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5 Effective Coping Skills for Recovery

5 Effective Coping Skills for Recovery

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5 Effective Coping Skills to Assist Your Journey to Recovery

Recovery is a journey. Recovery takes time. Recovery is your journey that you live and control day to day. Throughout this time, life stressors that you may not be able to control come into play and you may feel as if they are acting as a halt in the direction you were headed throughout your recovery journey. Life stressors may include starting back up at school, starting a new job or leaving a current one, an increase in financial obligations, taking care of an elderly family member, moving to a new home, worrying about a touchy conversation you need to have with someone, or even relationship stress. Facing this stress, it feels quite easy to rely on disordered coping skills. However, these disordered coping skills can mentally and physically play a negative impact on recovery. With an eating disorder and partaking in disordered coping skills, one’s eating disorder symptoms could heighten. Practicing healthy coping skills with your eating disorder will aid to the longevity of your wellness and nourishment journey. 

 

Here are 5 effective and healthy coping skills to handle those stressful bumps in the road that life may present in your path while you are on the road to your recovery:

 

  1. Did someone say Self-Care? Make yourself your own priority! Wash your face, brush out your hair, put on a face mask, and hop in that bath tub! Light your favorite candle. Enjoy Mother-Earth and the sunshine she has to offer by taking a walk outside and enjoying some fresh air. Listen to the soothing sound of the rain hitting your windows and meditate for 10 minutes. Get cozy and read a new book. Tidy up your living space, rearrange your closet or organize your dresser. Cook yourself one of your favorite meals or bring out your favorite family relative’s cookie recipe! Allow yourself 7-8 hours of sleep, being well-rested will aid in avoiding triggers.

2. Start a new hobby or activity, or return to one you truly enjoyed in the past. Run to Michael’s, grab a canvas and paint something beautiful, get creative! Start a new DIY project for something that would look great in your home, or something you can give to someone as a gift! Inquire through social media or online for a local book club if you enjoy a great read with people that share the same passion as you. Gather friends and family for a once-a-week game night, such as bowling, roller skating. You could even form a kickball team! Find your passion!

3. Journal it out! Keep a journal handy to write about your day. Write about your daily thoughts, emotions, something encouraging someone said to you that day, three things that you are thankful for.

 4. Recognize the way that you speak to yourself. Whether it be about your body, the food that you eat, or your actions. Write down the negative thought, and for every negative thought, on a separate piece of paper (let’s say a sticky-note) write down three positive thoughts about yourself. Now, throw away that negative thought and remove it from your mind-space as it falls into the trash, crumbled up and left behind. Take that sticky note with your three positive thoughts about yourself and place that on your mirror. Leave it there! Look at yourself in the mirror and read these positive thoughts out loud. Remind yourself how awesome you are. Speak these thoughts into existence to yourself and they will become a part of you! Self doubt and self blame will not cure your eating disorder. Uplift yourself. 

5. Reach out and lean on the community you have built around yourself of friends, family, loved ones, and others going through their own road to recovery. Associate yourself with those that you can trust. These people can help carry you throughout your journey when times don’t feel as easy or fair as they should to you. Allow them and involve them in your healthy coping mechanisms. You will be able to rely on these people when you allow them in, giving them your trust and them giving you theirs!

 

 

Sources:

3 tips for coping with triggers in Eating disorder recovery. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 21). https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/3-tips-coping-triggers-eating-disorder-recovery. 

About eating disorders. Eating Disorder Foundation.org. (n.d.). https://eatingdisorderfoundation.org/learn-more/about-eating-disorders/coping/. 

To cope with stress, Try Learning Something new. Harvard Business Review. (2019, November 26). https://hbr.org/2018/09/to-cope-with-stress-try-learning-something-new. 

