Life has a funny way of interfering with our goals to live healthy, balanced lives.
If you’ve struggled with addiction, eating disorders, mood disorders or trauma, you know that the environment around you can influence your recovery almost as much as your own resolve.
Over the past year, I planned a wedding — trying to balance two families’ traditions and expectations with those of my now husbands and mine — all while researching for hours and sticking to a budget. I kept thinking that the guests’ happiness was dependent on us putting together the perfect day. No pressure, right?
In the midst of all that, tragedy struck my family and I lost a loved one. I already felt overwhelmed, and grief turned my usually analytic, clear-thinking brain to mush.
I struggled to maintain control when my life seemed to lack it, and I could feel myself starting to think in old ways. I was insulting myself, blaming myself and began to consider patterns of behavior I had previously thought to be far in my past.
Sound familiar? Whether it’s an argument with a loved one, a move or some other environmental trigger, there are ways to regain balance when you find yourself slipping into old behavior patterns.
Practice to Create a Positive Internal Voice
Sometimes, having a mantra or personal slogan that can put you back in the right frame of mind helps. You can make these situational or more general. For example, repeating “Today is going to be a good day” every morning before you face the world can help frame your day in a positive, instead of negative, outlook.
When I was wedding planning and felt overwhelmed, I repeated this to myself: “It is the marriage that’s important, not the wedding day.” That mantra kept my priorities straight throughout the many months of preparation.
This mantra should be part of cultivating a positive internal voice. The voice in your head could be a bully, or it could be a cheerleader. Experts talk about separating out the bully voice, which is the illness talking — not you.
Train your own voice to be positive by searching out the bright spots. For example, instead of thinking “Everything in my life seems to be going wrong,” say: “Today was a tough day, but I’ll remember these two positive moments the most.” In the beginning, looking for things to be grateful for or excited about may be tough, but after a few weeks of looking out for the good stuff, you’ll start to see it everywhere.
Get Professional Help
There is a tendency in the media to treat all eating disorders, all alcoholics and all people with mental health issues the same. In reality, each person’s path to healing is as unique as the person himself or herself, so it’s important to connect with a professional.
Professional treatment for any condition, especially eating disorders, will be tailored to fit the person’s needs, including therapy, counseling, nutritional information, neurofeedback and perhaps medication. Successful treatment resolves the underlying emotions and challenges that lead to abnormal eating and go beyond the surface to reach you, individually. These professionals have a cache of resources at their fingertips, and can make the difference between slipping into old patterns and flat-out returning to them.
Lean on Your Support System
No man is an island, as the saying goes, and it’s important to remember that during particularly demanding or traumatic times. If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, for example, surround yourself with people who have a positive attitude and body image.
For those you interact with regularly, ensure they’ve received some education about talking about food. For example, a focus on a healthy, wholesome diet instead of strict fad diets that label entire food groups as bad-for-you. It’s totally acceptable to distance yourself from those who do not have positive body images, or who insist on talking about the latest fad diet.
If you have trouble finding people who can relate in-person, try some of the vibrant online forums hosted by reliable groups like the National Eating Disorder Association. It may help to learn just how many people are in a similar situation, and they can share the plan that worked best for them.
Count Those Sheep
Moms and dads everywhere have said to their kids, “You’ll feel better in the morning.” For people who suffer from addiction and eating disorders, that isn’t always true. But getting a good night’s sleep can make the difference when you feel yourself tempted towards destructive behaviors. Getting the proper amount of sleep supports healthy brain function and emotional and physical well-being.
Create a Healthy Routine with Intentional Choices
Don’t let inertia carry you into old habits. Instead, intentionally come up with a routine that allows your health to thrive. The consistency of eating three balanced meals a day instead of heading into the grocery store with no list and buying only trigger foods like sweets or chips comes down to having a plan and being intentional with your choices.
Sometimes this takes a bit of extra time, but the payoff is huge. For example, you can also check restaurant menus before heading to meet friends, so that you can be present with them once you’re together. Allow yourself to live intentionally, instead of being driven by negative thoughts or dwelling on past mistakes.
Meditate, Pray or Journal
Anyone who has suffered from eating disorders or anxiety knows that competing thoughts are constantly present in the mind, like “Is this meal going to lead me to gain ten pounds? Isn’t it impossible to gain ten pounds from one meal?”
By taking time to sort through these thoughts through meditation, prayer or journaling, you can give order to what is seemingly in chaos. These types of mindfulness are proven to lower the stress hormone cortisol, so there is a chemical as well as emotional benefit.
Give yourself the same benefits of kindness and compassion that you willingly give to others. During an intense time of recovery, we are solely focused on improving our well-being. But after that period has passed, we have to learn to live in the real world, amongst our regular stressors and temptations. When you feel yourself slipping into old behaviors, take these steps to ensure you remain focused on a life well led.