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  • Writer's pictureThe Recovery Bean

Mindfulness - Learning new coping mechanisms

Hi everyone,

Something I've been exploring with my therapist recently, is the ways in which I cope when things go wrong. We have established that I used my eating disorder for this purpose, as when I was stressed or hyper-aroused, I turned to restriction, and when I felt low or numb: hypo-aroused, I turned to binging. That is not to say this was the only trigger for my anorexia or use of ED behaviours, but it is one we have identified the need to work on. We have realised, that whilst I am actively learning not to respond to emotional strain by turning to my ED, I have neglected to replace it with any healthy coping mechanisms. As a result of this, I have found myself hitting a bit of a wall with my mental recovery, as I am struggling to process my feelings, many of which are brought about by the challenges of defying my ED.

In order therefore, to push forward with my recovery, my therapist has suggested the use of mindfulness to help me manage my emotions as well as enabling me to be more present. Mindfulness aims to prevent your thoughts from drifting so you don't become stuck in the past or freaking out worrying about the future. This is especially relevant to ED recovery as we can be prone to feeling guilt for our previous intake, or dreading and fretting over what we are yet to consume. One concept she's introduced to me is the "window of tolerance" which is the range of arousal in which we function best and are able to respond appropriately to anything that comes our way. Outside of this, our nervous system responds by activating the fight or flight response, and so we can use mindfulness to help steer us back on track as well as simply to appreciate when we are smooth sailing.

One way to bring yourself back within your window of tolerance when you have been pushed out, is to use grounding skills. An example of this is to name 5 things in the room that you can see, you can also practice deep breathing, or listen to some calming music. My therapist has also been helping me to explore how we can view thoughts as just thoughts and let them wash over us. This means not assigning them a moral value such as good or bad, but simply observing them. In addition to this she has introduced me to "compassion mindfulness" whereby you focus your mind on a person dear to you and bring your awareness to the love and kindness you feel towards them, then progress to applying those same emotions to yourself.

I have only been beginning to implement these skills over the last week, and so I am still unsure how effective they are for me, consequently I'll be following this post up in the next month or so. Regardless of this, I invite you to give some of the above a try, or maybe experiment with different forms of meditation. Personally, I have neglected the use of healthy coping mechanisms throughout my entire life, and so whilst I am able to deal with the discomfort of recovery through the use of my distractions, I think it is important for me to learn skills I can bring forward with me. It is not just recovery that is going to pose me problems... in order to function and more over to enjoy living in the real world, I want to be armed with the tools to tolerate and process the way I'm feeling. Repressing my emotions has never done me any favours, and my inability to process them has resulted in me treating my loved ones undesirably as I am prone to taking out my stress on others. Consequently, I believe mindfulness will help me to further align my life with my values and allow me to be more engaged in what's going on around me without shutting down or acting out.

Recovery and life itself is a constant learning process and through my therapy programme I am getting the opportunity to work on myself and create the life I want to live - free of my ED and it's associated burdens. I believe taking responsibility of your own recovery is essential, and so through giving mindfulness a go, I hope to be able to overcome the barriers I'm facing so I can continue working towards my goals.

More from me soon,

Mais// The Recovery Bean <3

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