Stress is a primary trigger for most mental health conditions – from anxiety and depression, and especially eating disorders, external pressure leads to disordered thoughts and behaviors. When people have underlying conditions like PTSD, depression, or anxiety, it can make handling stress that much harder and the urge to give in to the urge to binge or otherwise self-harm. For those dealing with an eating disorder, restricting or otherwise controlling their food is a way of gaining control.
There are very few times in the last century that have been as stressful or isolating as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Fear and feelings of loneliness can make everything seem overwhelming, but there are things you can do to keep your health and mental wellbeing intact during isolation. We’re going to look at potential pitfalls that might trigger disordered eating behaviors, ways to identify your triggers, and healthy self-care routines to cope with and prevent disordered eating.
Eating Disorders and Quarantine stress
Disordered eating has many causes but as we said, constant stress is one of the biggest factors. Whether your eating disorder manifests as a restriction or purging-type disorder, it’s often about establishing control in a time where you might feel like you don’t have any. Eating disorders can manifest slowly as well, and often begin with very similar patterns of thought and behavior to other mental health concerns:
- Obsession about weight and caloric intake
- Preoccupation with how you look, or how others might perceive how you look
- Continually checking the mirror, and anxious thoughts that take your attention away from your tasks at the time
- Anxiety over the foods presented to you
- Lack of interest in being social, which is only made worse by the isolation of lockdown
While these are not the only psychological manifestations of an eating disorder, they are often the first that appear. As disordered eating progresses, it can take up more of your mental health and daily thought patterns. Particularly if you’re quarantined or in lockdown by yourself, this preoccupation can become dangerous extremely swiftly.
Additionally, lockdown poses its own problems that make mental health in general less stable:
- Isolation leaves you alone with your thoughts, making it difficult to determine if your self-criticism is valid or fair
- Lack of exposure to other people can make us depressed, particularly if your family or friends are locked down away from you
- With fewer opportunities to engage in hobbies, people might lose interest in them, or worse, we long for them and in both cases, depression can set in
- Losing track of time due to the monotony of days can make us feel like negative emotions – fear, loneliness, anger – have been plaguing us for longer than they have
This is why it is so critical to engage in self-care, not just during lockdown but every day. Self-care is less about pampering yourself and more about ensuring that your emotional, psychological, and physical health is maintained.
Self-care Techniques for Quarantine
A daily self-care routine should nurture your mind, social life, and physical health. Maintaining positive habits each day is a great start to ensuring that you don’t have time to think about the negative emotions that drive you towards eating disorders.
Even if you’re not interested in becoming an author, writing daily is a great way to exercise your mind and help keep your brain sharp. It’s also a fantastic way to get your thoughts and emotions out in a healthy way. Considering keeping a journal, to log everything from your dietary and exercise patterns, to your mood and reactions to everyday life.
Another useful way to engage with writing is to start a blog on a topic you find interesting. You can make a free blog on a site like WordPress or make a recovery account on Instagram and write about your journey. You may be surprised to see how many people take an interest in your hobby, making new friends in the process. For some, blogging can even become a lucrative career, but regardless, it’s a fun hobby with profound benefits for your mental health.
How you perceive and talk to yourself becomes reality. If you call yourself a lazy person, you’ll often engage more frequently in behavior that matches that mindset. Each day you have to remain isolated, consider who you would be at your very best, and then believe that you are that, or will become that. Envision the path to that better person and you’ll find it’s easier to live the actions that will make it true.
Affirmations are powerful because they can help you rewrite how you think about who you are, fundamentally. They might feel silly at first, but practice them daily for at least two weeks before you give them up – you will see a difference.
Mindful movement practices like yoga or tai chi (or even just taking a walk in the woods) are essential to self-care in the context of eating disorder recovery. Movement in accordance to guidelines taught in treatment also helps clear cortisol from the body, something that an anxious mind or one beset by eating disorders might have in excess. The endorphins that physical activity releases can be beneficial to your mood and your ability to think clearly and stay on task, something that people working from the home need in particular during a lockdown.
It must be noted though that long bouts of cardiovascular exercise actually increase cortisol levels, however, so engage in strength training to get the biggest mental health benefits. Additionally, too much cortisol causes systemic inflammation, which is a causal factor in some mental health disorders.
Like writing, daily reading helps your mind stay focused and sharp. Reading in the morning can make it easier to stay focused on your daily to-dos and help prime you for better, clearer thinking all day. Absorbing quality material like non-fiction is beneficial, as is all learning – self-improvement has a positive effect on mental health and self-confidence. With that said, however, simply reading books that you enjoy still can improve the quality of your life and reduce mental health problems.
One extremely nice thing about daily reading is that, even despite quarantine and lockdown, you can still engage in book clubs with other people. Zoom and programs like it allow for social interaction that fits into whatever niche subject you like, be it wizards, mystery, or romance. In this way, reading can transcend from a positive habit and enjoyable pastime to a full-fledged hobby.
By itself, daily meditation can help almost everyone maintain their emotions during hardship and think more clearly. Mindful meditation – the practice of quietly observing your thoughts as they arise and then dismissing them – can make dealing with disordered, intrusive thoughts significantly easier. People who participate in daily mindfulness meditation report a more even temperament, less impact from mental health problems, and better control of their emotions.
This activity can help you understand where your desire to purge, binge, or restrict food comes from. Even if you don’t delve too deeply during your daily sessions, mindfulness gives you space between a thought and a corresponding judgment or action. For instance, if you were to catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and start to think something harsh, mindfulness allows you to take a breath and examine where that thought is coming from. When you have that space, you can dismiss these thoughts as nothing because they are nothing.
Self-care Is Not a Cure-all
While daily self-care, checking in with loved ones, and engaging in hobbies are key factors in an enjoyable and positive life, they will not fix everything. You should not feel ashamed or like you haven’t succeeded if you try self-care techniques and they don’t improve the quality of your life or help fight off your disordered eating habits.
Residential and Day Treatment Options
For some people, a multidisciplinary approach is needed to help become recovered from their eating disorder. Monte Nido offers both residential and outpatient treatment options, depending on what will best benefit your needs.
Upon intake, you will find our residential treatment facilities to be as close to home as possible. Treatment engages group therapy and one-on-one work, to help you engage with others who are on a similar journey as you. Most eating disorder treatment programs also incorporate medical doctors, therapists, exercise, and nutrition classes. The goal of these programs is to give you the tools to help make choices in your life that empower you and relieve the burden of eating disorders.
We also treat underlying, concurrent mental health problems, giving you the freedom to become recovered from your eating disorder without being additionally impacted by underlying depression or anxiety.
A proper eating disorder day treatment program allows you to attend therapy sessions, nutrition consultations, and see our medical staff without staying overnight. Day treatment is good for people who do not meet the criteria for residential care or who have completed residential treatment and still need ongoing therapy to support their transition into lifelong recovery.
During this time, eating disorder facilities have increased our training to ensure the highest level of safety for our staff and our clients. Daily temperature checks, rigorous hand washing, and sanitizing schedules, and detailed intake questions to screen out those with potential COVID. The residential facilities should have plans in place to isolate any individual who presents with COVID symptoms.