It is so important to have things to focus on external to your eating disorder (that is, things that don’t conern food, exercise, body image, or anything that could possibly trigger disordered thought patterns.)
I had a job interview yesterday afternoon, and because I had that to focus on, my usual morning walk that is normally filled with anxiety surrounding lunch time was actually just a walk. My mind was thinking about the interview and not food/my body. In fact, yesterday was the first day in weeks that food hasn’t occupied my headspace all day, and that felt truly freeing, giving me a glimpse of life outside of Anorexia, proving that it does exist and is within reach, if only I remain hopeful and committed to my recovery journey.
Your focus doesn’t have to be a job. It can be a hobby, a project- anything you enjoy that occupies your mind.
Eating disorders, like all mental health conditions, are incredibly isolating. They take away the joy that you used to find in everyday activities and make you feel hollow. The internal emptiness you feel goes far beyond an empty stomach. Every emotion is switched off. You feel like the lights have all gone out. You are in darkness. This is why it is so important to find things that you enjoy so that your light can start to shine again. Whether you discover new hobbies or return to longheld passions, having things to look forward to every day provides you with a kind of salvation from the dark, if only for a short while.
If you’re feeling particularly stuck at the minute, unsure of who you are outside of your illness, I want to help you become you again. Below is a list of activities, all completley unrelated to your eating disorder, that I encourage you to try. Each activity is something I personally do and find helpful in my recovery journey. You might not like them all, but I’m sure there will be something that gives you a sense of achievement and relief from your head, and it will be worth sticking with to aid you in your recovery. If you don’t find an activity you enjoy, don’t loose hope. Sometimes things just take time.
- Reading– What would an activity list be without reading at the top?! Books have been a life saver for me throughout lockdown, giving me some much needed escapism from the weird and wonderful times were collectively experiencing at the minute. I read pretty much anything, fiction or non-fiction, but recently I’ve been really enjoying reading about spirituality and personal development. The great thing about reading is you can use it as an activity on its own, or you can use it as a means of pursuing another activity (e.g. reading about spirituality has sparked an interest in the subject and led me to do further research and write blog posts around it.) If you’re unsure what reading material you want to delve into, just read around and see what sparks your interest. It really is such a great activity, as it keeps your mind busy while simultaneously relaxing you.
- Decoupaging– Don’t be put off by the fancy sounding name, decoupaging is such a simple, fun craft that anyone can do! All you need is some coloured/patterned paper/magazine cuttings/napkins, a surface to work on, some scissors, and glue. You can decoupage pretty much anything. I suggest having a look on Pinterest for some inspiration. Here is a blog I recommend you check out if you are a beginner to decoupaging: https://modpodgerocksblog.com/decoupage-ideas/?epik=dj0yJnU9VVZUUjNGZ2Z4MDBlWVREdzhtOHlOM0xjaGtuV1BUN2UmcD0wJm49MG5DQVBRUzV3d01jMWxDR3VQU3RydyZ0PUFBQUFBR0FaTk84
- Online Shopping– Whilst I don’t believe that materialism brings happiness, I do believe that a bit of retail therapy is good for the soul- just don’t go over the top with it! Often in recovery it can feel like you loose your identity with the eating disorder, so its about rediscovering yourself. Give your bedroom a makeover, add some new clothes to your wardrobe- do whatever makes you happy. If it helps your mental health, that can only be a positive thing.
- Writing– As I hope is evident by my blog, I love writing. Like reading, writing provides me with a form of escapism. It allows me to put all the things I don’t know how to, or am too afraid to say, out into the world. Also much like reading, writing can be done about anything- literally anything. Whatever your passions/interests, write about them. Experiment with different styles- poetry, creative, script, non-fiction- the world is your oyster. I find it so rewarding to finish a piece of writing and publish it online (via this blog), as I know its a part of me that will be forever out there, hopefully promoting positive change into the future. Of course you don’t have to publish your writing anywhere if you don’t want to. Even just getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper/typed up to remain in your notebook/laptop can provide you with relief and make things seem clearer.
- Listening to Podcasts– I find podcasts and reading to not be too dissimilar. While one is a physical book and one is audio contained electronically, both, in my opinion, offer the same sense of tranquility and opportunity to be mindful. I have some go-to podcasts that I listen to, inlcuding; ‘Mentally Yours’, ‘How To Fail’, ‘How To Wow’, ‘Under The Skin’, ‘I Weigh’, and many more. I mainly listen to podcasts discussing mental health and spirituality, as these are two of the subjects that I feel most passionately towards, but there are podcasts on pretty much any topic imaginable. Just download a podcast app and have a look through until you find one that catches your eye. They range in viewing time so you can choose one based on how much time you have etc. If you can multitask, they’re a great way to keep your mind occupied when doing something slightly mundane (in my case, cleaning.)
- Baking/Cooking– A slightly controversial activity in the context of eating disorder recovery, but it is something that I enjoy and find boosts my mental health, so I had to include it in this list. The great thing about baking is that you get to benefit twice- during the actually baking process, and afterwards when you have tasty food to eat. It can be a great motivator to encourage you to challenge some of your fear foods. Although personally I find sweet foods/desserts challenging, I do find baking my own to be easier, because the calorie content isn’t printed all over the front. Just be mindful of where you are in your recovery in terms of being able to be in the kitchen on your own/weighing out food.
- Journaling/Scrapbooking– I have recently started journaling every morning, answering the following prompts; ‘what are 3 things I’m grateful for?’ ‘What am I looking foward to today?’ I also write down a positive affirmation every day (‘today I will treat my body with respect.’ ‘Today will be a good day filled with positives’, etc.) Doing this sets me up well for the day, reminding me to remain hopeful despite any difficulties I might encounter on the rocky road of recovery.
- Decluttering & Organising– Something I have loved doing for a very long time is decluttering (weird, I know.) Although I didn’t recognise it as decluttering at the time, as a child I would spend time going through my possessions to sell/donate to charity shops to make my bedroom more ‘tidy.’ I find having a clear space in turn helps to clear my mind, and, it makes me feel productive, which is always a nice feeling 🙂
- Going for a walk– Another potentially controversial one for eating disorder recovery, is walking. If you are at a stage in your recovery where you are physically safe and mentally not caught up in overexercising, walking is a great low impact exercise to get you out of the house and into nature.
- Photography– Despite common misconceptions, a high spec camera is most definitley not a requirement to take up photography. A phone camera ‘does the job’ just as well and provides the same level of enjoyment. Photography doesn’t have to be an outside activity, you can photograph indoors too. I find that when I’m into my photography I view the smaller things in life as more meaningful- the clouds in the sky, the leaves hanging off trees, the grass underneath my feet- it all becomes more obvious and beautiful.
So there you go- 10 activities that I find really help me to manage my mental health and guide me through my recovery journey. I aim to do at least one activity every day, even if its just for 10 minutes.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any activity recommendations that you think should be on the list.