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One of the worst things you can do when you’re experiencing distress is to drop your self-care routine—eating regularly, getting enough sleep, exercising, and doing the small activities that give your life structure and publicly proclaim “Look how much I love me.” Emotional health includes keeping up with attention to self no matter what’s going on in life. This is exactly what many dysregulated eaters don’t do when life tosses them a curve ball or there is a change in their normal routine.
When your life is thrown out of whack—by vacation, holidays, moving, illness (yours or someone else’s), visits from friends or family, a job change, extra work, or unexpected travel—it can feel as if the world is spinning out of control and you can’t nail down time for yourself. Pretty soon you drop all or most of the activities you’ve been doing to take care of yourself which have brought you pleasure and a sense of well-being and, instead, end up turning to food for comfort. Self-care activities include taking vitamins, enjoying physical activity, food shopping and preparation, keeping up with friends, and the large and small rituals that help us feel good physically and emotionally.
What happens when you get derailed? Added to your inner chaos is the lack of structure you’ve created by dropping your healthful habits. Having lost your center and external structure, you go from feeling bad to worse. And it’s no surprise that you turn to food more and more because you feel as if there’s nothing else to hold on to.
We all need a sense of structure, containment, control, and centeredness in our lives. If we don’t feel internal stability, then we need to get it externally and that is where routine comes in. That’s how emotionally healthy people get by in topsy-turvy times. They depend on routine to provide a sense of continuity and familiarity when there is turmoil going on in their lives. Some do this instinctively and others do it because they’ve learned what’s happened when they let go of the infrastructure that holds them together.
Consider whether you have this problem. Do you suddenly stop self-care when there’s a blip on your radar screen, when life zigs when you want it to zag, or when you don’t have complete control? If so, you are someone who would benefit greatly from keeping up your routines no matter what happens. Think about what structure brings to your life and the value it has, especially during chaotic times. You may not be able to do everything you normally do, but do as much as you can and you’ll feel a lot more sane and stable.
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