Eating Disorders and Emotions
A common dilemma with eating disorders (EDs) is the difficulty one can have in identifying and interpreting their emotions (the medical term for this is alexithymia). Again, it comes back to the mind-body disconnection that I spoke about in yesterday’s post.
Anxiety is also a common c0-occuring illness with EDs. It puts the nervous system into an “amped-up” state! When someone is experiencing anxiousness, it can feel debilitating and overwhelming. And not being able to tap into and know those feelings can be confusing, making it hard to figure out what is needed to self-soothe and self-regulate those feelings. So what is someone with and eating disorder to do when experience anxiety and/or a nervous system on overdrive? It’s in these situations leaning on a loved one might be helpful.
The role of caregiver
As a caregiver of someone struggling with an eating disorder or other mental health illness, it can be challenging to know what to do. But don’t minimize your role as supporter and nurturer. Sometimes the best thing you can offer is a safe place to be held and an opportunity for rest, without try to fix anything.
Are you familiar with the practice of swaddling? Swaddling is often part of the bedtime routine for infants. It is where a newborn is cocooned in a blanket. And it signals to the nervous system that it is time for rest.
Now I’ve been experimenting recently with using this practice for managing difficult feelings, especially for anxiety. And if you want to do something for your loved one in need of some down-regulating, you may want to try this…
Swaddling: It’s not just for babies
In the following video, I demonstrate with my friend Angela, how to swaddle and nurture an adult. But first, here are some suggested tips:
- Take up space, as much as you need. I use my living room and push any furniture aside
- Turn off phones and remove any other potential distractions (TV, pets, etc.)
- Adjust lighting if possible (or use an eye pillow or folded hand towel placed over the eyes to shield from bright lights/the sun)
- Explain what you will be doing, ask permission and stay with them the entire time
- Allow some time for quiet but continue to ask them every few minutes how they are doing
- Continue to remind them that you are there, either with a few kind words or hands gently placed at top of head, shoulder or feet
- Keep with the swaddle 5 – 15 minutes max. Any longer than that has the potential to bring up feelings of overwhelm and claustrophobia (which is the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish)
While I and some of my clients have found this to be super relaxing and soothing… what works for some, might not work for others. We are all unique in our recovery journey. But if you think it might work for you, give it a try and let me know what you think.
Michelle Pitman is the founder and operator of Define Me Wellness. Most recently, Michelle has launched Under the Lilac Tree: a virtual program for eating disorder recovery and support. Click here to learn more about Michelle and her work.