New Year’s can be a stressful time for anyone working on recovery from an eating disorder, mood disorder, or trauma disorder.
The world around you continues to tell you to “change yourself” and “New Year, New You”! I hear from many of my clients how stressful these comments and this time can be. Many of my clients would rather learn to embrace themselves versus “change themselves”.
For me, instead of new years resolutions, I enjoy utilizing the new year to help clients orient to goals and explore values. Values exploration in eating disorder and trauma recovery is extremely important. Our values help us discover what is important to us, how we want to be utilizing our time, our boundaries, and can help us guide our behaviors.
My clients know that I’m a big fan of discovering value congruent behaviors, such as prioritizing our relationships, self-care, or even assertive needs. During this month of January, take some time to explore your values. For instance you can fill out this values exploration worksheet from Therapist Aid.
Once you have decided upon your values try to set one to three measurable goals to bring your values into your life. For instance, if a value of yours is to prioritize relationships, you may set a goal to attend three social events a month. Now, that the goal is set, going out of your comfort zone can be really hard and scary! Many times, to manage and cope with fear and anxiety, the eating disorder symptoms and/or trauma symptoms were developed. The eating disorder and trauma symptoms cause us not to listen to our body or what is important to us, like our values and our goals. For instance, consider the following:
Have you ever been in a situation where a friend approaches you and invites you to an important social gathering? Or, perhaps you have been in a situation where you have been asked to present to your classroom about something you are passionate about. Or even, maybe you have been asked to go to dinner with a big group of friends for the first time since being in treatment. Although there could be many different thought appraisals or reactions to these situations, any of these situations can cause fear.
Fear, you know, that emotion that sometimes feels like it is going to leap out of your throat, causes your stomach to drop, and your heart to start beating faster.
The type of fear I’m talking about here is a fear of going out of your comfort zone. This type of fear can lead us to hide from important opportunities and turn inward and use our maladaptive coping mechanisms.
Anytime you go out of our comfort zone, it is natural to feel scared, excited, frustrated, anxious or any combination of these emotions. Going out of your comfort zone can cause every red flag in your brain to trigger at once, and scream “Don’t do it!”. Naturally, you may even avoid approaching any of these situations at all.
Of course, retreating from our comfort zone may feel good in the short term, and in the same respect, avoidance has long term consequences. Your personal growth can be put into jeopardy, you miss out on valuable activities that give you meaning, and you may even experience feelings of regret or shame.
You can overcome the fear!
Let’s take a “safe risk”!
In sessions, I’m frequently asked how an individual can embrace the change and allow themselves to tolerate the fear associated with going out of their comfort zone to prioritize their values and recovery. I’m going to encourage all of you to take a “safe risk” in these situations. What is a safe risk you may ask? A safe risk is not a behavior that puts you into danger, but rather allows you to embrace change and take control of your life in meaningful and value congruent, healthy ways. A safe risk allows you to move closer to your values and the very things you are passionate about. When you feel fear about going into a new situation, I encourage you to take the following steps to begin to move past fear, embrace the change, and learn more about yourself and your values.
- Values Ask yourself is this activity/situation important to me? Is this in line with my values? (If you are not sure what your values are, I encourage you to list them out). If the answer is yes then perhaps taking a safe risk would be helpful to begin leaning into experiences that you would normally avoid.
- Identify Supports Find people in your life that will hold you accountable and help you face your fear. Tell these supports how they can be most helpful to you as you reach your goals.
- Make sure that the activity isn’t dangerous Ask yourself does this activity put me in danger? If it does then this would not be an appropriate time to take a safe risk! If you have any questions about this, please discuss with your outpatient team or any supports.
- Tolerating fear With any situation, speak to your outpatient team about embracing the fear. I find that fear can be tied with feeling that you have a lack of safety. Notice any associations that you have with fear to be able to move forward. If we are taking a safe risk, this requires us to need confront our fear and notice our appraisals of fear. I tend to utilize specific distress tolerance skills and emotional regulation skills, such as a behavior chain analysis, pros and cons, playing the tape forward, and thinking of long- and short-term consequences of going
- Reappraise any thinking traps You may notice a lot of “what if” thoughts that occur when entering something out of your comfort zone. List any thinking traps and test out how truthful these thoughts may be for the situation. This is also a great time to allow yourself some self-compassion with reappraisals to these thoughts. Going out of your comfort zone is scary! It is okay to feel that way!
- Mindfulness Any time you go out of your comfort zone, it is natural to feel threatened emotionally. Utilize a guided mindfulness activity to slow your processing of this emotion so that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming.
- Small Steps Taking a safe risk, also means coming up with an action plan utilizing a wide variety of alternative behaviors to your natural eating disorder or other maladaptive coping skills. You may feel that the change in front of you feels like a mountain. Break down your goal into small necessary steps that you can take. Make sure that these steps include supports and make them manageable. Allow yourself to create steps that you can begin immediately and feel realistic to you. It is okay if you have to meet smaller goals to get to your bigger goal!
The idea here is allowing yourself to experience the change rather than retreating from the change.
Many times when you allow yourself to have the experience in front of you, you may learn more about yourself, your abilities, and get closer to the individual y
ou hope to be. These experiences can allow you to begin to treat yourself with the love, care, and respect that you deserve!
As always, reach out to your providers to put these steps into actions or reach out and schedule an appointment with a therapist to help you embrace yourself and your values this year.