Navigating the Transition Back To Normal Life

12 May, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has sure been a wild ride.

Several weeks ago, we were catapulted from life-as-usual to near-complete shutdown. We were forced to transform our way of life, become largely homebound and move most of our activities online.

It has been tricky to navigate.

Now, finally, restrictions are beginning to ease and our worlds are changing - once again. We are slowly going back to our old way of life. But after so much time in lockdown, the transition might not be easy for everyone.

Change of any kind can be difficult for many people with eating disorders - and mental health issues more broadly. So here are some tips to get through this next transition and overhaul in your day-to-day life.

Our number one, top tip is: Get Support.

You don’t have to do it alone. Seek out professional help to support your reintegration back into the world. Our Treatment Services Database can help you to find a local clinician.

Socialising after lockdown

After months of minimal social interactions, we are slowly being allowed to see people and accept visitors into our homes. You might start getting invitations to dinner parties.

For many, this is wonderful news.

For others, it may not be. For people with social anxiety concerns, this could trigger quite a significant feeling of heightened anxiety.

In a way, isolation has been mandated “avoidance” for people who struggle with social anxiety. People may find it tough having to interact with others again after a long period of no interaction.

Confronting these fears can be difficult. Especially having to engage with large groups of people for work or play, talk to people face-to-face again, attend parties and other social events, and starting to eat out and at others homes.

What you can do:

  • Take small steps

Ease your way back into socialising. You don’t have to go to a noisy party packed with strangers straight away. Aim to hang out for a coffee with one friend that you feel comfortable with. Then go out with two friends for a coffee. Then, go out for a meal. Work your way slowly back into social activities.

  • Challenge your thoughts

Thought challenging is a technique that is commonly used in counselling. It involves taking a close look at what you are thinking, assessing whether it is helpful or unhelpful, and then replacing it with a more helpful or even more realistic thought. For example, “Everyone will think I’m stupid,” is untrue and unhelpful, and could be replaced with, “There are lots of people who know me and don’t think I’m stupid.” It can be beneficial to do this exercise with the support of a psychologist.

Body image and exercise

Being out and about socially again is likely to cause people with eating disorders to experience heightened body image concerns. They might worry about comments from other people about their appearance when they start seeing people face-to-face.

Gyms, bootcamps and other exercise facilities are also starting to reopen. People with eating disorders might feel pressured to exercise more now.

This has all likely been compounded by social media, with many accounts unfortunately putting a spotlight on body and exercise during lockdown.

What you can do:

Social media can compound body image concerns. Comparing yourself to others who you perceive to be better in some way, only results in negativity towards yourself. Also, many of the images you see are highly edited, filtered and unrealistic. So, unfollow any accounts that focus on body, shape or weight, or log off and take a break!

  • Do something enjoyable

Go for a bush walk, an ocean swim, take a bubble bath, do some art, listen to a podcast, dance! Do something that makes you feel good in the skin you’re in. This factsheet suggests some pleasant and distracting activities that may help with dealing with negative emotions.

Telehealth changes

For the most part, medical and psychological appointments have shifted largely online due to social distancing policies.

Although some restrictions are starting to ease, temporary telehealth appointments will continue to be rebated by Medicare until September 30 for eating disorders.

Talk to your healthcare provider about what your treatment will look like in the coming months. A slow transition back to face-to-face appointments may be on the cards.

General tips to cope with (more) change

Set yourself a routine to help maintain some consistency in your own life. A basic routine, which includes fixed sleep-wake times and snacks and mealtimes, can help to provide some rhythm to your day - even while our external world feels so unpredictable.

Keep as much structure around mealtimes as possible, including setting a table and eating with other people - even if that means using video chat.

Try to add a dose of fresh air in your day. Going for a walk around the block or sitting in the park can boost your wellbeing. Even some gardening can have a positive effects. Exercise can also do wonders for your mindset (but check in with your treatment team first).

Stay connected with your friends and family online and reach out whenever you need to. Daily social contact via text or video chat is essential - even a little bit helps! Let people know how you are doing and let them support even if by just being there.

Try to practice some urge surfing and mindfulness techniques if you are hit with strong or uncomfortable emotions. And importantly, give yourself some grace – this is an unprecedented and uncertain time, things are changing fast, and there is no guidebook on how we should handle it. (For a list of mindfulness resources, check out this blog).

Most importantly, seek support. We are all in this together.

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