Now that we are moving into Phase two of coping with the COVID situation, we are all being presented with new as well as continuing challenges. Many of us are feeling burnt out from social distancing. The time away from our regular routine and the fast pace of life, which may have felt novel in the beginning of this crisis, now just feels difficult to many. As Memorial Day approaches, we are confused about an uncertain future, don't know whom to listen to, and we wonder when, if ever, we will see an end to this.
These are challenging times for everyone, but for people with food and emotional eating issues, there are additional stressors. It is easy to get depressed and frustrated about not to be able to go away for Memorial Day, or even plan outings with family and friends. Continuing to be homebound as the weather gets better can also create additional struggles with food and mood.
The ongoing sense of isolation from friends and family as well as the worry that we might not be able to safely enjoy much-needed fun such as vacations and outings to beaches, lakes, and mountains, creates a feeling of deprivation. On top of this, is the confusion about whether it is possible to plan a vacation when the future is so uncertain.
For people with body image issues, we worry about summer and the additional exposure as we shed heavy layers of clothing. In addition, seeing our faces mirrored back to us during Zoom calls multiple times a day, is an opportunity to negatively compare ourselves with others and berate ourselves. Of course, for people with eating issues, this negative self-talk can often trigger the compulsion to overeat, and then we have set off a viscous cycle which generally leads to more self-loathing and more binging. Many of us also feel guilty about overeating, and the guilt is now exacerbated by knowing that many people, including children, are going hungry.
These times aren't easy, and the future is uncertain. But one thing is definite, excess food and worry about body image only makes things worse. This situation demands that we build our tolerance for frustration and ambiguity. We need to accept that many of our supports are going to look different from how they looked in the past. Helpful activities may include:
· Online support groups, educational opportunities, and entertainment.
· Movement-if possible, get out and walk, run, or bicycle (perhaps at a 6-foot distance with a companion).
· Outdoor activity-spend time in nature, take a drive to a pretty location, or simply make time to sit out on your balcony or porch and enjoy a nice breeze.
· If outside is not possible, make use of the many online exercise opportunities that range from meditation sites to Pilates to yoga. Classes can range from 10 minutes to one hour.
One of the things that boosts self-esteem and mood is giving to others. Focusing on helping others get their needs met can often feed our own need for connection, and make us less likely to try to feed ourselves with unnecessary food. There are lots of ways to be of service, including:
· Helping out at a food bank or bagging food for distribution to those in need.
· Volunteering for groups that deliver food to elderly or disabled people.
· Reaching out by phone to underserved populations including the elderly, Holocaust survivors, shut-ins, and immigrants.
· Making a donation (of even five dollars) to an organization that fights hunger, such as City Harvest.
We need to challenge ourselves to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. While we are not out of the woods yet, we can still move forward with cautious optimism. And that includes making sure that we are both taking care of ourselves and giving to others. When this is all over, we want to feel not only that we have survived a difficult time, but that we have grown personally, and have helped change the world for the better.