Keeping motivated in recovery

They say patience is a virtue and you certainly need it in spades during eating disorder recovery. 

I recently attended a workshop where the facilitator announced that the average recovery time for an individual with an eating disorder is seven years, making them one of the longest lasting mental health conditions. 

It’s common for us to suffer both physical and mental hardship, with the challenging symptoms and effects needing a great deal of time and commitment to improve. 

When someone experiences a restrictive disorder, there’s a high chance they will need to spend months weight restoring before they are healthy enough to engage in a structured recovery programme. Lapses and relapses can also sometimes occur, meaning the sufferer goes through a setback and must spend time rebuilding to get back to where they were before. 

It can be a cyclical process that demands endurance, resilience and bucketsful of love and support from those around us. 

Of course, each set of circumstances is unique and not everybody will spend that amount of time in treatment, but how can we keep positive through the ups and downs? How can we stay on the right track if our brains are screaming at us to revert? What are the most effective ways to remain motivated during recovery?

Remember the reasons you started 

It can be really helpful to make a list of reasons to recover and use it as a reference point when you feel like pulling back.

You can include the negative impact your eating disorder has on your physical health, the space it commandeers in your head and everything that it prevents you from doing. It might also help you to write down what you would like to do once you have progressed on your recovery journey and the things you can enjoy more if you weren’t being restrained by your condition.

Surround yourself with positivity

It can be hard to stay motivated when there are negative people and influences around you. These can be friends and family members, colleagues and online channels.

Whilst it’s very difficult to distance yourself from people, you can choose which profiles to follow on social media and who you engage with digitally more easily and ensure your down-time is not spent being drained by unnecessary comparisons and feelings of inadequacy. If your networks aren’t uplifting and inspiring you, it might time to seek some healthier ones.

Incentivise yourself

It can really help to have an incentive or something to reward your progress with if you start to feel directionless. Whether it’s material like a new item of clothing or gadget, or an experience such as a holiday it can really boost your morale and keep you on the right track. 

You may also benefit from planning to undertake a new qualification or make a lifestyle change like a different career path once your health improves. Whatever feels exciting and motivating, try and factor it into your recovery goals. 

Keep talking 

If you’re finding it all too much or dipping in motivation then it’s key that you confide in someone you trust.

Whether it’s a friend or family member, colleague or medical professional, they can support you to stay on track and remind you of the benefits of recovery. Talking can take the power away from the temptation to revert and this could in turn help to prevent a relapse. 

Self-care 

It’s a massive change that you’re undertaking, trying to improve difficult thoughts and behaviours that have become engrained over the years, so it’s important to look after yourself.

Try to factor 20 minutes into each day to do something for yourself that you will enjoy. It could be a gentle walk outdoors, colouring or crafts, reading, listening to music or a podcast, or taking a warm bath. If it resets your mind and makes you feel calm then that’s going to really help you when it all gets too much. 

Hopefully you can take something away from this blog and use it on your recovery journey.

Remember – resilience is key, setbacks are temporary, and a better life awaits you on the other side.

G x

How nature helps my mental health

If ever there was a time to feel grateful for nature, it’s now.

If it wasn’t for being able to walk outdoors, breathe in the fresh air and feel the sunshine on my face I don’t know how I’d have dealt with lockdown. Embracing nature has been a saviour.

Being outside has long been championed to reduce anxiety and boost mood, and many mental health advocates recommend it to help people feel better. It’s been proven to lower stress, blood pressure and heart rate and encourages physical activity which, when done in moderation, is really good for us.

For me, it makes all the difference. It’s a brief escape from my daily stresses that forces me to appreciate the beauty all around and put things into perspective. I love it.

There are a great many reasons to get outdoors and become one with nature, and I’ve listed the following as just a few of my personal favourites:

Reset your outlook

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been worrying about something and going outside for a walk has lessened the problem. It’s acted as a pleasant distraction and readjusted my mind frame to allow me to view it differently and put it into perspective.

It could have been breathing in fresh air, appreciating the scenery or moving my body – perhaps a combination of all three, but I’ve returned to the original concern and found that it’s loosened its grip.

Boost serotonin and endorphins

Exposure to sunlight is said to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin which is associated with boosting mood and helping you feel calm and focused. Similarly breathing fresh air can raise the amount of oxygen in your brain, which in turn also increases the levels of serotonin and positively alters your mood.

Meanwhile engaging in outdoor exercise, such as hiking, running and cycling enhances the production of endorphins – a chemical produced by the body to relieve stress.  A completely free and accessible way to make yourself feel better.

