Remember that small actions — like taking deep breaths, sipping a cup of tea, going for a walk, or coloring a page with crayons — can do a lot to deter a buildup of stress.
I finally looked at my syllabus today.
It’s been sitting in my inbox for over a week, flashing at me to find out what I have to look forward to this upcoming fall semester – which books I need to buy (and how much money I’m going to drop on them), how many assignments I’ll be graded on, what I need to have prepared before our first class meeting.
And although, for the first time in my academic career, I only have one class to prepare for, it’s my dissertation proposal seminar. Finally, here I am at the very last juncture on this long road to a PhD, and I’m filled with dread. Not excitement or nerves or inspiration. Dread.
And with next semester fast-approaching — when I’ll be knee/waist/neck-deep in eating disorder research in an attempt to complete three chapters of my dissertation — I think I need to remind myself of how to take care of my recovery.
So, whether you’re working on becoming a doctor, just starting your freshman year of college, or gearing up for another year of high school, here are five ways to keep your eating disorder at bay and put your health first.
1. Reevaluate Your Self-Care Plan
Hopefully, you already have a day-to-day self-care plan in place. And if you don’t yet, now is an awesome time to put one together.
This includes small, daily ways to take care of yourself — like knowing how to get enough sleep and drink enough water — and it also includes knowing how to avoid a meltdown and how to take care of yourself once you’re already there. What’s important is keeping in mind that just because you’re in school doesn’t mean you can let your self-care fall to the wayside.
Remember that small actions — like taking deep breaths, sipping a cup of tea, going for a walk, or coloring a page with crayons — can do a lot to deter a buildup of stress. As soon as you feel that pull in your chest or the panic rising inside of you, take a tiny break — even if you feel like you don’t have time for it. It’ll save you in the long run.
And have a nice list handy full of awesome activities, like taking a bubble bath, going on a hike, or recommitting yourself to yoga practice, that you can try when you’re in need of some special love.
And remember: The people that you surround yourself with (including romantic partners!) are part of your self-care plan. So make sure that you’ve got the best people in your corner, which can include a medical or mental health team.
2. Reestablish Your Relapse Repellent Plan
On top of your day-to-day self-care plan (which we all need), it’s also helpful to have a specific plan set up for yourself in case you feel a relapse coming on. Whether you’re experiencing emotional triggers or physical urges pushing you towards disordered behavior, it is possible to nip that feeling in the bud before it gets you into trouble.
So confront it. Be honest about how you’re feeling, and think through what got you there. When school is a stressor in your life (and for whom is school not a stressor, ya know?), it’s easy to forgo listening to your inner wisdom in the pursuit of academic success. But when we let overwhelm overtake us, that can push us straight into the arms of our (least) favorite coping mechanism: the eating disorder.
Practice intentional thought. Guide your irrational, weird eating disorder thoughts back to reality. Remember what’s really in front of you. And remind your eating disorder’s voice that it’s wrong, no matter how loud it is.
If you’re still feeling out of control, lean on your support system — that’s why they’re there. And remember that there’s no shame in recognizing when you need medical help. I’ll be the first to tell you that I have, on more than one occasion, made a doctor’s appointment simply because I was scared of relapsing and needed help.
3. Rework Your Health Care Schedule to Fit In
Sometimes in recovery — and especially in the first stages of recovery, which can last, um, years – we need to carefully schedule and monitor our caloric intake and fitness routines to make sure that we’re doing what’s best for our bodies. Eventually, we relearn how to hear our intuition. But until then, we have to uncover that muscle memory by slowly showing our bodies what to do.
And if that’s where you are, then it might be time to think about how to keep your schedule going, even when you have 6958594 activities going on — and homework on top of that.
If you have a class when you generally eat lunch, is it possible for you to bring a snack to class to satiate yourself? Or perhaps eat a later breakfast, so that you can push your lunchtime to a little later? Can you switch out of that section and into one that’s at a more fitting time for your needs?
If, over the summer, you’ve gotten into a routine of going for a walk first thing in the morning, but now you’ll be catching the bus at that time, can you think of another time of day that will work? Can you get up a little earlier to get your walk in? Could you maybe walk to (or partway to) school?
Plan this out ahead of time so that you’re not stuck feeling panicked last minute.
4. Explore the Resources Available to You On Campus
Whether you’re in high school or at college, it’s possible that your school has resources available to you in regards to eating disorder help.
Check to find out which guidance counselors, if any, have training in dealing with eating disorders. Find out if the school nurse has any background in eating disorders, too. And if they don’t, suggest to your administration that someone be brought in to make that training happen.
If you’re at university, find out what your student health services center has in regards to resources. Check what your healthcare plan offers in terms of mental health visits.
Bookmark Proud2BMe’s On Campus page. You’ll find everything you could ever need there, from toolkits for educators to how-to guides for awareness campaigns.
Be aware of where you can ask for help when you need it. And that’s easier to figure out before you’ve hit a relapse.
5. Get to Know Your School’s Leave of Absence Policy
I know this last one sounds scary, but it’s important. Because the truth of the matter is that we all need to put our health — both physical and mental, and eating disorders span both — first. But we’ve grown up in a culture that rewards us when we push ourselves past our limits. And that’s bullshit.
Sometimes we need to take a break. All of last year, I needed to take a break. But I knew that if I skipped a semester, I’d be screwed in terms of my schooling since my classes are only offered at certain times; I essentially would have set myself back an entire year. So I kept pushing and pushing and pushing . . . to the detriment of my mental health. It’s taken me months to get back to a neutral emotional space.
And that wasn’t smart of me. I should’ve taken the damn break.
So listen: You can take a break.
I wish someone had told me that.
So take a look at your school’s leave of absence policy (I sure will be for my foray into the land of dissertating). And know that that is always an option.
Because you’ve come so far. You’ve been kicking your eating disorder’s ass for so long. And as important as school feels, it’s not a reason to destroy yourself.