negative self-talk

Four Ways to Put Body Image Issues in Their Place

Trying to live a body-positive life can feel like a full-time job. Add the demands of daily life, from your day job to stressors like friends, family, and relationships, and sometimes it can feel like you’re pulling 90-hour weeks. No wonder recovery isn’t linear. No wonder sometimes we feel burned out. No wonder some days are better than others.

If we were allowed to take a break from life and focus exclusively on coming to terms with our bodies and our selves, maybe the process would be faster and less painful. We’d all hike into the woods, climb a mountain, and look out over a beautiful valley into a clear lake, where we would think about those things that need thinking. After a time of self-reflection, we would all discover peace.

Yeah. That’d be excellent.

Life never chooses one thing to toss at us. It’s a juggler, not a MLB pitcher. Weight or body discomfort come simultaneously with fights with friends, family illnesses, financial worries, or unemployment on a longer term than you’d planned on. (*quietly raises hand*) All too often, these added stressors only make body discomfort worse.

Not that I’ve figured out a foolproof way to separate external stressors from internal body-image problems, but here are four tips that might help get through a rough patch.

1. Compartmentalize

Easier said than done, I know. But on a day when you’ve shouted at your significant other for thirty minutes, totaled your car, or discovered you didn’t get that promotion you totally deserve, realize that negative thoughts about the way you look can be a reflexive reaction. It’s what you’ve been doing, possibly for years, without thinking. Getting angry with yourself because you’ve gained/lost/maintained/[insert verb]ed a few pounds is easier and more familiar than trying to manage new, external problems.

Realizing that you’re deploying a destructive reflex isn’t going to make those feelings go away instantly. But it helps take the edge off if you can think rationally about what’s going on. Feel your feelings, but realize where they’re coming from and why.

2. Find the Distractions You Love

On bad days where body image is a symptom of another problem, I like to shine a spotlight somewhere else. Hopefully that spotlight lands on a piece of aluminum foil or a disco ball or something. Because the point of a distraction is basically to find a shiny object to look at instead.

To stop thinking about body discomfort or job-search stress or whatever else, I like to have a long-term project on hand. If it’s large enough, there’s always something there to occupy me for an hour. I don’t need to think about it. It’s the go-to that replaces destructive behaviors or brooding with the door closed. I’ll open up the draft of my novel and hack away at revisions of Chapter 14, again. (Why must you resist me, Chapter 14? *shakes fist*) I’ll curl up on the couch and watch the beginning of season 4 of Game of Thrones. Anything to turn my focus somewhere else.

Does this solve the underlying problem? In a way, kind of. Running away from your problems sounds like the cheater’s way out, but if your problem has dissolved a little or feels less manageable from four miles away, isn’t that a solution?

3. Find Something You Can Change

It’s been said probably a million times before, but the idea that eating disorders are an effort to assert control has something to it. When your boss gives you a scathing performance review or your best friend betrays you in a way straight out of a soap opera, you want to know that the world isn’t spiraling totally out of control. There’s something you can do. There’s something you are good at. For me, that something was food. Or rather, not food. I was really good at not-food.

But we all know where that kind of controlling behavior gets us. Nowhere good. That’s not a place we want to be. So how can you get the feeling of being back in control without damaging your health, physically or mentally?

It doesn’t have to be huge. So what if you can’t stop climate change or create world peace before 5pm? Start small. Empty out your email inbox. (If you’re like me, an out-of-control inbox is like walking around all day with a sharp rock in your shoe. The worst.) Cook a few days’ worth of delicious, recovery-approved meals and put them in your freezer, so you don’t have to think about it for a week. Finish up that homework assignment that’s been nagging you. Call your mother/father/grandparents. They miss you.

However crazy life might seem, remind yourself that you took charge of and accomplished one valuable thing today. Sometimes, one is enough.

4. Remember How Kick-Ass You Are

I used to think there was something about looking in the mirror and saying, “You’re smart and strong and gorgeous and clever and awesome” that belonged more in Zoolander than my daily life. And personally I’m still not big on mirror affirmations. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t try to pump myself up every so often.

Our minds have become wired to replace negative thoughts about things happening in our lives with negative thoughts about our bodies. Not much of a replacement. It’s not easy, but a real substitute would be a positive thought. And this takes practice.

My goal is that when a negative thought pops up, I’ll counter it with a positive one. My strategy while it’s still a new process is something like the improv technique of “Yes, but…” – that is, take what comes before it without questioning, but immediately counter it with another thought. Example:

Negative thought: I’ve gained so much weight, and now my pants don’t fit.

