For both men and women, routine self-care might include chiropractic adjustments, massages, salon appointments, time at the library, dining out, spending time with friends and family, and other activities that are currently on hold due to COVID-19. Because the products and services often associated with self-care are inaccessible right now, those in recovery may be at higher risk of relapse. It’s important to rethink the concept of self-care and develop a pandemic-friendly action plan.
Maintaining Self-care During Eating Disorder Recovery & COVID-19
Although it might look a little different, there are many ways to continue to care for your mind, body, and soul and continue healing from your eating disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic. These forms of self-care don’t require face-to-face time with others, non-essential products or services, or even any financial investment at all.
Schedule Your Day Ahead of Time.
Having a structured plan for each day can help you avoid your triggers, occupy your mind with healthy habits, eat scheduled meals, and comply with your treatment plan. Incorporate key components of self-care into your schedule like plenty of rest, creativity time, time outdoors, and meals that nourish your body. A set schedule can help days during the pandemic feel a little more like “life as we know it” and a little less isolating and alienated from daily routines.
Join a Support Group.
Online support groups can serve as an effective replacement for in-person support groups and give you quick access to people who are working through some of the same thoughts and feelings that you are, share stories of hope with you, and help you stay connected with professionals who can guide and encourage you.
Some helpful resources include:
- National Eating Disorder Helpline at (800) 931-2237
- National Eating Disorders Association’s Support Group Finder
- Monte Nido’s Eating Disorder Resources
Take Time for Physical Activity.
Moving and stretching your body can improve your mental health and mood, reduce your risk of depression, improve your sleep, and support your thinking and judgment skills. While many gyms are closed and group fitness are canceled, a quick yoga session or a walk around the block are still within reach. If you’re not sure where to start, many free videos on YouTube can walk you through a quick morning stretch or yoga session.
Spend Time Outdoors.
Time spent in nature has a positive correlation with mental health. In fact, studies have shown that populations with access to green spaces have better psychological well-being overall than populations without ready access to nature. While many of your go-to venues may be closed due to COVID-19, green spaces are still open. Taking a walk, sitting on the front porch, or sitting at the beach are great means of self-cure during recovery. When you are inside, open your curtains and even a window, weather permitting, to experience some of the benefits nature has to offer.
Journaling can be a highly effective, pandemic-friendly way to support your recovery from an eating disorder. Journaling often provides clarity to your thoughts and feelings, a better understanding of yourself, stress reduction, the opportunity to brainstorm to solve problems, and relief during stressful times. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can:
- Write a letter to someone you love and appreciate; to someone you feel anger or resentment toward; or to someone you want to get to know better
- Make a gratitude list, outlining the blessings for which you’re most grateful
- Draw a picture or a doodle; no artistic ability required!
- Write a poem or the lyrics to a song
- Write a prayer, sharing your gratitude, worries, hopes, and dreams
- Write an action plan to achieve a dream or goal, focusing on baby steps that you can take right now
- Make a to-do list
- Write about the way you’re feeling
Connect with the People You Love.
Although traditional means of connecting are off-limits right now, it’s still important to maintain relationships with people who love you and support your recovery. Facetime, social media, and old-fashioned phone calls are great ways to stay connected and beat the feelings of isolation that have come with COVID-19. You can also write letters, spend one-on-one time with those who live with you, and look through old photos, cards, and letters to feel more connected to loved ones.
Talk to Somebody About How You’re Feeling.
If you begin to experience thoughts and feelings that aren’t conducive to recovery, confide in somebody you trust who can listen, encourage you, and serve as an accountability partner. Talking about feelings is one positive way to identify and then cope with those feelings before they translate into harmful behaviors. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your struggles over the phone or face to face with somebody who lives with you, try writing a letter or sending an email. Some people find it a little easier to share that way.
Recognize the Signs of Depression and Anxiety.
Americans may be at higher risk of experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety as they cope with the consequences of COVID-19: financial strain, layoffs (or longer hours at work depending on the industry), worries about their health, isolation, and more. Recognizing the signs of depression and anxiety early can help you get help before it impacts your recovery in a negative way. Common signs and symptoms include:
- feeling sad
- difficulty concentrating
- excessive fear or feelings of dread
- mood swings
- difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping
- inability to cope with stress
- feelings of hopelessness
- trouble relating to others
- changes in diet
- anger, violence, or hostility
- suicidal thoughts
Untreated mental health issues may increase your risk of relapse, so seek help early if you think you may be experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
Keep Any Coexisting Conditions Under Control.
