
In spite of all this, connecting with your body can be a powerful tool for your day-to-day mental health
and for your recovery. Try to check in with yourself regularly throughout the day - how are you feeling?
Where are you holding tension? You could try out a body scan. You can easily find short versions of these on
Instagram or YouTube. If you struggle getting to sleep at night, a mindful body scan can be a great way to
relax your body and calm your mind before bed.
5. Cut yourself some slack
The internet is full of people talking about their lockdown side projects or not-so-helpful reminders that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the Plague. As a result, there can be a lot of pressure to use this time "productively". If being productive makes you feel good and you feel motivated, then this might be the perfect time to write that novel or redecorate your bedroom. But it might equally be the best time to focus on getting through this and look after yourself the best you can.
If you feel a pressure to be doing more than you feel capable of at the moment, whether from the outside world or from your own inner critic, try to remind yourself that we’re going through a global pandemic. Just getting through this alive and well is enough. If you’re getting through this while also trying to recover from an eating disorder, you’re doing amazingly.
Written by Tasha Kleeman.