Becky Henry is trained as a Certified, Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) and uses those skills to guide families to let go of fear and panic, learn self-care skills and become effective guides for their loved one in eating disorder recovery. In her writing, Becky offers self care tips for those caring for loved ones in recovery from an eating disorder.
Loving and caring about someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder likely has left you feeling hopeless, helpless, overwhelmed, terrified, upset, confused and more. When your loved one is over 18 you might fear there is nothing you can do to help them with recovery from one of these deadly brain illnesses.
There is HOPE! There are plenty of things you can do to both help your child in recovery (no matter their age) and help yourself. I’m sharing 10 simple self-care tips with you to try so you can practice self-care and more easily and effectively help your loved one. But first, just like they say on the airplane, you must put on your oxygen mask first!
Doing things you enjoy while you have a child who is so sick may seem selfish and counter intuitive but it is essential to practice extreme self-care. This is a crisis and your child needs a parent who is in top form and ready to go to bat for them. So, let’s do it!
Send those fears on a hike! Literally! First, notice that you’re having a fear response. That’s the tricky part. Then consciously CHOOSE to send fears on a hike. Last, CHOOSE another much more useful and fun thing to think about. And then if you like, take your own hike – without the fears.
Make sure you’re included in the treatment team. The evidence is increasingly showing that when the family is included, the treatment outcomes improve. The chemical dependency world has known this for over 30 years. They have also been huge proponents of caregiver self-care.
Learn skills for being: calm, emotionally objective and confident. This may include some DBT Skills. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps anyone with mindfulness and distress tolerance. When we are mindful and have managed our distress, we can be calmer. Being calm helps us be rational in our decisions so we can then cope with the wild things the eating disorder will throw at us. Doing our part to preserve our sanity and health helps us remain calm so we can actively preserve relationships. That doesn’t mean it is going to be all wine and roses, but we can do our best to show the person in recovery that they are loved. Not an easy task with someone who often thinks they are unlovable and has their thoughts distorted by the eating disorder.
Make a Top 10 List. What’s this you say? When I was learning how to be a more effective parent of someone with an eating disorder, someone gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten. She said, You’re in crisis, practice extreme self-care, and make a TOP 10 List of things that fill you up.” This seemed selfish to me at that point, but I get it now. It was hard to fit it in some days with all the work of helping my daughter.
We cannot pour anything out of an empty cup.
So, you out there-yes you, making sure someone else’s needs are being met…it’s time. Get the nice paper (or any old thing) and make a list of 10 things you love to do, that fill you up. And then…do at least one EVERY DAY. Yes, every day. This will fill your cup up and make you an even better caregiver or “carer” as our friends in the UK say.
It might seem such a small thing to do but it is essential. If you are burned out, you will be of no use to your loved one. They need you, and they need you to be strong. So, do the right thing and go fill yourself up! You are the one who is on the front lines; you’re getting the full brunt of the eating disorder’s wrath. You need extra defenses.
Get support. This may be connecting with others who’ve been through this journey, paying a coach or therapist to guide you or attending a support group.
Learn caregiver skills. An essential piece of self-care. Training on how to be an effective caregiver is available and research is now showing how effective it can be in reducing caregiver anxiety, distress and burden. Check out the research done at Kings College in London by Dr. Janet Treasure.
Eat regular meals. This may seem obvious…yet in the throes of the chaos your own eating can get off kilter. Your child needs to see you modeling regular eating habits.
Commit to getting ENOUGH sleep. This may feel impossible due to the worries that seem to stream through our brains while in the midst of saving a child’s life. AND, with some practice and support we can get regular good sleep.
Get out in nature and move in a joyful way. Do whatever fills you up and commit to leaving Ed behind. Okay, it doesn’t have to be biking ‘no-handed’ on a beach but let it be fun. Try to notice your surroundings.
Practice Gratitude. There is so much evidence now on how being grateful reduces stress. And even the act of trying to think of things to be grateful for helps our brains produce more feel good chemicals. Give it a try!
Okay, as you get your oxygen mask in place, here are resources to keep you supported and involved as a family member:
- Sign up for one of the Hope Network, LLC Group Phone Support Calls.
- Join other parents at a Hope Network, LLC Retreat
- Read Just Tell Her To Stop: Family Stories of Eating Disorders
- Visit The Alliance for Eating Disorders for providers that include family members
- Join Facebook group MAED
- Listen to this interview I did on Self-Care and Traumatic Brain Injuries