Tag Archive: eating disorder

Anxiety Series Part Two: Coping Skills

In my last entry I shared my journey going off of SSRI’s. Today I want to talk about what I do instead, given that anxiety and its management are an ongoing part of who I am. Some of my tips for managing daily anxiety: Phone a friend – When my anxiety is bad I feel like my head is spinning with too many inner thoughts and voices. It helps during these times to talk to someone else as it is harder for your inner dialogue to be as crazy when you are actually communicating with another living being. Sometimes I’ll talk to the person about my anxiety and think of ways to overcome it but other times chatting about a non-related topic helps. For example, sometimes while doing my homework at night with the door closed my anxiety builds up. During these moments it helps to knock on my roommate’s door, sit on her floor and talk about our days, watch ironic Donald Trump videos and eat chips and salsa. Being in the moment helps to curb the anxious tendencies and calms my mind. Give up caffeine - One of the huge things that made a big difference in my baseline anxiety levels  has been giving up caffeine. I feel that my energy is much more stable throughout the day and that I have an easier time keeping my mind on track and being present in the moment. I was a pretty big coffee and black tea drinker in the past so it was hard for me to give up the warming drink. Luckily I have really been enjoying Dandy coffee alternative, which is a 100% natural plant based powder that tastes like coffee but is caffeine free.  
Having a cozy cup of tea with breakfast.

Having a cozy cup of tea with breakfast.

15 minute brain breaks – At the beginning of each day, or the night before, I try to schedule three 15 minute blocks in the day where I can stop whatever productive activity I am doing and just be present. Usually I have one in the morning, one around lunch or between two classes and one after dinner. I like to use these times to sit on a bench and people watch, listen to Justin Beiber extremely loudly and have a dance party or even pull out my coloring book and have a little drawing session. I find that when I forget to take these breaks I can feel my anxiety building up throughout the day and I am getting ready to explode at night.
An awesome brain break is getting out in nature (neat-ure).

An awesome brain break is getting out in nature (neat-ure).

  Sunday night preparation – I started to notice a pattern that if my Sunday afternoon/night was hectic, I would feel stressed on Monday morning, which would set me up to have a bad week. On Sunday night I like to take a few hours by myself to get mentally ready for the week ahead of me. This involves getting out my class syllabi and copying any due dates into my planner, as well as any other important meetings or appointments during the week. I also like to do laundry, clean my room, send any emails I have been putting off etc etc. I think Sunday night is a perfect time to have some “me” time too as most people are tired from the weekend and you’re unlikely to be missing out on anything super fun.   So there you have it; a few things that have worked well for me in the past couple of months since going of SSRI’s. Overall I feel extremely empowered to have made the transition off of medication but I think a better way to frame it is that I changed the way I coped with my anxiety, rather than just quitting one way of coping. I think it is very important to use other tools in our lives such as support systems, self-care and mindfulness to manage our emotions so that we are free to live a more authentic reality.   A Challenge for you this week: Be vulnerable with someone. It could be simply being honest that you dislike your new haircut, or opening up to a friend about struggling with anxiety. Letting my guard down and being vulnerable about my anxiety in ways such as "phoning a friend" has helped me learn to be less judgmental about parts of myself.  Vulnerability allows us to make deeper connections as we expose more of ourselves. It may be tough but it is empowering. If you have any questions about anxiety or would like to talk about your journey, please reach out to me! Sending love, Robin

Something nobody talks about

This week in my global public health class, a shocking statistic was presented to me. Since 2014, the leading cause of death in female’s aged 15-19 worldwide is suicide (WHO, 2014). Just let that sink it. Young adult women are more likely to take their own life than die from HIV/AIDS, malaria, cancer, road-accidents, and complications with childbirth or any other things we might think of. This says a lot about the huge worldwide improvement in basic public health resources such as sanitation and safe sex practices. But also highlights the huge “elephant in the room” that is mental health and care facilities. Many organizations such as suicide hotlines, free counseling and mental health services have been put in place over the past 20 years. But we are still behind in impactful treatment of mental health disorders, especially in less medically advanced countries. Millions of sufferers are not able to access the mental health treatment they need which results in the rates of suicide climbing. The severity of mental illness is extremely minimized in many cultures and I believe that one way we can start to mitigate this by talking about our struggles more openly. I also think it is very important that people are educated about the issues. Parents often worry about their children drinking alcohol, driving in cars, taking risks and sharing water bottles when they should spend more time ensuring their child’s mental health is intact. Teenage girls are twice as likely to die from suicide than from a drug overdose, yet we have drug education in high school but no mental health programs. group_hug Now for a little bit of story time: I am thankful everyday that I am lucky enough to be an American Citizen and have insurance that covers the health care I need, and resources put in place so that I can access the best care possible. I really realized how privileged I was during recovery from my eating disorder. The US has many areas for improvement but I believe they are the leaders in the treatment of severe mental health disorders. When it became evident that I would need inpatient 24-hour structured physical and mental care in order to recover I had many treatment facility’s to choose from. Luckily, I had great insurance that covered the $1000’s a day treatment costs. Sadly many Americas do not have sufficient medical insurance, and are not able to afford the extreme costs out-of-pocket, meaning that they do not receive adequate mental health care. Even in New Zealand, a developed country, this is not the case. In New Zealand you will be admitted to hospital and re-fed until you are physically stable and then released with very little assistance in fixing the root of the problem within the brain. Its like they almost forget that anorexia is a mental disorder and just treat the physical symptoms which is like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation. There are a few privet facilities’, but they only take a small amount of patients and are extremely expensive. I have a few friends back home that are still struggling and I would do anything to give them access to the recovery program that I had.
I made some mazing connections while in treatment - hear we are practicing mindful crocheting.