Increase Vitamin D

When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D – a vital nutrient to enhance bone and muscle health and boost your immune system.

It’s been well documented that patients with Covid-19 possessing high levels of vitamin D in their systems have fought the virus more successfully than those lacking it, so it’s important to keep up your intake!

Sun exposure is thought to be the best way to increase vitamin D levels because very few food and drink supplements contain significant amounts, making getting outside even more important.

Escape the daily grind

I’m working from home and it can get very monotonous sitting in my house most days and nights. Ensuring I get that lunchbreak outdoors and a post-work walk is essential to lift my mood and get me away from my screens.

It’s also important to move and avoid being static for too long and to me there’s nothing better than walking amongst the trees, flowers and birds to get me away from the mundane and reset my mind.

Appreciate nature’s beauty

When the technological world gets too intense and complex, I love nothing more than surrounding myself in natures simplistic beauty and escaping it all.

Sometimes my problems and anxieties feel overwhelming and far bigger than I am, but then I spend time in a beautiful place and I get the perspective I desperately need.

The intricacies of a flower’s petals, a pretty blossom tree, hills and peaks or rivers and reservoirs…I just love it! It takes me away to a special place where I see a world outside of my worries and feel much freer.

Nurture something to life

As well as appreciating what already exists, I love channelling my efforts into creating something new.

I spent much of lockdown growing sunflower seeds while my friend started her own vegetable patch and herb garden and we enjoyed it so much. It gave us an additional sense of purpose and felt like we’d nurtured something that either looked or tasted lovely. It was like such a positive and worthwhile use of time, I really recommend it.

Hopefully you can get outdoors this week to celebrate Mental Health Week 2021 and the topic of nature. Why not see if it improves your mood and how it helps you to change your outlook on the situations you find yourselves in.

G x

It’s OK not to be OK…

Today. Tomorrow. Any day.

This week may be mental health awareness week but that doesn’t mean we should stop speaking out when it ends.

The louder the conversations, the more likely we can incite positive change and make mental health services more accessible to the many not the few.

Keep talking and spreading the word.

G x

Why I love to journal

Going to therapy introduced the need to start a reflective diary and three years on I still love it.

Journaling is a complete blank canvas, there are no rules and you have the freedom to make it whatever you want. The only condition is…it has to benefit you.

I use mine for a range of things. Reflecting on thoughts or behaviours, noting my achievements, marking progress and struggles and jotting down things I need to improve on or reminders for appointments.

It helps me to place order on everything going on and is useful for tracking what is happening now and also learning from events gone by.

Here are a few ways I use my journal that might inspire you to do something similar…

Memories and achievements

I like to remind myself of happy times, positive memories and things I consider achievements when I’m feeling low, so I keep my books up-to-date with as many photos as possible.

Thoughts and emotion tracking

It’s good to track how you’re thinking and feeling and note any patterns that may be significant. If I feel especially upset, frustrated or anxious about something, it can help to write it all down and ‘get it out’ so that I can move on.

Worries

I’m a natural worrier so never short of things to stress about. Jotting them down can take away some of their power and how much room they take up in my head. It also makes them easier to reflect on and discuss if I need to.

Appointment reflections

Therapy sessions fill my head with lots of thoughts and I often feel like my head is full afterwards. Something that helps me with this is writing down any discussion points, progress checks and post-appointments thoughts so I can clearly see what we talked about and what I now have to do during the week ahead.

‘Inner Queen’ journal

I got this separate interactive book at Christmas and it’s fab!

It’s called ‘Inner Queen – No Ordinary Journal’ and it’s all about working towards your highest, most powerful self every day.

It lays it all out for you for to complete step-by-step, detailing your innermost desires, empowering beliefs and the barriers or negative thoughts holding you back. You can then keep a daily record of things like positive affirmations, inspired actions, reasons to be grateful and mood monitors.

I really helps me to learn about what holds me back the most in life, how to find gratitude in the everyday tasks and track any progress I make.

Positivity

Amongst all of the worry, I still like to take time out and reflect on what I’m grateful for. I write down three positive things that happen each day alongside achievements and gratitude lists so I can remind myself that it’s not all bad!

I also love wise words, affirmations and motivational quotes so print off any I see online that resonate with me.

Is this something you do? Or perhaps could start doing if helpful?

I hope so! Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts or ideas.

G x

My first Eating Disorders lecture

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I want to spend my time doing things that help people and make a difference. Things that are more worthwhile.

This week I got the opportunity to present to a group of Child and Youth Studies students at the University of Derby about eating disorders in young people.

It was brilliant!

