Even on a “good” day, the demands of motherhood can feel overwhelming. The same thing can be said about staying in recovery from an eating disorder. Add in living through a world-wide pandemic, and everything gets trickier. If you have school aged- children, chances are you are navigating an entirely new situation you never imagined possible. So how do you hold on to your recovery while managing these complicated and numerous stressors?
5 tips for staying in recovery during times of stress and chaos:
1. Stay Vigilant
When I first made the choice to recover from an eating disorder, it took commitment, being vulnerable, and gathering every ounce of courage I could muster up to ask for and accept help. At that time, my life became focused ON recovery.
As I moved further along in my recovery, a shift slowly occurred. I began filling my life with things outside of the eating disorder and recovery. This is a blessing of recovery. But even though I was no longer constantly focused on recovery, it was still important to stay vigilant.
The thing about eating disorders is: they are insidious. When I am feeling happy and relaxed, some days I even forget I ever had one. But the times when I am most anxious, most upset, or facing stressors- the eating disorder is waiting in the wings, and ready to pounce.
Even though it is part of the process to focus less on recovery and more on your life, it is still very important to remain vigilant about your recovery.
So what does that look like? Staying vigilant means making it a priority to eat three meals a day, along with snacks. For some this may include utilizing a meal plan. Staying vigilant also requires getting out your recovery toolbox and relying on coping skills other than restricting, binging, or purging. And, it means constantly challenging the negative chatter that comes up during times of stress.
Staying vigilant means remembering that skipping or cutting back on meals is very dangerous if you are in recovery from an eating disorder. Many people experience a decrease in appetite when they are stressed. If you are recovering from an eating disorder, you need to take extra effort to ensure you are nourishing your mind and body enough during difficult times.
2. Make a Plan
Last March, my three boys suddenly went from attending our neighborhood elementary school to being at home all of the time because of COVID 19. Remote learning became a part of our life, along with social distancing, masks, and quarantining.
During this unexpected time of chaos and change when teachers, parents, and students all did the best they could to navigate uncharted waters, it was very easy to get caught up in the collective wave of anxiety. Skipping meals and cutting back initially provided anesthesia to the anxiety growing inside of me. However, I quickly noticed the familiar descent and made the conscious choice to put recovery first.
Choosing recovery during times of stress often requires making a plan and sticking to it.
Planning my meals ahead of time eliminates the excuse “I don’t know what I am hungry for” or “Nothing sounds good.” Planning specific times for self-care such as a hot bath, a walk on my own, or a call with a friend ensures I am taking care of myself.
What can you do to plan ahead and aid your own recovery? Would packing your lunch the night before help you to eat it the next day? Or maybe making a weekly plan for your meals can help you get back on track. Are there some go-to meals and snacks you can have on hand for those most challenging times? Can you schedule a time to talk with one of your friends so you will feel connected and supported? Everyone is different- find what is most helpful for your recovery.
3. Let Go of Expectations
It can be easy to become tied to expectations in a culture that is focused on results and the future. I remember thinking when I finally reached a certain weight “then I would be happy.” Early in recovery I replaced this thinking with “when I am recovered then I will be happy.”
True recovery requires we get in touch with the truth that much of what happens around us is out of our control.
Rather than focusing on being happy when a certain result occurs, we can learn to be present in the here-and-now and find ways to make ourselves happy in this moment.
It would be easy for me to get caught up in the thinking: “When my kids are back in school, then I will have time to take care of myself.” Instead, I am challenged to find ways to take care of myself even amidst the chaos of a pandemic.
4. Reach Out for Support
We are social creatures and connection to others helps us thrive and grow. Navigating relationships during this unusual time of social distancing and quarantining is difficult to say the least. If you are feeling alone- you are not the only one. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy and isolation. Connection is the antidote.
It is OK to need and want support. Reach out to a trusted friend, therapist, or family member and let them know you could use some support. In their latest book Radical Belonging, Lindo Bacon said,
It’s belonging rather than self-love that helps me live as my authentic self. This is not a solo journey.Lindo Bacon
You are not weak for craving connection or for needing support. It is through our relationships with others that we grow, evolve, and heal. Thankfully technology has made it possible to connect with others through video chats, emails, and apps. Yes our world looks different, but you can text a friend, make a date for a facetime chat, and eat a meal with someone virtually. You do not have to do this alone.
5. Practice Mindful Self Compassion
Learning about and practicing Mindful Self Compassion has been a game-changer in my own recovery. Practicing being more present and speaking to myself kindly during times of distress has been a difficult and worthwhile challenge.
We are all facing new challenges every day and doing the best that we can to navigate the rough waters we are swimming in. Extending compassion to yourself does not mean you stop trying or you excuse harmful behaviors.
When practiced, self-compassion can actually help you boost your recovery forward.
Staying in Recovery IS Possible
No matter how difficult today is- remember that navigating today while in recovery is SO MUCH EASIER than navigating it while living in an eating disorder. Choose recovery every single day, one moment at a time.