The COVID-19 or “novel coronavirus” pandemic has had a devastating effect on people all over the world, wreaking havoc on people’s employment, socializing and entertainment, and in nearly every other aspect of their daily lives.
One segment of the population that’s been dangerously restricted is people who need continued, comprehensive treatment for mental health disorders. Under quarantine and social distancing, regular day treatment sessions are impossible to perform in person, leaving many people without the regular support they need.
For people with eating disorders, this can be more than an inconvenience; it can be deadly.
Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are among the most dangerous mental health disorders – the risks of starvation, renal failure, and suicide are much higher than in the general public. The general population has a suicide rate of 10.5 per 100,000 people, a rate of 0.000105%. Among people with untreated anorexia nervosa, the rate is 1 in 5 people – a shocking 20%.
It’s clear that this at-risk population needs continued support – so what steps can be taken to maintain eating disorder recovery during this frightening time?
“Self-care” is a term that’s commonly used by almost every professional therapeutic practice. It means taking actions that support positive physical and mental health through a variety of means. In cases of eating disorders, the obvious aspect of this is the establishment of a regular eating pattern to maintain nutrition and eliminate disordered eating behaviors. Many eating disorder treatment facilities provide meal planning and nutritional plans that can be maintained during the quarantine. A regular eating routine does more than set a nutritional baseline – it can be a way to regulate the time spent in self-isolation and alleviate the boredom.
Self-care is more than eating regulation, however. There are aspects of self-care that help with body positivity, improving self-esteem, and developing mindfulness. The latter is the key. Mindfulness is the ability to live in the moment, without dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. If you’re being mindful, you can escape worrying about what will happen if you do something “wrong” and you can also avoid getting hung up on mistakes you’ve made in the past. Because anxiety and feelings of guilt are key triggers for disordered eating, practicing mindfulness is a perfect way to maintain recovery from an eating disorder.
Writing in a Journal
Therapists and psychologists encourage journaling for their clients in almost every type of mental health treatment program, and eating disorders are no different. Often, the thoughts and feelings associated with an eating disorder are nebulous and hard to define. By writing in a journal, people can express them in a private fashion (many people are hesitant to discuss their innermost feelings with another) and give them a more definite form.The simple act of writing down your feelings can give you clarity and help you understand why you’re having those kinds of feelings. This is an excellent first step to removing negative or distorted feelings about your body, weight, and eating habits.
Take Advantage of Available Telehealth Opportunities
Some eating disorder treatment facilities have been offering treatment sessions on an outpatient basis using teleconferencing technology like Zoom or Google Hangouts. In a situation like our current worldwide pandemic, this can be a lifeline for people in quarantine and self-isolation. As we mentioned earlier, people with certain types of eating disorders are at a much higher risk of death without treatment. The positive news is that many of the same therapeutic methodologies employed at in-house day treatment programs can be applied using teleconferencing.
These can include one-on-one therapy sessions like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, evidence-based therapy techniques that help people reshape their thinking patterns and objectively identify which are distorted and need to be eliminated. Teleconferencing can also facilitate group therapy sessions and even instructional videos.
Don’t Let COVID-19 Halt Your Recovery
We’re all struggling with the COVID-19 virus and the resultant social distancing – of course, the current situation is hardly ideal for maintaining recovery from eating disorders, but don’t lose hope. With self-care techniques and modern technology, it’s possible to keep your recovery on track.