Being pent up within four walls for weeks on end is not the most fun for a lot of people.
But if you are someone who experiences any sort of mental health issue to any degree, you might understand that an overhaul of routine and a severance of social gathering can be devastating.
To be completely transparent, my quarantine life has not been devastating, but I remember a time when this severity of change would have been so.
During Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (I think that was the disaster, but perhaps it was just a bad winter storm that I’m thinking of… but that’s not critical to the rest of this), my family and I were trying to keep warm and fed in our house with no electricity for several days. I didn’t exercise because it would be too cold and dark to do anything except sit by the fire, all while still trying to do some school work. Food involved things that were out of the ordinary — slices of bread toasted on a pan atop our gas stove (#lifesaver), canned soup warmed up in the same way. Not the usual salads and Greek yogurt bowls.
I didn’t have control of anything, and I was not really okay with it. Our priorities were really to survive (and we were doing a-okay, by the way; things could have been worse) at that point, but the desire to maintain my eating and exercise routines had become just as severe of a “need” in my mind.
I remember sitting in front of the fire one of those nights, and my dad said that eating a bit more would help us to stay warm (i.e., thermic effect of food). However, I suggested that maybe we should be eating less because we weren’t moving as much (i.e., burning as many calories as usual). It was a small sign of how deeply uncomfortable I was with the whole situation, even though it probably lasted less than a week.
It is now 2020, and we all meet a similar yet different situation.
Maybe you are frustrated that you can’t lift as heavy or take your favorite intense workout classes. Maybe you’re sitting for much longer periods of time and getting thousands fewer steps than usual (holla). Maybe your favorite produce or preferred types of foods are constantly off the shelves.
The extra time on social media (in efforts to gain a semblance of human contact) might bring an onslaught of advertisements for home workout programs and meal plans to “keep you on track.” There might be fewer distractions to keep you from falling into the rabbit hole that is the fitness industry, something you were great at avoiding for so long.
Maybe the shift in control of your life in and of itself throws you into a tizzy and causes you to more intensely cling to the things you can control.
“If I can’t do ______, ________, and ________, at least I can still count my calories and go on super long runs/walks. I can still have my six pack abs.” This is just an example.
I understand that there are people who can do this without compromising their mental health. In fact, there are people are taking control of their physical health to benefit their mental health during this time. But you — YOU — might need something different, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. And YOU are not alone in that.
You all know that I am a physical therapist to be, not a psychologist or eating disorder specialist. I can only give advice and counsel from my own experience. So I will offer four things for you today:
- Continue to seek help if you need it. For less pervasive and just pesky thoughts of disordered eating, reach out to a trusted friend or family member. For what you think might be a relapse, please reach out to your therapist or eating disorder specialist (or a new one), and I am confident that they will either provide or refer you to online services. I have heard of great success with online counseling.
- Find creative outlet. Draw, dance, sing, write poetry, knit, crochet, sidewalk chalk, blow huge bubbles (far away from other people), play an instrument, blog, journal. Use that awesome brain and body of yours to do some really cool and impressive things that are not fitness.
- Catch up with friends who care about you as a whole person. This might not be the ideal time to reach out to the friend who can primarily bonds with you over running or CrossFit. Talk with people who know other things about your life and who are likely to ask you about / listen to how your heart is doing at this time.
- Be gentle but very honest with yourself. No one is going to tell you to just be sedentary, eat dessert, and deal with your disordered eating that way. At least, no one should give that kind of ultimatum, even if that is what you need. Let yourself move, and eat well. But be very, very honest with yourself in how much the thoughts of fitness and food are pervading your mind. If it’s on your mind and making you feel anxious for most of the day and distracting you from other things, consider #1.
Be not afraid! We will get through this.