Lately I have had more clients than usual come in talking about how high there anxiety has been and the many ways it is affecting their lives. While I have never met anyone with an eating disorder who doesn’t have anxiety, there are times when it feels more all consuming than others. As a fellow anxiety sufferer I can absolutely relate to just how truly painful and compromising it can be when anxiety is at the forefront every day and taking a toll on your overall wellbeing. People often think that anxiety, like many mental health struggles, is a choice and that people just need to calm down. While every part of me wishes it was as easy as just “calming down”, I also know that isn’t how it works.
When you live with anxiety it feels like you are living under a constant threat. Your sense of safety has been knocked off balance and you are always looking for the proverbial monster under the bed. Can you imagine how hard it is to spend an hour, day, week or month constantly feeling like something really bad is about to happen? Can you imagine how hard it is to feel that way when you have no idea what that really bad thing is?
While I wouldn’t wish anxiety upon anyone, I do know that it is something many people struggle with and so I wanted to offer a couple tools to try when it feels like it is taking over. One thing to keep in mind is that implementing these won’t always make the anxiety go away, but they do force you to attend to your anxiety and the suffering it’s causing in a loving and attentive way.
Triangle Breathing: When we are anxious most of us breathe really shallowly and/or hold our breath. This can make our anxiety worse and can often prevent us from getting grounded. If you are anxious I would encourage you to do triangle breathing: Breathe in for the count of 5, hold for the count of 5 and exhale for the count of 5 (each count of 5 being one side of a triangle). Make sure you are counting the seconds properly and not racing through them. Do this a few times or until your heartbeat slows and the thoughts stop racing.
Distract Yourself: If eating, or in some cases not purging, creates a lot of anxiety, then plan your food intake at a time when you know you have something important to attend to right afterwards. For example, eat right before a big meeting at work, or right before having to pick your kids up from school. The anxiety will be high initially but it won’t last as long because your focus will shift onto what you need to attend to in the moment.
Self Care: I know I always come back to this but its because it works! Take some time do something you love. It might not make your anxiety go away immediately but it tells the healthy side of your brain (and your eating disorder) that you deserve to nurture yourself in times of stress.
Connection: Spending time around people or things that we love is really good for our nervous system. Spend some time with a family member, friend, or pet and share how you are feeling. If you don’t have anyone in particular that feels safe, then connect with the things that make you feel most grounded like nature, tea and a cozy blanket, or your favourite coffee shop.
Progressive Relaxation: When we are anxious we tend to tense up everywhere which makes it difficult to feel relaxed. If you are feeling anxious start with doing some triangle breathing and then move to focusing on your major muscle groups and getting them to relax. With each muscle group, start by tensing it up (it may already be tense but try anyways) and then relaxing it, letting the tension go. Only once you feel the muscle group relax should you move on to the next muscle group.
Get Some Rest: Sleep plays a significant role in anxiety and how well we can cope with things. If you are anxious, one way you can help decrease your anxiety is by ensuring you are getting enough sleep at night. Everyone has a different number of hours that makes them feel most rested so follow that, but I would aim for a minimum of 6 hours of sleep at night.
Anxiety can be debilitating and can make overcoming an eating disorder seem that much more difficult. Know that you can get through this and that neither the anxiety, nor the emotions it brings up, will kill you. Try these techniques and find which ones work best for you. Do you have any special tools you use to help regulate your anxiety?