Monte Nido River Towns Clinical Director Gillian Tanz, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker with over 10 years of experience treating a variety of mental health disorders in multiple treatment settings. In this week’s blog post, Gillian discusses the importance of play in eating disorder recovery.
As adults, and even adolescents, our society tells us that there is no room in our lives for play. We must work, be productive, be goal-driven, and get that A+ (or else why bother?). I’m here to tell you that, especially in recovery from an eating disorder, making space for creative play can be an enormous asset. And productivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Below, I’ll explain some of the reasons why.
This is your brain on ED:
Scientific research has shown that people with eating disorders tend to have some cognitive traits that can be unhelpful to recovery. These include cognitive rigidity, a preference for rigid rules, attentional difficulties, perfectionism, seeing details but not the big picture, impulsivity and compulsivity. How do these traits interfere with recovery?
- Rules, like food rules, diets or exercise rules, can make you feel safe. But the more you stick with them, the scarier it can become to try something new (like all the changes you have to make in recovery). Once you’re hooked on rules, it can be tempting to make them more and more strict, with one’s world becoming smaller and smaller.
- Perfectionism is a trait that, when applied to certain aspects of life, can be an asset. However, perfectionism truly is a double-edged sword. Perfectionists often become so afraid of failing that they become paralyzed by fear. This makes it very difficult to consider trying new things, whether it’s foods, meeting new people, engaging in treatment, or any other kind of risk.
- Impulsivity and compulsivity can be seen as opposites, but both can be detrimental to recovery from an eating disorder. People who jump into situations without thinking are more likely to put themselves at risk. And those who are afraid to do so (we also call them “harm-avoidant”) may miss out on important opportunities for growth or human connection. Both traits can get in the way of treatment and recovery in their extreme forms.
The good news is, your brain has the amazing ability to grow, change, and physically rewire itself through intentional practice. Who knew!? This phenomenon is called “neuroplasticity.”
The Role of Play:
Creative play challenges the above traits by encouraging flexibility, spontaneity, concentration and attention. It also has the added bonus of being fun, fostering connection and relieving stress. Creativity is a trait valued by many educators and employers because it is related to problem-solving, novel ideas and invention. Clients of mine who engage in creative play report decreased anxiety, increased positive feelings and decreased obsessive thoughts.
So, what now? There are many ways to engage your playful, creative side. Here are just a few ideas:
- Take an improv or acting class
- Make a collage
- Learn to play an instrument
- Take up a creative hobby like wood-working, photography or painting
- Write a poem or story (be as far-fetched as you can!)
- Play make-believe with a child
Whatever you decide to do, make mistakes, learn from them, and have compassion for yourself. And above all, have fun! You deserve it.
We are exited to share the opening of Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Westchester, opening in early 2018. Learn more about the program by visiting our website or calling an Admissions Specialist at 888.228.1253.