Greta Gleissner LCSW

Hope for Eating Disorder Recovery

Eating Disorders and Stress

These relaxation techniques can help

Posted Jan 30, 2017

Stress affects everyone on a daily basis. Individuals get stressed from a multitude of normal factors such as relationships, school, or work. However, for individuals suffering from an eating disorder, environmental and social factors may heighten stress levels and cause destructive mental and behavioral patterns. It is imperative that these individuals understand their stressful moments and replace poor eating habits with a constructive outlet that elicits the relaxation response.

When individuals get stressed, they often act in impulsive ways because they do not know how to transform the stress into something productive. For people diagnosed with an eating disorder, these impulses from environmental and social stressors can cause individuals to not eat enough food, purge after a meal, or engage in a binge-eating episode.

How stress affects the body

Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released into the bloodstream when individuals get stressed. This causes heightened levels of breathing and an increased heart rate. Chronic levels of stress can cause a multitude of sleep, digestive, cardiovascular and immune problems. Prolonged levels of stress can also increase the likelihood of getting heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.[1]

How stress affects individuals with eating disorders

Among eating disorder patients, stress can be caused from various social and environmental factors that may include peer and societal pressures to have the ‘perfect body type.’ Feelings of shame and guilt about one’s self image can cause individuals to continue on a cycle of stress if they do not have a productive outlet.

There is good news when it comes to the effects stress can have on individuals. Stress does not have to be painful or overwhelming. If individuals learn useful coping mechanisms that elicit the relaxation response, they can channel that stress and become happier and healthier. Stress can be used to motivate people into becoming more mindful and productive in their lives. It can also be the driving force to empower individuals with eating disorders to find enjoyable activities that make them feel at peace and content with themselves.

If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder and is experiencing copious amounts of stress, the following are useful techniques to relieve stress.

6 relaxation techniques to help relieve stress

Practice yoga or tai chi.- Not only will you get your workout in, but you will also be practicing a multitude of mindful techniques that foster self-acceptance. Yoga helps to center the mind and body in a wide range of movements and poses that build strength and balance. Research has shown that women say yoga has “helped them with their body image, ability to reconnect to their body, and self-acceptance.”[2] It can become a useful tool in both eating disorder prevention and to help relieve any stress caused by an eating disorder.

Tai chi, a form of martial arts, is a phenomenal way to strengthen the mind and body to refocus on the present. It enables you to feel calmer by reframing your thoughts to focus on each position and encourages you to appreciate the peaceful environment.

Practice meditation.- There are a wide range of useful meditation techniques that help to establish mindfulness in eating and thinking patterns. Mindfulness meditation, breath meditation, and body scan meditation all are useful techniques that elicit the relaxation response. These techniques can be completed in less than 10 minutes and help to bring your mind, breath, and body in unison with the present moment. Meditation cultivates self-compassion and fosters self-acceptance.

Muscle relaxation.- This technique allows you to focus on bringing awareness and relaxation to all muscles of the body. You can focus on releasing tension from your toes all the way to your facial muscles. Feelings of tenseness and stress are often accumulated throughout the day on key areas of your body, such as the shoulders and neck. Try this muscle relaxation technique and immediately feel the stress melt away from your body.

Massage therapy.- Whether you massage your own muscles and areas of tension around your body or you get a massage, this technique is extremely beneficial for eliciting the relaxation response. Massage therapy helps to reduce stress and relieves common pains such as headaches.[4] Massaging areas such as the neck, back, and shoulders offers a calming opportunity for you to release unwanted stress accumulated throughout your day.

Connect.- Oxytocin, a hormone that is also released when you get stressed, urges you to seek social connection when experiencing stressful situations. When individuals are stressed and do not know where to turn to, it is essential that they connect with the friends and family that love them. Seeking social connection makes people feel good and humanizes their experience to make them realize that everyone goes through difficult moments.

Listen to music or read a book.- Lie in your bed and listen to soothing music or dive into a good book. This calming distraction helps to provide a productive outlet so that you can take a break from the bustle of the day’s events.

Enjoy nature.- Getting outside, breathing in the fresh air, and soaking in the vitamin D from the sun will restore your thoughts and release your stress. You will finally achieve peace of mind and will learn to let go of the stressful things in your life that no longer matter.

How to incorporate these techniques in your everyday life.

The best part about the above relaxation techniques is that they can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Taking 15 minutes out of your busy day and finding time to relax will make you more at peace with yourself and will lead to mindful eating behaviors and positive thoughts. Using these relaxation techniques will strengthen your willpower to make healthier choices every day. All of these relaxation strategies help individuals with eating disorders cultivate self-compassion and promote a healthy lifestyle.

References

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml#pub1

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4047628/pdf/reat2_136.pdf

[4] http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/massage/art-20045743

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