Coping with Eating Disorders and Social Distancing

10 Apr by HPA/LiveWell Eating Disorder Treatment, COVID 19

During the Coronavirus pandemic, it is vital for all of us to play our part in flattening the curve by staying at home, as it is possible to spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms. However, the mental health effects of being socially isolated are difficult for us all, inducing anxiety and stress in many.  For those struggling with an eating disorder, this anxiety can be magnified by fear and confusion about how to manage the treatment of their disorder. Eating disorders and social distancing may be linked by the fact that isolation can be a trigger for some people – therefore the current circumstances are both daunting and threatening to their recovery. If you, or someone that you know, is struggling to manage an eating disorder, then we at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY, can help manage these difficulties with eating disorder treatment during isolation.

Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment

Treatment for eating disorders can be delivered in a range of different settings, depending on the needs of the client. Ranging from least intensive to most, the treatment options are as follows: intensive outpatient/outpatient, partial hospital, residential, and inpatient.

For outpatient treatment the client tends to be medically stable and does not require medical monitoring and their symptoms are under enough control to be able to function in society. The cornerstone of outpatient treatment is usually individual counselling sessions. These sessions typically occur for an hour, once a week. However, depending on the needs of the client, the therapist may recommend more frequent sessions. As treatment progresses and the client is making strides in their recovery, the therapist may begin phasing out sessions to once every two weeks, to once per month, and eventually leading to an as-needed-basis. A therapist may also recommend family therapy sessions as part of eating disorder treatment. These will be dependent on family circumstances, age, and geographical factors. During isolation therapy sessions will likely be interrupted and therefore, it is vital to understand that eating disorders and social distancing can be negatively linked. However, the negative effects of this can be mitigated through online therapy sessions, phone calls, and regular check-ins with a therapist.

Coping Skills for Eating Disorders

Coping skills are an essential asset in the management of eating disorders and social distancing, as having well-defined, specific coping skills can help you to control the symptoms during isolation. The following are some established coping skills:

  • Go online and talk with a friend.
  • Discover a passion – this can help you to boost your self-esteem by developing a level of mastery or a new skill.
  • Make a list of positive affirmations – picking one affirmation and telling yourself it every morning and night will make it a part of your subconscious self-beliefs.
  • Make a list of what you are grateful for – family, friends, skills, etc. This can be difficult when you are feeling stressed, but identifying things that you are happy for will help you to cope with negative emotions.
  • Mindful breathing – this can help you to calm anxiety and negative emotions by focusing on your breathing and body.
  • Imagine yourself in a safe place – this is a place where you do not need to do anything that is harmful to yourself.
  • Think about things you can do when isolation is over – things you want to do for family or friends, classes you might want to take, places that you may want to go, etc.

Eating Disorders and Isolation

When managing an eating disorder during isolation, the magnitude of time that you have to isolate for may seem overwhelming when considered as a whole. Break the time down into its components, taking it a day at a time, as this might be considerably less daunting than weeks or months. Break the week up with activities that you are looking forward to, such as a virtual movie night with family or friends. Consider what your personal triggers might be and communicate them with someone close to you. That way, if isolation starts to become difficult, you can ask them to check in with you each day to see how you are doing. Organize regular catch-up sessions, regardless of whether you are struggling or not. Make use of online support groups to help you check in with others who may share your concerns and can also bolster you when you need it.

Isolation can be a trigger for some individuals with eating disorders. For these people, keeping a semblance of structure to their day can be helpful. They may want to keep a more detailed daily routine which includes activities that they enjoy or can find a positive distraction in. Below is an example of a detailed routine which provides positive distractions:

8:30 amWake upGet dressed
9:30 amLearning timeReading, journaling, crossword, etc.
11:30 amCreative timeMusic, writing, artwork, etc.
1:00 pmRelax timeWatch tv, read, garden, etc.
2:00 pmChore timeMinimal cleaning, laundry, organizing, etc.
3:00 pmFresh airTake time outside – walk if permitted or sit in a garden.
4:30 pmCheck-in timeEvaluate your progress. Phone a helpline if necessary.
5:00 pmExercise timeYoga, breathing, stretches, etc.
7:00 pmSocial timePhone a friend or family member – Facetime if possible.
9:00 pmWind down timeWatch a film, read a book, listen to music, etc.

We may be in the midst of unprecedented circumstances, but it is important to acknowledge the impact that social isolation can have on eating disorder recovery in order to effectively cope with eating disorders and social distancing. To find out more about caring for your mental health, or to learn about the mental health services provided at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY, contact us at 518-218-1188.