Response: Yes, but you had a really nice text conversation with a friend last night, which objectively is more meaningful than what your butt looks like.

Maybe someday I’ll advance to the point where instead of “yes, but…” I can counter with “nope, bullshit.” But for now, any movement towards a positive response counts.

***

Have you ever caught yourself on a body-negative day and known that those feelings were a symptom of a larger problem? How did you cope on that day? How do you cope going forward?

Advertisements

Let’s Talk Regression

statregressionlollipop(No, not that kind of regression. I’m studying English. I don’t even know what that kind of regression means.) 

As some of you who have gathered from the amount I complain about writing final papers for university on this blog, I am still working my way through a college degree. On the other hand, I’ve only got one semester left to go (Know any good jobs for a highly qualified English and Creative Writing major, fluent in French and with tons of experience on social media and internet writing? Email me!), since I’m back home again for the holiday season. And you know what Hallmark, Lifetime, and Perry Cuomo have to say about being home for the holidays: apparently there’s no place like it.

But this is my fourth year of coming home for the holidays from college, and I’m beginning to notice a pattern. I wouldn’t call hanging out at my childhood home with my siblings and my parents relapse-inducing. My family has been more supportive of me than anybody else in the world, and I know that I’m way luckier than many in that respect. It’s not a relapse, per se, because I’m not engaging in behaviors any more than I would if I were spending the holidays at my campus apartment with my lovely roommate.

I just find myself having thoughts and emotions that I thought I’d left behind me years ago.

Maybe it’s the environment. Sleeping in my bedroom kind of brings me back to the way things used to be when I was seventeen or eighteen, during the worst times I spent with anorexia. Obviously, I’m much healthier both physically and mentally than I was in 2010. But I’m catching myself engaging in way more negative self-talk in my childhood zip code than in my young-adulthood town.

“You haven’t worked out since Thursday. What are you doing? Seriously?” (My negative self-talk voice has never been particularly interested in the fact that there’s currently seven inches of snow on the ground. God bless you, Michigan winters.)

“Yes, you’re baking cookies for the holidays. That can be fun. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat them, does it?” 

“Whoa, remember last time you were home? You’re up a solid xxx pounds from then. Slob. Look at how your pants are fitting.”

Whoa there, negative self-talk voice. Wasn’t this supposed to be the season of peace and brotherly love?

This is totally me this holiday season… Sorry not sorry.

This is totally me this holiday season… Sorry not sorry.

Now, I will say that I’ve made progress this holiday season, especially if we’re looking in the long-term to how I used to spend Christmakkuh about two or three years ago. I’ve eaten some of those cookies. (Dark chocolate crackle cookies with white chocolate chips. Om nom nom nom.) I’ve worked out, but not desperately, and I’m picking up a gym membership so I can go with my older sister, rather than doing preventative crunches in the basement. And while I might sit down and cry every so often (hey, I’m a cryer! That’s what we do), it’s not debilitating. I can still enjoy myself, and I am so glad to be home.

But it’s strange, that’s all, arriving at the vacation I’ve been waiting for all this time, only to find myself faced with body-image issues and negative self-talk that I just didn’t have time to engage in while trying to finish four research papers and a final exam in seven days. That’s the one positive side to exams: they keep your mind busy, so you can’t allow it to wander off to other, less-productive behaviors.

I’m trying to keep myself busy and to be gentle with myself for the three or so weeks I’ll be here at home. I’ve taken up knitting again with a vengeance – with two newborn babies in my family, I’ll have plenty of reasons to knit adorably small items of clothing in pastel colors. I’ve checked out the first version of In Search of Lost Time by Proust, because one of my life’s goals has been for a few years to be one of those people who have read Proust. And Netflix will be my best friend, as I work through my queue. (Has anyone seen House of Cards? It’s next on the list!)

Still, I’m not sure that constant activity is the best way to fight against these feelings of regression. I’d love to be able to spend an afternoon doing nothing more than sitting on the couch, petting my dog, and hanging out with my family without the evil negative voices coming back. That’ll be something to work for, I’m sure, though it might not happen today, or even this week. We’ll have to see.

Have you had similar experiences returning to spend time with family, either over the holidays or for any other reason? What are your best strategies for coping with voices you’d thought you’d left behind? I’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime, I’ve got twelve episodes of New Girl that I can probably make a sizable dent in before the end of the day.