Maintaining a Support System in Quarantine

Maintaining a Support System in Quarantine

written by MEDA Undergraduate Intern, Julia Faxon

If you’re like me, or if you’re like a lot of people, perhaps you have recently been spending a bit (or, you know, a lot) more time at home than you usually do. This is good and important– social distancing is our duty to ease burdens on healthcare institutions and protect the most vulnerable in our community. Stay home, stay safe! Flatten the curve! If your state has a lockdown or shelter in place mandate, listen to it! 

That being said, these new norms regarding where we can be and who we can be with are difficult transitions to make. We all rely on our communities to support us, especially in times of stress, and many of us are missing those communities while holed up in our respective quarantines. Here are some ways we can maintain connections and show love to our friends, even if it can’t be IRL.  

  • Schedule, schedule, schedule! If you can, set up regular times to virtually meet with friends and communities. FaceTime, Zoom and Skype are examples of some great ways to do that. My friends and I have set up a Zoom call every Tuesday and Thursday night at 9, and I feel comfort in knowing that I have a set time in my calendar to be with people I love. If you are part of a club or group, it can be helpful to have virtual meetings at your regular meeting times to maintain a sense of normalcy and rhythm. If you aren’t part of a group, there are a lot of free groups online right now, including right here at MEDA. Check out Online ED Free/Low $ Support during COVID 19
  • Daily Check-Ins! I have found it very useful to establish an expectation of daily text or call check-ins with friends. This gives you a chance to both practice active listening and ask for what you need each day. In one group chat I’m in, we each share a rose (positive event), bud (thing we’re looking forward to), and thorn (challenge) every night. This is an excellent way to verbalize your highs and lows and keep in regular touch. 
  • Pen Pals! One of my best friends suggested that we start sending snail mail to each other, and it has been invigorating! It is a real act of love to write a true pen-to-paper letter to someone who means a lot to you, and there is no thrill like the thrill of opening unexpected mail. 
  • Watch a show! My favorite silver lining of this situation has been discovering Netflix Party, a Google Chrome extension that lets you watch Netflix with others. My friend and I are currently rewatching Glee, and it is an emotional rollercoaster and welcome escape. 
  • Find creative ways to connect! In addition to watching a Netflix show together, this could mean setting up a virtual happy hour, virtually cooking together, creating a playlist as a group, or discussing a podcast or book. 
  • Therapy! It is important to take care of our mental health, especially in times of stress. If you are already working with a therapist, ask them if they are offering services remotely. If not, there are many virtual options to speak with therapists, including Betterhelp and Talkspace (which is offering free services to medical workers!) If you need some meal support, check out @covid19eatingsupport on IG right now. They’re doing meals and snacks on their Live every 2 hours. It’s great to have company and therapeutic conversation when you’re struggling to take care of yourself…and even when you’re not. 
  • Give or ask for help! It is important to remember members of our community who need more aid during these times. If you are in a position where you can give financially, or with your resources or time, look up mutual aid efforts in your area. If you need support, mutual aid is a good place to ask for it. In addition to sending resources to those who need them most, this can help root you in your community and establish a sense of agency. 

These are certainly unprecedented and difficult times, but we don’t have to go at them alone. Make sure to take care of yourself, and those around you, by intentionally making space for the people you love.

Self-care and stress management

Self-care and stress management, by Meagan Mullen, MA, MHC

Managing stress is always difficult, but when you’re struggling with an eating disorder or a related mental illness, it can feel even more overwhelming.

When it comes to mental health, we talk a lot about self-care, and we could probably all list off a few ideas that get thrown around when it comes tor relaxing or de-stressing. But what about when you don’t have the time (or money!) to have a spa day, go out with friends, or even take a bubble bath?

Self-care can be really small—it doesn’t have to be these big, lavish things we read about online or hear advertised on TV. Sometimes, self-care is as simple as brushing your hair, making your bed, or getting outside for some fresh air.

Here are some (small) ways that you can manage stress, relax, or engage in self-care even when the going gets tough!

  1. Fresh air and sunshine. It might not be your favorite thing ever, but sometimes opening a window or going for a quick walk can help shake things up.
  2. Taking a shower. Forget the bubbles, bath salts, beautiful aromas and all that. Taking care of our physical hygiene can often help us feel better mentally, too!
  3. Listen to hunger and fullness cues. This one might not be as easy, especially if you struggle with an eating disorder, but making sure we are fueling ourselves adequately and doing our best to avoid eating disorder behaviors can free up mind space and leave us feeling more energized!
  4. Changing your clothes. If you’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for the last few days (we have ALL been there), it can be nice to put on a fresh outfit. This can leave us feeling
  5. Having a routine. Maybe you’re not a big fan of schedules, but sometimes outlining our days can help us feel a bit more organized.
  6. Take things one day (or hour, minute, second) at a time! It can be easy to fall down the rabbit hole of thinking about all the things we have to do. When your brain starts to get wonky and remind you about ALL OF THAT STUFF, take a deep breath and remember you can’t do a million things at once.
  7. Make a list (if that’s your style)! Sometimes, when our brains try to remind us about the things we still haven’t done, it can be helpful to pick one or two things to manage today. But remember, go at your own pace and don’t be too hard on yourself.
  8. Don’t spend too much time on technology. Maybe this means you should stop scrolling on Instagram and comparing yourself to others. Maybe it means turning off the news and playing a board game. Whatever type of tech is dragging you down, get a minute away from it!
  9. Move your body. This can be another tricky one if you’re someone who has struggled with your relationship with exercise, or if movement can trigger body thoughts. Maybe try going for a gentle walk or even just some simple stretching. Be sure to talk this out with your team if necessary!
  10. Do something creative! This is the part of us that often gets turned off as we grow up. As children, we love to play, be silly, and create art or games or stories. It can be so refreshing to try your hand at a new art form you’ve always been curious about or take some time to get back into something you used to love! You don’t have to be an artist to create!

