Back to School, Back to Relapse? How to Start Fresh this Fall Without Losing Your Recovery

people-woman-coffee-meeting-largeThe crispness in the air. The energy of excitement and anticipation that reverberates among your peers, your teachers, yourself. Maybe you’re moving into the dorms for the first time…or your first apartment away from home.  You’re attending the homecoming football game and dreaming of what the year will bring.

We all know what it’s like to start another school year.  Sometimes you’re going back to the same school, one grade older.  Sometimes you’re starting a new middle or high school, or even going away to college.  There’s the unpredictable — who you will meet, what you will learn, how you will change.  There’s also the underlying anxiety and nervousness of “will people like me?”, and “will I be accepted?”

As a popular blog post of mine noted, Back to School Stress can show up in many forms, and sometimes the overwhelming feeling of expectations and rules leads to the development of disordered eating or unhealthy body image as a method of ‘coping’.

How do you deal with it all without losing your self?  

Here’s what I learned (the hard way) and what I help my clients learn (in a healthier way): manage your expectations, discover what really matters to you (and what doesn’t), and find productive ways of dealing with stress.  This could be:

  • Set up a schedule for yourself of when you will study/have free time/sleep/eat, etc so that you can plan for everything you need to get done in a day.
  • DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF to others…I know, this can be difficult to do.  However, you are on your own path, at school for your own personal reasons, and have your own unique talents that will guide you.  Try to focus on that instead of getting caught up in the comparison game.
  • Plan for downtime!  What do you like to do for fun? Play soccer? Go hiking? Write poetry? Make sure to create space for all of this…it is essential to your success.
  • Know who you can talk to if you need help.  Is there a parent, teacher, counselor that you can turn to if you feel stuck, lonely or depressed?
  • Recognize the triggers and warning signs:  How do you know you’re on a destructive path?

Disordered eating (they don’t have to be full-blown eating disorders to be dangerous!) can show up in the form of restricting amount and type of food; it can trigger a feeling that you can never exercise enough and that “goal” weight just keeps getting smaller; in other instances, disordered behavior can involve bingeing on food until you cannot feel anymore, and then purging or using laxatives.

All of these behaviors, in some combination or another, really underline the emotional pain that is underneath.  It is a pain that pangs as you wonder if being yourself, as you truly are, is “good enough”.  It is a vicious cycle of being ashamed or embarrassed by these behaviors that you do not understand, and in turn hiding or lying about these behaviors because they have, at some point, “helped” to cope with overwhelming feelings.  These behaviors in fact make the pain worse, and feelings of isolation and despair continue to intensify.

What can you do? Whether you are a parent, friend, or person affected by an eating disorder or body image struggle, first know that you are NOT ALONE.  With over 10 million women and 1 million men (reported by the National Eating Disorders Association) showing symptoms of an eating disorder, the epidemic is growing and impacting us all.