Spring of 2021 marks one year since we entered the global COVID-19 pandemic, with mask-wearing and social distancing becoming a regular part of daily life. Our lives have all been impacted in significant ways, especially in how we connect with others. We are learning virtually, working from home, and meeting with friends and family over Zoom and video chats rather than in the classroom, or having brunch dates or holiday gatherings. While we’ve become more creative in how we stay connected, there’s no denying that the year has been lonely and isolating for many. Add to this the injustices brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement, along with the uncertainty and divisiveness surrounding our political climate, and you have a year of immense mental and emotional burden, especially for those within marginalized groups. With all that has happened this year, even our close relationships to family, friends and romantic partners have changed as we attempt to navigate differing views on politics, adherence to social distancing protocols and differences in how we choose to cope with everything the year has brought. All of these factors have taken a significant toll on those with eating disorders, anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.
During the pandemic, around 40% of adults reported having symptoms related to anxiety and depression, up from the 10% of adults reporting this pre-pandemic. There are infinite contributing factors to this, ranging from fear of yourself or loved ones becoming infected with or succumbing to COVID-19, uncertainty around making plans for the future, lack of connection with other people, political unrest and injustice across the country, loss of jobs and income – it’s no wonder that we as a population feel increased stress and anxiety in our everyday lives. Additionally, children and adolescents have experienced an upheaval of life as they knew it since the pandemic began with virtual schooling, canceled birthday parties and playdates, and increased time spent inside their homes. Children and adults alike have had to quickly learn how to grieve the loss of their normal routines, family traditions, anticipated events or vacations and most significantly, the loss of loved ones to COVID-19.
For those in recovery from an eating disorder, this influx of change and uncertainty can seem like an immovable barrier in their recovery process. One year into this pandemic, though, we’ve done our best to be resilient during this fragile time. How can we continue supporting our mental health and remaining resilient in recovery as the pandemic moves forward? Here are a few strategies that might be helpful:
1. Join virtual communities and support groups for eating disorder recovery.
Having support in recovery is so important, and with COVID-19 taking away many opportunities for in-person connections, it can seem like we’ve lost an important part of treatment. This isn’t quite true, however, as many treatment centers and providers, including Center for Discovery, have risen to the challenge of providing space for recovery through virtual outlets. There has been an increase in the online presence of virtual support groups for eating disorder recovery, including virtual meal support, group and individual therapy sessions held through telehealth outlets, and growth in online communities where you can connect with others in similar stages of recovery to provide and receive support. Take advantage of these options and as a possible supplement to in-person therapies if needed.
2. Hold yourself accountable for recovery-minded change at home.
Part of recovery is learning how to hold yourself accountable for making changes that lead away from your eating disorder and toward a healthy relationship with food and your body. Make a list of the top priority actions you can take at home to continue your recovery and prevent a return to disordered behaviors. Find a family member or friend who you can ask to support you in this task, if you’re unable to utilize a therapist for support during the pandemic. Ask them to check in on whether you’ve eaten your meals and snacks for the day, whether you’ve engaged in any disordered behaviors, or even ask them to sit with you while eating if they can (virtually, if they do not live with you). If you’d prefer to hold yourself accountable, make a meal plan schedule to follow in your home to decrease the likelihood of missing or skipping a meal. Write down a list of why you’re in recovery and why it’s important for you to continue making progress to remind yourself that recovery is worth it even when it’s hard.
3. Understand that a lapse in recovery is normal and OK.
Eating disorders will find any reason they can to make you feel guilty and unworthy of recovery, and this can feel even stronger when you have a lapse in recovery. It feels as though everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve has become meaningless, and that the return of a disordered behavior means you’ve failed in your recovery. This, of course, is not at all true. Having a lapse of disordered behaviors is common, normal and often expected to happen throughout the course of recovery — even more so when you’re dealing with a global pandemic simultaneously. Allow yourself to feel and experience whatever the lapse has brought out and continue your plan for recovery despite this. If you’re able to, talk it through with your therapist or dietitian, process it with a supportive friend or family member, or even journal your thoughts and feelings about the situation. Just remember that you will always be worthy of and deserving of recovery and returning to recovery after a lapse is just another part of the process.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a lot to navigate, particularly when you are working to overcome an eating disorder. It’s good to look back at how far you’ve come, acknowledge your resiliency and know that this is a journey worth taking. If you or a loved one needs additional resources, Center for Discovery is always here to help.
Madeline Radigan Langham is a registered dietitian who has experience working with adolescents in mental health residential treatment. She is passionate about advocating for weight inclusivity and a non-diet approach to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors and spending time on trails with her family. You can find more of Madeline’s thoughts and work at radnutrition.net or on Instagram at @mradnutrition.