Again, managing our stress and engaging in self-care can be tough. These suggestions are just a few to get you started and to remind you that self-care doesn’t always have to be so glamorous. You deserve to take moments for yourself throughout the day, even if they’re quick!

Study Links Eating Disorders, Exercise Addiction

Study Links Eating Disorders, Exercise Addiction by Timberline Knolls Staff

A person runs on a treadmill.

A recently published study from the United Kingdom suggests that individuals who develop eating disorders may also have a significantly elevated risk of becoming addicted to exercise.

According to this study, which originally appeared in the January 2020 edition of the journal Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, the prevalence of exercise addiction among individuals who have an eating disorder is 3.7 times greater than it is among those who have not been diagnosed with an eating disorder.

This conclusion was based on a meta-analysis of nine separate research projects. The nine projects included data on 2,140 subjects from multiple nations, including the U.K. and the United States. This pool of subjects included 408 people who had been diagnosed with an eating disorder and 1,732 who had not.

“Our study shows that displaying signs of an eating disorder significantly increases the chance of an unhealthy relationship with exercise, and this can have negative consequences, including mental health issues and injury,” the study’s lead author, Mike Trott, said in a Jan. 28 news release that announced his team’s findings. Trott is a Ph.D. researcher at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.

What Is Exercise Addiction?

Exercise addiction is not included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This means that this condition is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as an official diagnosis with an established set of diagnostic criteria.

However, exercise addiction’s absence from the DSM-5 does not mean that the condition is ignored by professionals. Multiple studies, such as the one conducted by Mike Trott’s team at Anglia Ruskin University, have attempted to document the symptoms, causes, and effects of exercise addiction. Many clinicians and programs have developed treatment protocols to assist individuals whose lives have been impacted by exercise addiction.

As is the case with other forms of addiction or behavioral compulsions, exercise addiction is characterized by overpowering urges and an inability to moderate or control one’s actions, even after experiencing negative outcomes. People who develop exercise addiction may work out excessively, overexert themselves, fail to allow for proper rest periods, and otherwise act in a manner that puts their physical health and mental well-being at risk.

When people who struggle with exercise addiction are not able to work out, they may experience anxiety, depression, and other forms of emotional distress.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has identified the following as among the many potential health consequences of compulsive exercise:

  • Altered resting heart rate
  • Diminished energy levels
  • Loss of bone density
  • Disrupted menstrual cycle
  • Pain in muscles, bones, and joints
  • Increased prevalence of stress fractures and other injuries
  • Increased frequency of upper respiratory infections and other illnesses

Excessive Exercise and Eating Disorders

Although exercise addiction is not included as an official diagnosis in the DSM-5, this reference manual does contain multiple references to unhealthy exercise-related behaviors in relation to eating disorders.

For example, the DSM-5 identifies excessive exercise as a compensatory behavior among individuals who have developed bulimia nervosa. In the aftermath of binge-eating episodes, people who have bulimia may exercise excessively in an attempt to prevent weight gain.

The DSM-5 also notes that some people who develop anorexia nervosa demonstrate excessive levels of physical activity prior to the onset of the restrictive eating behaviors that are symptomatic of anorexia.

Excessive exercising is also associated with body dysmorphic disorder, a mental health disorder that is characterized by a preoccupation with perceived flaws in one’s physical appearance. As the DSM-5 notes, body dysmorphic disorder can co-occur with eating disorders.

As is the case with exercise addiction, the excessive exercise-related behaviors that are associated with anorexia, bulimia, and body dysmorphic disorder are self-defeating actions that can harm a person’s physical health and contribute to the onset or exacerbation of mental health concerns.

Comprehensive Solutions

Anyone who struggles with an eating disorder needs effective care from a qualified provider. When an eating disorder is accompanied by a compulsion to exercise excessively, it is vital that the individual receives comprehensive treatment from a provider who can identify and address all the concerns that have been preventing them from living a healthier life.

In the press release that announced his team’s findings about eating disorders and exercise addiction, Mike Trott emphasized the importance of including an exercise component in eating disorder treatment.

“Health professionals working with people with eating disorders should consider monitoring exercise levels as a priority, as this group have been shown to suffer from serious medical conditions as a result of excessive exercise, such as fractures, increased rates of cardiovascular disease in younger patients, and increased overall mortality,” he said.