Stress is change. Changes to our external or internal environment cause stress. The stress mechanisms in our bodies don’t distinguish between sources of stress. Whether fleeing from a saber-toothed tiger, or running late to a meeting with your boss, our bodies react the same.
In today’s society, stress has become the new norm. If you aren’t already overwhelmed with work, politics, finances, family, relationships, and technology, try topping it all off with an eating disorder!
Why are we stressed?
People are often afraid of change. We fear the unknown. Just as many of us strive for a sense of balance and consistency in our lives, our bodies are constantly working to achieve homeostasis. When that balance is upset we experience physical and mental stress. The stress we live with can impede recovery.
There isn’t much that is more physically and mentally stressful than recovering from an eating disorder.
You must be a warrior to face your worst fears and venture into the unknown. You must hold on to the belief that a better life awaits you on the other side.
Effects of mental stress include:
- Increased urges for self-destructive behaviors
- A compromised immune system, causing delayed tissue repair
- A weakened digestive system
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Sleep deprivation
- Negative thinking
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Foggy thought and poor memory
- Mood swings
- Tension headaches and migraines
- Frequent colds or illnesses
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Acid reflux
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD)
- Heart conditions
These ailments perpetuate more stress, and we can end up in a vicious cycle.
What can we do?
First of all, it’s important to understand stress and the effect it can have on your body. Looking at stress mindfully can help us gain perspective. Next, recovery warriors need to do everything possible to reduce stress. In doing so, we can work to make the path towards recovery more inviting.
11 Ways to Reduce Stress:
1. Avoid stressful situations
Sounds obvious, right? But research has shown that prevention is the most effective way to reduce stress. For example, if running late to work stresses you out, be sure to leave earlier. Think specifically about what causes you stress, and then brainstorm ways to reduce or eliminate those stressors.
2. Practice mindfulness
Try my video on mindfulness and self-massage for anxiety.
3. Take yoga classes
You can find a ton of information on yoga and recovery here.
4. Get massage therapy
For more on that, see my Recovery Warriors article on the importance of nurturing touch in recovery.
5. Have social time
Get together with people that care about you and make you feel good.
6. See a cognitive behavioral therapist
Science supports the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and I personally have found it to be remarkably helpful.
7. Go outdoors
Sunlight can be an awesome mood lifter.
Watch a funny movie, hang out with people that make you laugh, or try laughter yoga (yes, that’s a real thing.)
9. Meditate and do deep breathing exercises
You can learn how to meditate on the go in this podcast.
10. Be grateful
Practicing gratitude is a powerful stress-reducer, as I have learned from Jessica Raymond’s excellent podcast.
11. Educate yourself about your body
Understanding the body’s mechanisms throughout recovery can help reduce stress by distancing you from your eating disorder. It’s helpful to understand what is happening with your body and why. This knowledge can make recovery less scary and help you appreciate your body’s amazing capacity to heal. (For more on this fascinating subject, listen to this Recovery Warriors interview with Tammy Beasley, RDN.)
Find what works best for you. Experiment. Be creative.
The important thing is to nurture yourself throughout your recovery.
Reducing stress can help eliminate roadblocks that hinder your success.
May it also ease your stress to know that you are not alone. You are part of a supportive community of Recovery Warriors, each of us seeking the clearest path towards our own recovery.