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Dysregulated eaters talk a good deal about seeking “comfort” through eating, but what is comfort and how can we find real reduction or elimination of distress? As I’ve blogged, although turning to food occasionally to manage the blues or the blahs is fine, comfort eating as an emotional management strategy is nothing more than a bad habit.
If you’re readying yourself to learn more effective strategies, consider how you might learn to comfort yourself through both words and actions. In my experience, clients tend to use one strategy or the other, that is, they rely entirely on either taking action or trying to talk themselves down. Using both is a more effective combination.
I’ve been thinking about this subject due some client conversations. One client described how she handled a distressing situation: she got busy, which is a common strategy used by people to dissipate anxiety. She cleaned her apartment until it shined, then set about doing chores she’d been putting off. Another client described handling her feelings after an argument with her mother by sitting in her favorite chair and having a nice little talk with herself about calming down and feeling better.
There’s nothing wrong with siphoning off the physical manifestations of anxiety by keeping moving and there’s everything right about using self-talk to improve your mood. However, there’s no need to choose one approach over the other. They work better when they’re done in tandem.
Here’s an example. Say, Don is on pins and needles waiting to hear about a promotion at work. To dispel his nervous energy, he might go for a walk and listen to soothing music and keep reminding himself that whether he gets the job or not, he’ll be fine. What a powerful combination that would be. Another successful strategy is being creative. When I’m upset, I blog which sweeps me up into the flow of writing and takes me away from my distressed inner state. Before and after writing, I consider what’s really bothering me, then talk to myself with kind, self-compassionate words.
Do you have a general go-to approach for comforting yourself—either getting your body moving or using self-talk? How did you come to use these strategies? I suspect you learned them because your parents modeled them or you did whatever worked for you in childhood. The point with this two-pronged strategy is to take care of both the mental and physical energy that anxiety produces. Remember, anxiety isn’t simply felt in the mind. As we all too well know, when we have agita, we feel it deep in our bodies as well. Next time you’re anxious think about what you can do and say to comfort yourself.
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