Recovery is a slow and gradual process. It’s likely I will never be ‘fully’ recovered, my disordered eating habits and anxiety are part of who I am and I accept that. However, I’ve recently been looking back on my journey, the changes, the setbacks, the small victories, and I’ve been reflecting on how making small choices in everyday life has had a huge impact. Maybe some of these changes could help you too.
Food and Exercise
I still have safe foods (the foods I know I will eat even when I’m not feeling like eating), I still like to have a meal plan for the week and I still like to look at restaurant menus in advance. And yet, there have also been times when dinner plans have been totally spontaneous.
Recently, I was having dinner at someone else’s house and didn’t know what we were having until I arrived, and I was totally relaxed. A few years ago that would not have been okay! I even have fast food occasionally, without flinching, something that used to fill me with anxiety over how much weight I’d put on or how ‘bad’ that was. It’s fun to go through a drive-thru and not worry about cooking every now and then, and hot chips are so good! It’s totally worth it.
I realise now that I used to be obsessed with exercise, and it was not healthy. At the time it was just my life; my schedule was work, exercise and eat, in that order. I did have fun at the gym, but I was constantly aching from the previous day’s exercise classes. Disruptions to my schedule would make me really uncomfortable and I’d have to find a way around it to still fit in the required exercise. I got out of this habit by taking a break, moving away and starting afresh.
I’m not suggesting you should make the same drastic change, but a change of scenery can give you the space to reset your focus and challenge your behaviour. Now I tend to do a lot of walking, maybe a run once a week, maybe a session at the bouldering gym (a new hobby I picked up, it’s super fun) but if not, that’s okay, no stress.
I no longer beat myself up and change what I’m eating because I didn’t get to the gym six days a week. And let me tell you, it is really freeing and has made exercise and eating so much more enjoyable.
This year I got engaged to my beautiful and supportive boyfriend and we’re super excited to start married life together.
However, I want to reiterate that having a partner does not make all your problems go away. I definitely used to think in my single days that having a boyfriend would cure a lot of my fears and problems, that if someone just showed me that unconditional love and affection, I would feel better about myself. But that’s just not true. In order for someone else to love and respect you, you need to first learn how to love and respect yourself.
It has been a really hard year and I’ve struggled a lot with my mental health. It has been an anxiety-inducing twelve months and there’s been so much out of my control. I’ve had panic attacks, in private and in public, and felt overwhelmed to the point of numbness.
My partner and I have supported each other through the struggles and we are continually learning how to best love and care for each other, through the bad times as well as the good. I’ve been seeing a psychologist too, which has been really helpful in understanding the source of my anxiety as well as learning techniques to deal with panic attacks and spirals.
When things feel out of control and too much, I just take a break from everything and focus on the now and on the things I can control, like my breathing or which book to read next. This helps to reset my mind and puts things into perspective. I also received a weighted blanket, which I crawl under when I’m feeling low and it helps to calm any feelings of restlessness and anxiety. It’s like having a huge permanent hug, which is great when no one else is around to give you a real hug. I would highly recommend one of these, particularly if you have trouble sleeping.
Another really helpful change I made was limiting my time on social media. I live in a different country to most of my friends and family, on the other side of the world, in the opposite time zone. Keeping in touch via social media is really important to me and I have regular video calls with my family and friends and like to scroll newsfeeds to see what’s going on back home. However, it’s good to remind myself that I’m not obligated to reply to every message as soon as I see it, it’s okay to leave it for a while, for another day, and to reply when I’m ready. Particularly with the time difference I get a lot of messages through in the evenings when I’m trying to wind down and put my mind to rest. I’m getting into the habit of saying no to people, sometimes saying hi I’ll reply to this later or just leaving it on unread. The world actually keeps turning without an instant reply!
Looking at social media tends to always lead to endless scrolling that’s just unnecessary, unhelpful and stops me from getting to sleep. Let me tell you, having enough hours of quality sleep is super important and has a massive impact on your mental health. I used to scroll Instagram before bed watching dog video after dog video, which you might think is cute and totally harmless, but I would get so sad and literally cry because it made me miss my dog back home and pine for a furry friend of my own. I would feel depressed and start over-thinking everything in my life, whether I’d made the right choices. I’d dwell on the lack of control I had over everything, and I would spiral into a sobbing inconsolable mess. All because of a puppy doing his first ‘awoo.’
I’ve now put limits in place on my phone so I can only spend a certain amount of time each day on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. This has been so helpful! I would love to encourage you to safeguard your mental health by limiting your time on social media to stop the comparisons, judgements and obsessive thoughts from taking over your life. It still surprises me how many people don’t realise that social media is largely content of people’s ‘best’ life or even their ‘fake’ life. It is not a realistic representation of that person’s life, it’s a tiny snapshot that probably isn’t even close to reality. We have no idea what someone is going through when they post a sunny happy picture, with a caption about how good things are. Social media lacks those real emotional connections and diminishes levels of understanding and thoughtfulness.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you will be making comparisons with your own life and this can seriously lower your self-esteem and confidence. I’m not as pretty as they are, I’m not as successful as they are, I don’t have clothes like they have, I don’t have the life they have. Let me tell you what you do have. You have your own life, unfolding right in front of your eyes, and you may be missing it because you’re focusing on someone else’s social media posts.
When you post something and receive a like or a comment, this stimulates the brain to release dopamine, which makes you feel good, momentarily. This rewards the behaviour and perpetuates the social media habit. This is how users can become so addicted to maintaining a social media presence, just to get that feel-good hit. It’s one of my biggest fears that young adults, teenagers and children today think that what they post on Instagram or TikTok is more important and of greater value than their real, tangible life. Maybe I’m a bit old fashioned, but I say put down your phone and live your life in the real world, connect with people face to face (where restrictions allow) and make the most of every second, looking out at the world and not down at a screen.
If you’re in recovery or struggling with your mental health, don’t expect change to come suddenly. It’s taken me years to get to where I am now, with a lot of love and support, from myself as much as others. The improvements will be a result of the little things you do, the small choices you make every day. Spend less time on social media, spend more time outside, get a good night’s sleep, eat what you want, and focus on your happiness and wellbeing. These positive changes will help you to cope with the bad days, because there still will be bad days, and enable you to seek a better tomorrow.
Written by Alex Jarvis for The Big Sister Experience.