I distinctly remember my first virtual session I had with my therapist back in the beginning of quarantine. I remember feeling a sense of disconnection and fear as I had to accept that this was going to be our reality for the foreseeable future. But above all, I remember the conversation we had. Seeing as we’re both clinicians, we talked not only about ourselves and the impact that not sharing a physical space with one another was going to have on our working relationship, but we also went onto talk about how this pandemic was going to impact the world of mental health as a whole.
Speaking as someone who spent much of her life isolated and existing only in my comfort zone, I thought that this would be my time to thrive! The problem is, I left that comfort zone almost 5 years ago when I started therapy. This is when I started to trust and learn that connection was ultimately the only way to heal from my past. I had gotten used to having “my people”, I’ve been in recovery from my ED, and no longer yearn for that comfort zone of isolation.
Not everyone I have encountered has been as lucky as me, and this is what my therapist and I talked about. Not my privilege, but rather the crippling effects that social isolation will have on humans. I have seen it everyday in my own work and have been referring to it as this “new wave” of eating disorders. Not a new diagnosis or set of symptoms, but rather the onset of an eating disorder as a nearly direct result of living in a worldwide pandemic and being quarantined. It has been truly mind blowing the amount of times in the past 3 months I have sat down with a new client and when asked how their ED began and they begin their story with “Well back in March…” or “It was in the beginning of quarantine…”
I am in no way pointing fingers at COVID, nor am I protesting the quarantine and keeping our world as safe and healthy as possible, I am merely here to provide a therapist’s perspective on how to move forward with COVID to hopefully avoid the development of disordered eating or a full blown eating disorder.
- Limit time on social media! The horror’s I have heard about Tik Tok’s “What I Eat in a Day” and Instagram’s “challenges” that promote weight loss and avoidance of the “Covid 15” are overwhelming. With all the unstructured time that people have, specifically adolescents have turned to their screens for validation, connection, and identify formation. I could write an entire post about social media and phone consumption, and quite frankly I probably will, but here are just a few tips to get us started.
- Do not wake up and fall asleep to your phone. Your body is programmed to wake up to light and sleep with the dark; the natural light and dark. It has been founded that on a neurological level, our brains function best if we get 10 minutes of sunlight exposure in the morning and sleep with the lights (even the small ones!) off and out of the room. Try and keep your phone out of your bedroom and allow your body to sleep the way it is supposed to.
- Limit the amount of time you spend on apps that promote social, emotional, and physical comparison. Reach out to someone in your support system and actually go into your phone to adjust the amount of time you have per day to access certain apps.
- Lastly, on the off chance you are able to see others in person, please put your phone down. If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that quality time is too precious and ever fleeting; cherish it.
- Schedule your time! Plan when you’re going to eat, work, play, move, and rest. I mean don’t get obsessive over it, but we are creatures of habit and having scheduled time actually decreased the amount of stress one feels. Not to mention, this will help keep you on top of your meal plan if you still use one!
- Give yourself some grace! The amount of times I’ve heard people (including myself!) self deprecate and fixate on “not doing _______ enough” is actually astonishing. Both my clinical supervisor and my therapist made sure that this phrase was no longer in my vernacular by simply saying “We are in a global crisis! Do you really think everyone is doing their best right now?” And if you don’t have people ingraining that into your brain, I will be that person for you. YOU ARE DOING FINE. EVEN IF ALL YOU DID TODAY WAS WAKE UP, THAT IS ENOUGH! TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND STOP COMPARING YOURSELF! WE ARE ALL STRUGGLING! …now read that 10 times over again or until you begin to believe it!