One the most important habits I developed that helped me through the worst of my eating disorder and still helps me today is a small routine- a time during the day that I spend with myself, doing the things that are most important to my health and to my happiness.
It’s 7am on a blustery cold day in January. It’s that time during the Canadian winter when we all feel like there is no end in sight and spirits drop. This winter has been mild, but the lack of sunlight still gets to all of us. Whether you live in Canada or not, there is usually a time of year that gets under your skin and invariably brings you down- especially if you’re struggling with your mental health.
Although I still get down during this time of year, I no longer fall into despair and a worsening cycle of ED habits like I used to. One of the things I can put my finger on as being key to keeping me “buoyant” during the winter is my morning routine. My alarm goes off at 7 and I’m up and about by 7:15 (or 7:30 depending on how difficult it is to escape my cuddly husband!). The first thing I do is take to my yoga mat, light a candle and do a few gentle stretches to slowly wake up. Settling onto my mat, I take 10 breaths, counting 5 on the inhale and 5 on the exhale. I notice the air entering my lungs and filling my body. I notice sounds, sensations, feelings and try to let them go as they come up. Although I try to be mindful and present, if my mind wanders, I gently pull it back to my breath without judgement. This recentres me, calms me down, allows me to step back a little. If none of those things seems to happen, I remind myself that this is part of creating a lifelong habit that will help me through difficult days.
I then make myself a cup of tea and settle down in front of a good book, my notebook or a big window. This is also when I turn on my light therapy lamp which is a full spectrum (very bright) lamp that mimics daylight. Research has shown that this type of light causes chemical changes in the brain that lifts mood and can help with symptoms of depression and SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I leave it on as I read, write and eat for about 40 minutes (more information on light therapy lamps below).
This takes me to about 8:00am. I spend my last hour eating breakfast and getting ready. One of the most important things I do during this time is self-monitoring. Using a tracking sheet, I monitor mood, sleep and make some quick notes about the day before. It’s a very general form of monitoring and is not about control, numbers, weight or anything of that nature. It simply gives me perspective on what’s really going on. This practice was especially essential when I was in the throws of my disorder. It sheds light on my triggers and the things that help. It also kept me from generalizing my weeks and months. When you’re feeling low, your mind will tend to pick out all the negative things that have happened in the week, month or year. Tracking sheets help to remind me that I had a mix of positive and difficult days and even if they were mostly very hard, my notes always reveal some important, even if small, accomplishments. Daily monitoring continues to be an important part of keeping myself healthy.
I begin work at 9:00am and I’m usually in bed by 9pm. I really cherish that time on my own in the mornings. It can be hard to spend any time with yourself when you’re struggling but find a way to do it that’s safe and effective for you. It may be not an early morning routine like mine. Carve out a time during the day that is least triggering for you and try to incorporate a brief mindfulness practice, daily monitoring and activities that soothe you. Find a way to spend time with yourself that isn’t centred around a battle over what or what not to eat, how or how not to feel, who or who not to be.
As time goes on, you may even find that you’ve developed a healthier relationship with yourself.
“Learn to be alone and to like it. There is nothing more freeing and empowering than learning to like your own company”
– Mandy Hale
Keep Fighting Warriors!