Advice by Kaela: Recovery Feels Overwhelming, What Should I do?
By Kaela Scott
Q: I keep hearing that recovery is about taking little steps forward but every step feels overwhelming. What should I do?
A: There are so many different messages we hear during recovery about what we have/need/should do to make recovery our reality. While recovery is a subjective experience, one that doesn’t always have a clear road map and that is never the same for two people, one commonality is that it is made up of many little steps. What makes this hard is that each step in recovery, regardless of how small, can feel like a trek up Everest. So what are the best ways to deal with all the overwhelm that comes when we are trying to push against the demands of the disorder and move towards our healthier selves?
Here are 5 tips to try:
- Slow Down and Take A Deep Breath: When we are really anxious we typically either hold our breath or take really shallow breaths. In the moment, this sends our body into greater alarm and increases our sense of overwhelm. It isn’t that breathing makes everything better but it can slow us down and makes us more grounded, and therefore more able to tackle the challenge in front of us.
- Break It Down: Often the goals or steps we set for ourselves can seem small in theory but can be a really big challenge in practice. It is important to be realistic and gentle with yourself. While it may sound easy to say you are going to start eating a balanced breakfast every day, the truth is, it might be easier to break that down into more manageable steps. If you currently are skipping that meal all together, maybe start by saying you’re going to have a piece of fruit, or a piece of toast and let that be your focus until it feels manageable to add another item. Start small and build, that way you will feel more able to tackle the challenge in front of you instead of being so overwhelmed you stay frozen or put it off for another day.
- Readjust Your Expectations: Often, once we have made up our mind to recover, we set expectations for ourselves that we tackle each hurdle 100% successfully. As a therapist, I always find this incredibly sad because the disappointment that follows when a recovery challenge didn’t go as planned can often cause someone to doubt their abilities to continue forward with their goals. You have to expect that you will be faced with challenge, sometimes what feels like every step of the way. Your eating disorder has a really strong grasp on you and is used to being able to call all the shots. When you go against its demands, it isn’t going back down easily. In other words, expect recovery to be hard, regardless of how motivated you are to achieve it, and be really good to yourself throughout your journey. Just because you weren’t successful this one time (or those 10 times) doesn’t mean that you aren’t making progress.
- Hit Pause: When we are overwhelmed we often frantically look for something that will take us out of that state. Any action feels better than no action. In recovery, this can cause us to re-engage in eating disorder behaviors because they can feel like the most safe option in the moment. I would encourage you to give yourself permission to do nothing. What I mean is you don’t have to take a step towards recovery and nor do you have to take a step towards your eating disorder. Instead, distract yourself with something else for even just a short period of time. Take a shower, journal, watch your favorite show, go read in your favorite coffee shop. There will be time for action in the future, but maybe right now isn’t that time.
- Recognize Your Achievements: I often see individuals that focus on what they feel they aren’t doing instead of on what they are. When we do this, we are always reminding ourselves of why we feel we aren’t good enough instead of the other way around. In recovery it is really important we be on our own team. Spend some time each and every day (and especially in our moment of overwhelm) to reflect on the successes you are having. Even having a recovery focused mindset is a success. Again, this is a great area to recognize all the little things instead of focusing only on the big pieces. I believe everyone has small successes each day, even if it’s just getting up and starting the day. Recognize and celebrate the achievements so when times feel tough you can accurately reflect on the fact that you have gotten through hard things before and have been successful in lots of ways.
I know that recovery can be overwhelming at the best of times. Try giving these things a shot and see if they help you to feel more calm and better able to keep recovery at the front of your mind.
Kaela Scott is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who specializes in Eating Disorders. She runs her own private practice and works with the Looking Glass Foundation in both their summer camp and their Hand In Hand Program. She has been passionate about working with eating disorders since freeing herself from her own struggle and realizing what it is like to be happy and well. When she isn’t working, you can find Kaela either cozying up with a cup of tea and her friends or up in the mountains going for a hike.