How to cope with anxiety and eating disorder recovery, with Orri’s Clinical Psychologist

It is possible for an anxious individual to develop an eating disorder, as the eating disorder may offer safety and comfort from anxiety and the fearful experience it brings. 
So, when it comes to their relationship with food, the fear can be anxiety-provoking and could enhance the behaviours and thinking of the eating disorder.
If this resonates with your experience, you may be wondering how you can sustain eating disorder recovery when your anxiety feels overwhelming? We explore in this blog.

Let’s go back to the basics – what is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry or fear that translates through the body. You can identify if you’re in this state because it is often associated with high anxiety, jitters, restlessness, panic attacks, lack of sleep – basically any embodied experience that keeps you in a state of high alert and hyper-arousal.

The responsive energy that comes from anxiety is what we need to keep safe in moments of “danger”. In these moments, our bodies respond to our emotions in the way it understand to protect us and keep us safe – by activating the sympathetic part of our nervous system, which is responsible for the “fight or flight” experience. This is when cortisol floods our body and we get ready to physically defend ourselves or run away as fast as possible.

What is important to recognise is that feeling anxious in an anxiety-provoking and stressful situation is a completely normal response. Feeling our feelings (including stress and anxiety) and remembering that things pass with time supports our emotional growth and nurtures resilience in the process.

However, if you experiences anxiety symptoms in everyday life, in response to a range of situations that are not deemed in modern day as “dangerous”, then this can develop into an anxiety disorder.

Dr Itamar, Orri’s Clinical Psychologist, explores more about anxiety…

Dr Itamar also discusses how anxiety can present itself in eating disorder recovery…

He reminds us that recovery is a continual process. It is a process of learning, rediscovery and stepping into the unknown – which can feel unsafe and anxiety-provoking for someone in eating disorder in recovery.

To describe this experience of looking for safety in recovery, Dr Itamar uses an analogy of a child stepping into the world. They look back to their parent or caregiver, checking that it is safe to go and explore. Once the child receives the “go ahead” smile, they in turn feel safe within themselves to step forward into that unpredictability.

The same applies in eating disorder recovery. He explains that when a client comes into treatment, they are met with the understanding “smile” that “it is okay to eat” and “it is okay if your body changes”. This reassurance of safety can aid the individual to challenge their anxiety and feelings of fear, and to step forward into their next recovery stage.

So, how can I cope and challenge my anxiety in my recovery?

Dr Itamar explains in the video below how practising anxiety in a healthy way can overall build upon strength and resilience.

Some tips:

  • Practise anxiety in your emotional gym – by practising the ability to carry anxiety, you can learn how to experience the decrease of it naturally
  • Shift your focus and change your perspective
  • Mindfulness – through things like journalling and meditation we can learn to be present in the here and now, and not “stuck” experiencing the past in the present

Things to remember when you feel anxious…

  • One thought at a time, one task at a time, one day at a time
  • Your fear is completely understandable
  • Just because it’s taking longer than you imagined, it does not mean it is not happening
  • Drop your shoulders, unclench your jaw, take a deep breath. Take a moment
  • Most of the things you worry about will never happen
  • Never let fear decide your future
  • Change and growth are painful but so is staying somewhere where you don’t belong

Posts you might be interested in.

Hear from our team and clients.