I used all of my own experience and resources from the charity I work with and put a presentation together to help the group understand these complex conditions better. I learnt a lot of new facts along the way too.

We covered the visible and less common signs that someone might be struggling as well as misconceptions and created a toolkit of skills to support a young person.

The class was so engaged, asking thoughtful and insightful questions. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

It was such a rewarding experience and the feedback was really positive. Everyone learnt something from my time with them and I really felt like I had made an impact.

I love days like this!

G x

How to self-care in lockdown

Nobody is finding anything easy at the moment – the world feels very strange, unknown and uncertain.

Our routines have been thrown into disarray again, we’re once more having to stay at home and avoid social events or groups of people and all while vigilantly protecting the health of ourselves and our families. It all feels quite overwhelming.

Mental health issues can be very tricky to manage in isolation. We may rely on the support of friends, therapists and medical staff that we can’t meet for a while or have a strict routine around food and exercise that will now be compromised.

It’s certainly a distressing time for many of us but we’re not alone as thousands across the country can relate to our struggle.

It’s more important than ever to practice self-care in order to remain as calm and level-headed as possible at the moment, and here are a few practical tips on how to do it…

Maintain routines where possible

Even if your work or study pattern has changed, try and stick to your usual daily routine as best you can. By that, I mean waking up and going to bed at the same time, working, eating and drinking when you usually would and scheduling down time to relax or engage in safe distraction activities. You may be at home more than you’re used to, but it doesn’t mean you have to adapt to a completely new daily routine. If elements of your schedule change, adapt and build that into a new pattern that you can stick to whilst isolating.

Regulate media exposure

There are some scary stories out there again and the more time we spend reading them the more fearful we become. It’s key to remember that not everything you read is true, and media outlets are paid to shock and hook people in with dramatic headlines.

Whilst it’s important to be as informed as possible, exposing yourself to negative press is going to be detrimental to your mental health so set aside time to read news from a trusted source and then switch it off.

Meditate or be mindful

It’s not always easy to find the time, but whilst we’re cutting back on social activities and staying at home more – it can be really therapeutic to do a guided meditation or mindfulness session to calm your busy mind. Apps like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer do some really good ones that range from two minutes to an hour so fit nicely into your day.

Go outdoors (if safe)

I don’t know about you, but staying indoors all day makes me feel claustrophobic so just going out in my garden or around the park for a short while helps me to get a change of scenery. Yesterday I was struggling with my anxiety so went out for a walk in the winter sunshine and it reset my mind wonderfully. Just feeling the fresh air on my face and counting the trees along the way helped distract me long enough to carry on with my day.

Engage with people

I’m feeling really cut off from people at the moment so I’m making lots of effort to contact them digitally instead. That might be via message, email, FaceTime or a good old-fashioned phone call. I should have been meeting a friend this weekend but now that it’s not safe we had a good long phone chat instead and it brightened us both up a great deal. Humans are social beings and communication helps our wellbeing so it’s important to maintain contact wherever possible.

Re-frame your thinking

How many times have you found yourself saying you’re ‘stuck’ in the house? Why not try rephrasing that to being ‘safe’ in the house. When you substitute one word for another, your whole outlook can alter too.

When lockdown started last year I couldn’t see anything very positive, I believed we were all living in a state of fear and panic and my thoughts became quite negative. However, I then tried to change that and see it as a period of self-improvement, reflection and recharge instead.

I don’t mean we should all be doing online yoga or re-decorating the house in order to improve, I see this time as an opportunity to evaluate what and who is important in our lives and work to ensure we take this with us when things get back to normal.

Self-care

This alters from person to person in line with how you like to unwind, relax and focus on whatever it is that makes you feel good. Now more than ever, it’s vital to set aside time each day to look after yourself and engage in something that boosts your mood and positivity.

For me this has included watching my favourite TV shows and films, listening to music, walking, writing, colouring, speaking with friends and painting my nails. It’s also good to do the little things that make you feel better – the other day I was just about to forgo washing my hair for the second time (after all, who’s going to see it?!) but I forced myself to do it and I’m so glad I did. Feeling as good about ourselves as possible is really important when you feel anxious or out of control.

Be grateful

I appreciate it’s really tough to still find positivity in such uncertainty but even in the trickiest times, there is still a great deal to be grateful for and focusing on the good is really key.

Whether it’s a small achievement that day, a caring message from a friend or even just relaxing your mind for a short time, it’s helpful to recognise the good in life.

If that feels too hard at the moment, why not make a list of things you will appreciate when you start to feel a little more back to normal, or something you look forward to doing again in the near future.