Those in eating disorder recovery are often managing health conditions while they recover. It’s important to keep your appointments with primary care, take your medications as prescribed, and follow your treatment plan to ensure your mental and physical health do not deteriorate. If you develop new signs or symptoms, reach out to your primary care provider for guidance, and follow his or her recommendations.
Know Your Triggers.
When an event causes an overwhelming emotional reaction, it’s considered a trigger. For those recovering from an eating disorder, triggers might include body shaming or seeing a model on the cover of a magazine. While triggers are often unavoidable, knowing what your triggers are and how to prevent them from derailing your recovery is crucial. Refer back to your recovery plan when faced with triggers.
Take a Break from the Media.
The media is contributing to panic, worry, and fear, whether intentional or not. Knowing the number of new COVID-19 cases or business closures or signs and symptoms can be helpful, but an overabundance of information – especially when it isn’t always factual or helpful – can contribute to increased stress levels and increase your risk of relapse. Spend some time each day completely disconnected and more time each day disconnected from the news for a mental health break.
Nourish Your Body.
Refer back to your treatment plan and make nourishment a priority during the pandemic. Get creative, try new recipes, eat according to a set schedule to ensure your body receives the vitamins and nutrients it needs to continue healing.
Getting Treatment During COVID-19
We recognize that not everyone is in recovery and for thousands of Americans still struggling with an untreated eating disorder, the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 may leave them feeling hopeless and alone.
If you’re exhibiting signs of an eating disorder or relapse, don’t let the COVID-19 pandemic prevent you from seeking the treatment you need to recover. If you or someone you love is exhibiting any of the following signs and symptoms – whether they have received treatment for an eating disorder in the past or not – it is imperative that they seek help as soon as possible.
- Self-deprecating statements, like “I hate my body,” or, “I’m so fat.”
- Often looking in the mirror, seemingly seeking out flaws and imperfections.
- Refusing to eat meals with everybody else or skipping meals
- An over-restrictive diet that excludes many healthy foods
- Withdrawing from favorite hobbies and activities
- Evidence of binging, like a great deal of food missing from the kitchen or excessive wrappers
- Unreasonable or extreme exercise routine
- Eating privately or sneaking food
- Use of laxatives
- Visiting the restroom during or right after meals
- Calluses on the back of the knuckles from inducing vomiting
- Dental problems from repeated vomiting
- Signs of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem
Untreated eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders can lead to life-threatening health problems, including:
- Cardiovascular symptoms like low blood pressure, low heart rate, reduced metabolic rate, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and death
- Gastrointestinal symptoms like gastroparesis, constipation, bowel obstruction/perforation, stomach rupture, esophageal rupture, or pancreatitis.
- Neurological symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, focusing, concentrating, or thinking; dizziness and fainting; sleep apnea; neuralgia; and seizures.
- Endocrine consequences including reduced production of sex and thyroid hormone production, amenorrhea, osteoporosis or osteopenia, insulin resistance, hypothermia, and elevated cholesterol levels.
- Other problems like hair loss, unnatural growth of body hair, kidney failure, anemia, and malnutrition.
Because eating disorders are so detrimental to health, it is much safer for most individuals with eating disorder symptoms to seek treatment during this pandemic than to wait with the notion of reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Residential treatment programs are taking steps as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure the safety of clients receiving services. All clients are screened over the phone for risk of COVID-19 before admission and must answer questions about their travel, symptoms, and exposure to clients who are being tested or positive for the virus. When they arrive, they’re screened again for symptoms and temperature to ensure they aren’t exhibiting signs and symptoms of COVID-19. The staff is trained to reduce the risk of transmission through appropriate hand-washing and cleaning procedures throughout the home.
Anytime is a good time to invest in self-care, whether that means staying in recovery or recognizing that you need treatment now. While COVID-19 has impacted many industries and led to a great number of closures and changes nationwide, Monte Nido treatment centers remain open and ready to serve those who need services most during this challenging time in our nation’s history.