 

Coming Home from Treatment

There have been many times that a client, fresh from residential treatment or partial hospitalization, has told me that he or she is surprised to return home to find that nothing has really changed. Life around them is still the same. Sure, they learned some skills in treatment but it didn’t solve the life challenges that can be so triggering. Sometimes in the moment emotions are so overwhelming that our first instinct is to return to the coping mechanism that’s become so ingrained in our daily existence. One client actually told me that she didn’t see a point in working so hard on recovery if nothing around her was going to change. She would rather cling to the one thing that’s been consistent in her life: her eating disorder.

Eating disorders are about different things for different people, and at some point in every sufferer’s journey they serve a purpose. For the person who has a difficult home life, the eating disorder may be where she retreats for comfort and control in the chaos. For the person with perfectionistic tendencies who has found that he can’t possibly excel at everything, the eating disorder is something he has complete power over and therefore can excel at. This is part of what makes eating disorders so difficult to give up- underneath the physical and psychological wreckage are definite reasons that hanging on to the illness is reasonable and even necessary.

The problem is that on some level we know that the eating disorder cannot be sustained. We cannot continue to restrict food and expect to live. We cannot binge and purge or over-exercise and expect to lead a healthy, high-functioning life. The physical body clings to every morsel of nourishment and may seem to be able to run on fumes indefinitely. Eventually, the body will crash but the mind will continue to come up with what seem like totally rational reasons to keep pushing. Sometimes, not even hospitalization is enough to spur a leap into recovery.

Life can be a shock for people returning to home, school, or work after inpatient or residential treatment. There is something of a protective bubble in higher levels of care. The intensive treatment provides a safe place for recovery to begin and skills to be learned. It is one thing to apply skills in the treatment milieu or even in family therapy sessions, but it is far another to try to apply them in the overwhelming situations that life can throw at us. According to a study discussed in the Science of Eating Disorders, following intensive residential treatment most women noticed a reduction in behaviors (i.e. they were able to maintain a healthy weight) but cognitive symptoms and thought patterns were still very much present. The cognitive changes that allow us to be able to handle life without the eating disorder take much more time to develop, which is why a solid outpatient program is so important.

The Science of Eating Disorders article lists the major factors that assist people in maintaining recovery:

  • Social support: maintaining connections with family, friends, and treatment team

  • Skills application: continued practice of assertiveness, communication, and meal planning skills

  • Stepping outside oneself: returning to work or school, volunteering, working on higher values all help the focus return to life rather than eating disorder.

Not surprisingly, one major factor that inhibits maintained recovery is loss of support and lack of structure. The importance of these cannot be overstated. People with eating disorders must engage treatment and refuse isolation, even on the worst days. This takes courage and often a profound show of “acting as if” until it becomes easier. Especially as clients return to challenging life situations, the right support can make all the difference.

Science of Eating Disorders (2012). Maintaining Change Following Intensive Eating Disorder Treatment. www.scienceofeds.org

 

When Perfection is Imperfect

perfection-pursuit

What is perfection? Current society would have us believe that it is the Stepford Standard, that anything less than keeping up with the Joneses makes us substandard, less relevant, not good enough, or just plain not enough. Webster’s defines perfection as “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics” and “completely free from faults or defects”. Maybe it’s just me but I feel like these definitions are in conflict.  Why can’t I have all the required or desirable elements, qualities and characteristics, AND still have faults? Why can’t I be perfectly imperfect? Perfection can be found in the faults, in the quirks that make us who we are and the experiences that we grow from that have been less than perfect.

Is it even possible for anyone or anything to be truly perfect (i.e., without flaws)? Rationally, I think most would agree that it’s not. Rationally, we know that it is part of the human experience to be flawed, to make mistakes, to rise from the proverbial ashes. But how can we rise if we’ve never been burned? Rather, in perfectionism we are consumed by the flames, the need for this unattainable perfect. Why is accepting imperfection so hard? Brene Brown has done an amazing job of addressing this question, in fact much of her work focuses this very topic.

The point of this post is not to delve into imperfection, but rather how we know when our need to be perfect, to be “completely free from faults or defects” is getting in the way of this thing called life. Society tells us that if we aren’t the highest performers, if our parties aren’t the biggest, the best, the ultimate event that has Gatsby in envy, then we aren’t doing it right.