I hope this helps in some way – please take care of yourselves, and reach out if you need to.

G x

Keeping positive this unique festive season

Like many, I can’t believe how close to Christmas it now is and that this crazy year is drawing to a close!

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the festive period because there are elements I adore and others I really struggle with.

This year is no different, yet totally different!

The traditions are still there but come with limitations and we can’t act as we usually would. For some that’s a relief, but for others it’s harder to take.

I feel very mixed. I’m sad about the things I can’t enjoy experiencing this year but happy to be safe and well in a loving family home that we spent last weekend decorating.

I love seeing friends and family but it now feels like a risk and something to take great care doing. I will keep my social events strictly outdoors and at a two metre distance and won’t be able to meet my long-distance pals in person, so those encounters will have to be through a screen.

My immediate family is small but we have a circle of 15 people we would usually celebrate Christmas with. If we all come together we will exceed the number of households that can mix so I doubt it will be possible unfortunately.

This is undoubtedly the most upsetting bit – the cancelled unions of loved ones.

I know we’re all in the same boat. I’m not bothered about having fewer presents, or even too scared of the different food (shock horror!) but it breaks my heart to not maintain our beloved festive family party traditions. That’s the saddest part.

Change is scary, daunting and sometimes upsetting and I have found myself feeling really down about Christmas ‘not being the same’ this year. But maybe that’s OK.

Maybe it’s time to count our blessings however small and try to be at peace with things being different this time round.

If we still have a safe home, loving family and friends in our lives and our health, we’re more blessed than we think.

We’re all feeling the strain, but trying to do our best.

G x

Coping with Christmas

Anyone who experiences a mental health condition will know only too well how much the festive season exacerbates it.

The heightened sense of occasion causes anxiety, there’s a huge expectation to socialise more and many of those activities revolve around food which is challenging for those with eating disorders.

People can experience loneliness or find themselves forced to spend time with people who don’t understand them, leading them to feel alone. This can lead to depression and low mood.

It really isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for many.

I was gearing up to write a blog on how to cope with Christmas this month but had a sudden change of heart. It felt like a duplication of efforts.

About a month ago, the CEO of First Steps ED, a mental health and eating disorder charity in the Midlands, approached me to create a how-to guide for coping with the festivities. He asked me to generate relevant content and distribute to schools, colleges, universities and NHS organisations across the East Midlands, with the aim of helping young people and adults with the many challenges of Christmas. I was delighted to be trusted with such a worthwhile campaign that stood to benefit so many and make a difference.

I had plenty of ideas of what to include. There would have to be a section about food and eating, something surrounding relationships, feeling alone and managing financial and social pressures. I also wanted a section on resisting urges to conform to New Year’s Resolutions as well as distraction techniques and skills for carers.

It was quite a demanding task but I got there with the kind help of a few contributors and the results looks great!

I think the final version meets the objective wonderfully and will benefit thousands of readers across the region. It also ticks every box that I would have covered in my blog.

So, with that in mind – please take a look at the finished e-booklet here and as always, let me know what you think in the comments below. I really hope it helps you.

G x

Thought of the day…

You can’t heal in the same environment that made you sick.

I recently heard this quote and it really struck a chord with me. How true is it?!

I think so often we wonder why we get stuck in a cycle of poor mental health and can’t break free from it.

We try therapy, mindfulness, self-care, distraction techniques and even medication to rid ourselves of our demons but we don’t look at our immediate circumstances to spot the problems.

I remember once saying to a friend that whilst all the things that caused my difficulties were still there I couldn’t ever get better. Not properly anyway.

It wasn’t ever going to be possible to change my habits and coping strategies whilst surrounded by the situations that started them.

I stand by that. I was in a toxic work environment with challenging people around me everyday. I had some triggering friends, hardship at home, a deliberate lack of professional support and secrecy weaved into my daily routine. I had to break away from all of those things before I could even start to make improvements. It just wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

So if anyone feels that they are static, unable to progress but wishing they could…maybe think about whether you can truly make changes whilst remaining in the same environment that caused you problems in the first place?

A week in lockdown V2

Monday

It may be a new week but I find myself lacking in #MondayMotivation today. I woke up feeling empty and like I wasn’t sure what my purpose was. I’m working from home during lockdown but have today off so don’t have that to get out of bed for.

I lay there awake, watching TV for a further two hours, still unsure what to do with the day. The news channels are quite negative and frightening this morning so I turn over to a funny panel show to make myself feel happier.

My favourite time of the day is going on a walk at the moment so I decided to finally get up, have a shower and get outside. It always makes me feel better to move around, feel the sun on my skin and fresh breeze on my face so walking resets my mind frame and I feel more motivated and positive.

