Grounding Skills for Eating Disorder Recovery
Anxiety, fear, panic – everyone experiences such emotions during their lives. The degree to which emotions overtake people can be extreme, both suffocating and disabling at times. In the midst of an eating disorder and during recovery, such distress is common and the eating disorder is often used to regain control or cope with the overwhelming emotions. For such reason, it is important to learn how to deal with ways to fight your fears, distract yourself from panic, and ground yourself in order to fight against the use of eating disorder symptoms and use healthy coping mechanisms in their place.
We all know the emotion of fear too well. It partners with anxiety and hits at full force, at times we may least expect it. In recovery, everyone has their own fears that come up. Perhaps it's a facing a new food or maybe it's going to the grocery store. Just remember the fear does not have to control your life.
Facing your fears is no easy task. The thought of walking into a lion's den is right up there with my own social phobias and the thought of eating half a cake. Just thinking about such events can bring on feelings of panic and anxiety. I have found some grounding techniques help detour a full on panic attack. If the panic is more physiological, the mental tools tend to be more helpful, whereas if the panic arises from overthinking, the physical distractions might be more effective.
By building and then practicing grounding skills, you can face the fear with success:
If you are completely flooded by fear and anxiety and finding yourself in the midst of a panic attack, take a time out. Distract yourself for 15 minutes by walking around the block, having a calming cup of tea, or refreshing shower (figure out what works for you). When you calm down, then decide where to go from there.
Although it may be difficult to sit with the feeling, try asking yourself "what's the worst that can happen?" There may be a fear that eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwich will blow you up to a balloon. Remember to deep breathe. Most of our fears turn out to be time wasted in worry. By getting used to coping with the panic, eventually the fear minimizes and fades away.
Continue to expose yourself to the fear; rather than avoid it. In theory, the more you face it, the less the intensity of the fear. Start slowly.
Don't expect perfection or get caught up in black and white thinking. Life is full of stress. Setbacks may happen, because life is just messy sometimes. This is all a practice not a perfect.
Rather than run from the fear, sit with it and take a moment to visualize a calm place of safety. Try to let the positive feelings overtake the negative until you feel more relaxed.
If someone of support is available, talk about it. Share what the fear is and what you are experiencing. There is even a new online service called "FearFighter."
If you are finding yourself vulnerable to a lot of emotions, go back to your basics. Make sure you have had enough rest, followed your meal plan, properly medicated, and practiced a reliable coping skill, etc.
If possible, change locations and sit there until the panic has subsided. (Make sure to return to the original location so it does not become a place of fear).
Play mental fitness games such as simple math or word games. Add up numbers, digits in your phone numbers, multiplication tables, make a mental list of everything around you that starts with a certain letter, etc.
Use water. Sometimes splashing your face with cold water helps bring you back from the panic, or holding an ice cube can distract you from the intense sensation of the panic.
Grab some scrap paper, or anything lying around and start folding. It doesn't have to be origami; it can be random folds, a paper airplane, anything to distract you until the sensation subsides.
When everything becomes too overwhelming, "grounding" is a very helpful skill. There are three major ways: mental (which focuses on the mind), physical (which focuses on the senses), and soothing (which means caring for yourself in a very kind way). Some prefer one over another, or you may find all three are useful.
Describe your environment in detail.
Play a categories game with yourself.
Say a safety statement such as, "My name is_____. I am safe right now."
Count to ten or say the alphabet very slowly.
Take a hot/cold shower or run hot/cold water over your hands.
Touch various objects around you and be mindful of their texture, temperature, material, color, etc.
Carry a grounding object in your pocket such as a rock, piece of cloth, yarn, etc. to touch when you feel triggered. (I carry a small key chain token that I can rub and find this immensely helpful).
Clench and release your fists.
Walk slowly noticing each step repeating "left," "right" and so forth...
Focus on your breathing.
Think of your favorite things.
Picture people you care about.
Say affirmations to yourself.
Remember the words to an inspiring song, quote, poem, etc. (i.e. Serenity Prayer).
Say a coping statement such as "I can handle this, this feeling will pass."
Our genius creativity helps us create things that help soothe, distract, or ground us, enter the glitter bottle! Directions will follow but when you shake up your glitter bottle, you are practicing your grounding skills as you watch the glitter swirl and fall to the bottom to settle again. It's the skill of observation, anchoring us to the present moment. It's pretty; it's fun; it's helpful!
- Container: This is typically made with a glass mason jar, but since I often make these with children I use water bottles with smooth sides.
- One bottle of clear or glitter glue (not white glue that dries clear): I like using regular glue so I don't have to deal with the hot water since I make these in my office. Glue/glitter glue works best, but you could also use corn syrup if that's all you have. You have to pour it directly in the water without letting it touch the sides of the bottle or the glitter will stick to it.
- Water: It can be room temperature if you use regular glue but should be hot (I use boiling water) if glitter glue is used. If the water is not hot enough then the glitter will become clumpy and separate.
- Glitter: I use mostly super fine glitter with a little regular sized. I sometimes add sequins, beads, shells, plastic jewels, etc. Glow in the dark glitter looks really cool if you can find it. Less (or even none) is needed with glitter glue bottles
- Food coloring: This is optional. Only use one drop or it becomes difficult to see the glitter.
- Strong glue or duct tape: This is used to fasten the lid to the container. I like using colored duct tape.
- Making a Calm Bottle (clear glue): Fill the bottle 3/4 of the way full with water. Then add the glue (and shake) and glitter (and shake). I use a funnel for the glitter. The more glue you use, the longer it will take the glitter to fall. I usually use the whole bottle. Add 1 drop of food coloring, if desired, and then glue/tape the lid on.
- Making a Calm Bottle (glitter glue): Instead of clear glue you can use glitter glue. If you go this route, then mix the glitter glue in a bowl with very hot water (I boil the water) before adding it to the bottle. If the water is not hot enough then the glue will clump up and not work. You can add 1 drop of food color and additional glitter is desired.
Other Recipes and Step by Step Directions: http://spoonful.com/crafts/calming-glitter-bottle
food, social situations, panic, & isolation are things that need not rule our lives. The more we practice facing our fears even if it's sitting with anxiety and panic, the more we can reclaim our power the eating disorder has taken away. You are more powerful than your emotions, and you deserve to have the opportunity to embrace each day and every moment that comes with it.