Managing an eating disorder is hard enough on a normal day. Now imagine how difficult it must be during a worldwide pandemic. You may be feeling extra triggered. Your gym membership has probably been canceled, which could be leading to increased thoughts about weight gain. These thoughts may try to convince you that you are lazy and worthless. You are probably seeing thousands of social media influencers promoting antioxidant-rich foods to enhance immunity, which may not be particularly helpful when you already experience alarming stress related to nourishment. Change in daily routine may throw off your self-care routine and lead to increased anxiety. People going out of their way to stockpile supplies such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer may trigger a feeling of scarcity. Whatever you are experiencing is real and valid. The following steps will help you navigate through this period of uncertainty.
Step 1: Take a step back to process.
Notice what is going on with curiosity rather than judgment. What thoughts are going through your head? Notice how these thoughts and feelings manifest in your body. Allow yourself to embrace and experience the fear entirely. Shoving it down and avoiding it will only make it worse. It’s ok to be afraid.
Fear’s intention is to keep you safe. When our brainstem senses danger, it signals anxiety to circulate through the body. This lets us know that we should either fight the fear or flee the situation (also known as fight or flight). Our brain is designed to respond when we are in immediate life-threatening danger. In paleolithic times, this meant fighting a lion. Most of our fears today are not life-threatening. Yet, the body responds in the same physiological manner.
You may also experience a sense of grief. Our world has flipped upside down, and what was the norm a few weeks ago is no longer the norm. Many of us are experiencing the cancelation of events such as graduations, weddings, and/or community celebrations. These experiences mean a lot to us. We are in a state of grieving what could have been.
Step 2: As fear and panic arise, notice the intention. Is it helpful, or is it causing elevated anxiety
The fear of catching COVID19 is real. Therefore we should practice physical distancing and hygiene. We should do our best to protect our well-being and immune system during this time of uncertainty. Once we take action based on current fear, the remaining anxiety is not helpful.
Step 3: Let go of the fears that are not serving us right now.
This is much easier said than done! To let go of fear, we must allow ourselves to fully experience the sensation in our body. Then we can begin to reframe. You may want to write your fears down in a notebook. You can also share them with a friend or family member. If you notice yourself going down a negative spiral of thinking, take a step back and notice how that may or may not be serving you. Allow for a new perspective. How can these fears help you to grow stronger? Maybe they provide a practice space to use coping tools learned in therapy. What messages do these fears send? If you hear lazy, worthless, not good enough, ask yourself if those beliefs are the truth. What evidence do you have to counteract those beliefs?
Step 4: Identify your support system.
Eating disorders thrive in isolation. You may be experiencing voices in your head, telling you that you are alone right now. You are not alone. Take a minute to identify who is available. Remember, we are practicing physical distancing, NOT social distancing. Human connection is a necessity for all of us. Who can you call on for help? Try to set up a video chat or phone call. If you see a mental health care provider such as a therapist, coach, or dietitian, make sure that you are following through with your appointments. There are tons of free groups and resources online for additional support.
Step 5: Prioritize self-care.
There are a lot of things that are out of our control right now, but managing your eating disorder and taking care of your body comes from within. Create a daily routine. Allow time to get fresh air, take a bubble bath, paint, read a book, listen to music, or write in a journal. Tons of activities are now being streamed online. Take some time to explore!
Make sure that you are fueling your mind and body. This is not the time to exert extra effort on creating a perfect diet for “immunity.” Increased stress related to diet and exercise is not helpful. If you have a dietitian, follow your plan to the best of your ability. If you notice an increased urge to binge, honor that sensation. If you do revert to eating disorder behavior, be kind to yourself. The eating disorder is trying to help you manage a traumatic situation. This is an opportunity to notice what message the eating disorder may be sending. These behaviors provide valuable information and insight into what your body may need. Be easy on yourself!
Step 6: Take empowered action.
Once you feel a sense of calm, allow yourself to take action based on what is within your control. There are a lot of things that we cannot control, but we can do our best to manage our thoughts, emotions, and actions.
Identify ways in which you can be of service. Reflect on your passions and your strengths. What service-oriented activity may bring you a little bit of hope and joy right now? It could be donating to a local food bank, calling a loved one, or maybe leading an online activity for a group.
We are all imperfect. We will all get through this together. There is hope, and there is healing. Thank your body for keeping you safe through this period of uncertainty. You don’t have to have all of the answers right now. Just remember to take the next step forward!
Join our mental health support group on Facebook for additional connection and interaction. Jocelyn is also offering complimentary 1:1 coaching sessions for individuals who are feeling increased anxiety and stress related to the Coronavirus. To schedule a session, please complete this form.
The author, Jocelyn Resnick (she/her) earned her Masters degree in Public Health (MPH) from the George Washington University. She is also a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and a Life and Recovery Coach. Jocelyn primarily works with women who have anxiety around food and their bodies. Learn more about Jocelyn at www.jocelynresnick.com. Jocelyn is a volunteer and contributor for the Blue Dove Foundation, whose mission is to raise awareness of, end the stigma of, and educate people about mental illness and addiction through a Jewish lens. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or addiction, please contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness for additional local resources or visit the Blue Dove Foundation’s website for additional resources.