Last week I made a distraction box full of things I can do to occupy my mind so I reach in and pull out a piece of paper that says: ‘call a friend’.

FaceTime decided not to play ball tonight so instead I have a great hour long chat on the phone with one of my best friends and it cheers me up so much. We laugh, talk about good times and vow to make exciting plans together in the future.

I realise that I haven’t really eaten very much today, mostly because of low mood so I make a stir fry for my family tonight and it tastes amazing!  A tricky start to the day, but grateful that it improved.

Tuesday

Today I’m back to working from home and have a video meeting on Teams so get up early to be ready for it.

I feel more motivated and productive today and have some tasks to be getting on with following the meeting which helps keeps my mind active.

I’m conscious that we’re running out of some of my safe foods at home and it’s making me anxious. My family and I are trying to only go food shopping once a week as we have a vulnerable person in the household so minimising trips to busy places like supermarkets is important.

It can make it hard when running low on supplies and having to adapt meal plans to fit in with availability, and I struggle with being out of routine and eating different things. I made a list tonight of the things I need to get and discuss items that would be ‘second best’ should stocks be low.

Hopefully we can go shopping tomorrow and find the items I like to eat and feel comfortable having.

Wednesday

Today I feel anxious – it’s food shopping day.

Not only do I worry how busy it will be, I’m nervous for what we will be able to buy. If the foods I want aren’t available I find it hard to compromise and adapt my routine to accommodate the changes. I know we’re all in the same boat and I’m fortunate to have any food at all but it is a struggle.

The experience wasn’t too bad – I managed to find 80% of my safe foods and even though we had to queue I felt calmer once we got in to the store.

Tonight I made myself a new meal plan for the week ahead based on what we bought. I always feel so overwhelmed by all the new food in the house because it feels too much but I have to remember that it’s not all for me and it’s not all for now!

Thursday

I’m grateful for sunshine and a countryside stroll today. It makes such a difference to my mood when the weather is good and I can walk outside instead of feeling stuck in the house.

I enjoyed logging in to an online mental health training session this afternoon and sharing tips on anxiety management. It’s really helpful hearing how to control my mood levels whilst knowing there are others feeling the same as I am at the moment.

I also felt very calm tonight doing my yoga class via Zoom so I end the day on a positive note and notice that I am less restrictive and guilty over my food intake as a result.

Friday

A day of two halves – an anxious morning followed by a better afternoon.

Rubbish weather has resulted in me being inside all day and I’ve felt very restless and struggled to concentrate. I had to have regular ‘breathing breaks’ several times to stop and focus on slow breathing techniques. The simple ‘in for four, hold for four and out for four’ works best for me today.

This afternoon my ED therapist phoned me. I’m so grateful for the telephone appointments I’ve been having since lockdown restarted and they help me a great deal – but I do find it tough not being able to attend in person. It’s just not the same.

We had a really positive chat and she shared some helpful tips with me including finding motivation in the mornings so I know straight away what I’m getting up for and methods to distract my mind from periods of anxiety. Planning is key, and she would like me to try creating a daily plan this week and see if it helps. I feel better for talking about how challenging I’m finding things and receiving some caring advice in return.

Tonight a friend messages me and suggests avoiding the news, both online and TV, so I’m going to try that this weekend and see if it helps improve my mood.

Saturday

Yet again, I wake up lacking motivation as I’m not working today. But I remember my therapist’s advice from yesterday and decide to get out of bed and vacuum my room this morning for distraction. It helps me feels better having a sense of purpose and achievement.

This afternoon I went on a slightly longer walk along a different route which was helpful. It’s good to see sights that make a change from the usual routine!

I had that familiar feeling of uncertainty and uselessness when I got home so went to the distraction box again and decide to do colouring and crafts. It’s quite exhausting having to keep my mind constantly occupied to avoid it racing but at least I enjoy doing the activities.

Sunday

When lockdown was reintroduced I signed up to an online course but haven’t made a start on it yet so decided to get going on it this afternoon.  

My family decide to make tonight’s dinner together and as I’ve not really eaten much today I’m quite hungry now.

I definitely feel better for avoiding the news, even though I’ve still caught sight of a few unnerving headlines on social media.

I end the weekend on a positive note and decide to write a list of things I’m grateful for. I know it’s a scary time and I often find myself spiralling into negative thinking, but I must also remember that I’m very fortunate too.

What better way to do that than to make a note of everything I appreciate at the moment so I can refer to it each time it all feels too much?!