How does this happen? How do we miss the point of the very thing we are trying to achieve? It’s simple, we forget to think about the intent of the goal itself. And, when we forget about the intent (the desired end state or outcome) we go into the perfectionistic planning mode. If you are prone to this mentality then you know how time consuming and crazed the planning gets around a desired goal. The flaw here is that the obsessive planning, the extensive preparation and painstaking compulsion to think about everything that should happen, everything that might happen, the need to think (aka obsess) about all of the knowns and unknowns, gets in the way of the goal. Not to mention it makes the process of reaching the goal exhausting. Essentially we run ourselves into the fire of worry about the “what if’s”, all the while missing the point of the event.

Take this for example, say you want to get friends together for a game night. The idea being that you would get folks together, maybe have some food, maybe some drinks, and everyone has a night full of commercial worthy fun. The perfectionist dives immediately into the planning and organizing of the “perfect” game night. Sending out the fancy semi-formal electronic invitations with the “perfect” play on words that “perfectly” captures the theme of the night. Then to the food, drinks, and venue prep. The perfectionist struggles with letting everyone bring a dish (what if two people bring the same thing, or some other catastrophe happens?!), people can bring a side but no matter what the “perfect” host needs to have the “perfect” culinary item that could make Martha Stewart green with envy. Everything must be organized, “perfectly”… heaven forbid the drink cooler not match the centerpiece. The games, must be selected with care, to facilitate the most fun of course. And then amidst all the planning and preparation for the “perfect” party, the home must be spotless. Above all cost’s this house must not look lived in!!! In the perfectionist frenzy, you stop thinking about the intent of game night, and start obsessing on the need for “perfect”, the rave reviews; you’re looking for the 5 star yelp review for what started as a means to connect with your friends/families.

Rather than connecting, you’re disconnecting. There’s no room for fun and friends when there’s a “perfect” party on the horizon. If you think your friends can’t feel the anxiety of your perfection obsession aura puts off, let me tell you, in no uncertain terms, they can. Your “perfect” planning is imperfect. It’s driven by an unattainable need to be “perfect”. Did you ever stop to wonder what perfect was?… in this case it’s not the best party favors, or the game selection, or the food, or the drinks. What makes game night perfect is the intent. You are creating a space for people that you know and love to come together and have fun (that’s the intent, that’s the desired outcome). It doesn’t matter if people love the food, or find a speck of dust under the coffee table, or if no body plays games at all on game night. What matters is that you brought people together for an evening of levity.

Some of the common cognitive distortions associated with perfectionism are:

  • Black-and-white thinking – “If this is not perfect, I am a failure.” Or “Only lazy people ask for help.”
  • Catastrophic thinking – “Everyone is watching me, if I make a mistake they will think I am stupid.” Or “If my presentation isn’t flawless, I will lose my job”
  • Probability overestimation – “Even if I study a lot, I still won’t do well on my exam.”

What happens in the above statements is that there is no room for life; because perfect isn’t defined and the intent hasn’t been identified, there is no way to determine success. There are always things we can do differently or do better in the future, that’s part of the learning curve of all life’s situations. Perfectionists have a hard time thinking about what success looks like ahead of time, instead they look retrospectively and judge themselves harshly for the things they “should” have known, never accounting for the fact that these things could not have been known at that time.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure you aren’t going into a perfection obsession.

  • What is the intent? (really think about it)
  • Are the thoughts and actions you are engaging contributing to or detracting from the intent?
  • Are you enjoying it? (If the answer is no, ask yourself 1. Why am I doing this (i.e. is it aligned with my intent or my need to be perfect)? 2. What about this am I not enjoying? 3. Could I approach this differently to feel better about this?
  • Am I being competitive? (With myself? With someone else?)
  • Am I willing to ask for help? (perfectionists tend not to ask for help and/or have trouble truly delegating, also known as micromanaging)

 

Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and keep it moving.

 

Ashley Steelman, MSW

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