I made some amazing connections while in treatment - here we are practicing mindful crocheting.

What we can do about this problem:  Talk more: I am a firm believer that personal problems weighing you down feel much lighter when they are shared. I want to encourage all people to speak more openly about mental health issues, as I think the real killer is silence. Mental illness is a lot more prominent than you probably realize. 18% of the adult population is currently diagnosed with anxiety or depression disorders, while many more struggle without clinical diagnoses (NIMH, 2015). I bet that if you start opening up to the people around you, you will find that many of your peers have experienced some sort of mental health episode. The more you talk about it now, the more likely a friend will be to reach out to you if they are feeling low. Take a break: Depression is also the leading cause of disability in adults ages 18-54, meaning that more productive work years are lost due to depression than any other illness (NIMH, 2015) Due to this, it needs to be more socially accepted in the work place to take “mental health days”. I’ve experienced a bad flu and a bad bout of mental health; both make it equally impossible to get out of bed. I encourage parents to let their kids take days off in order to improve their mental health. I also think its extremely important to let the weekends be relaxing, do some self care and restore mental health for the week ahead. suicide I urge you and those you love to spend a little time this week thinking about mental health. How are you feeling? Are you taking actions to increase the quality of your daily life? Send a thoughtful message to someone you haven’t seen in a while or make time to get coffee with a friend. Be aware of subtle indications that people around you are struggling and send out a helping hand. We are all on this crazy ride of life together; sometimes we just need to have a big group hug. Thanks for reading 🙂  Robin   National Institute of Mental Health, Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry. 2015 Jun;62(6):593-602. World Health Organisation. "Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative." WHO (2014): n. pag. Preventing Suicide. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

Developing a healthy relationship with exercise

Racing elite women in the tour of southland
  In this article I will share how my relationship with exercise has changed over the years and how I work to reduce the unhealthy aspects of exercise in my life and strengthen the positives. Scientists agree that getting regular exercise is a great thing for the mind and body. Regular exercise can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, aid in recovery from illness and even make your daily life more efficient. Most of us can also agree that the average person in western society could probably benefit from getting a little MORE exercise. Due to this we are bombarded with media telling us to work out more this season, get flat abs, and present fitness models as #goals. While this could potentially be good motivation for some, I believe many more people than we realize actually suffer from these messages, myself included. When skipping a gym session to get lunch with a friend makes you feel extremely guilty, or when you have to do exactly 60 sit-ups (or any other set number) in order to feel like you’ve had a good work out, you might want to think about your relationship with exercise.
Final Sprint to win the U19 NZ Criterium Championships

Final Sprint to win the U19 NZ Criterium Championships

  My relationship with exercise: Between the ages of 13 and 19 I was a competitive road cyclist. I competed internationally on the New Zealand Junior Team and earned 10 national titles along the way. During this time in my life my athletic training and performance loomed very large in my emotional psyche. So much of my energy was bound up in whether or not I was doing the right training, if I was going to peak for the important races or if the selectors could see my potential. A small cold during racing season would be a catastrophe and I would feel that all of my hard work would be wasted. My whole life was consumed by cycling, not only the time spent actually on the bike. I would eat well (for cycling), build my classes around my training schedule (for cycling), miss birthday parties (for cycling) and go to bed early (for cycling). At the time this strict rigidity around my lifestyle was important for my performance but once I stopped cycling this mindset stuck with me even though I wasn’t training for anything anymore.
U13 Track Champs racing with the boys - Regan Gough next to me is now world champion!

U13 Track Champs racing with the boys - Regan Gough next to me is now World Champion!

Working out was often a private thing for me after then. I went to the gym most days and went on runs alone so that I could push myself extremely hard. If a friend asked to go together I would get nervous that I wouldn’t get a “good enough” workout. This continued for about a year after I stopped cycling competitively. Then one day I went to the gym with a friend, and about halfway through my workout she walked over to me and said “Robin, what exactly are you training for?” I was on the spin bike doing intervals that I had previously done in order to prepare for Oceanic Time Trial Championships. I was dripping in sweat and was taking my workout extremely seriously. I snapped at her because she had interrupted my threshold interval but then began to realize that she actually did have a point. I think that having an elite athlete mindset from a young age can cause us to become very intense and competitive with our sporting endeavors. This may not necessarily be a bad thing but if exercise continues to take up as much emotional energy in your life as it used to when you were competing, but without giving any return in the form of results, it can be incredibly draining. Not to mention the added media influence also causes a lot of people to have a huge amount of unnecessary emotions surrounded with getting regular exercise.
New Zealand U19 Girls Team

New Zealand U19 Girls Team

I was (and still probably still am) addicted to the endorphins that pushing your body extremely hard give you. But I needed to remember that killing myself in a morning workout, when I wasn’t even training for anything, did seem a bit silly. These workouts left me tired all day and not present during my classes. My workouts had become very rigid; I did the exact same amount of cardio with the machine set on the exact same level followed by the exact same number of strengthening exercises with no easy days and no change in intensity. I began dreading the thing that once gave me so much pleasure. I would feel empty and anxious if I didn’t exercise. Working out is supposed to help reduce stress but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your stress reduction tool-box. After doing some research and speaking with a sports psychologist I decided that I needed to change my behaviors around exercise to enjoy working out again in order to heal my body, not burn it to the ground.
Mindful Exercise - Paddle-boarding with Sam

Mindful Exercise - Paddle-boarding with Sam

Steps I took towards mindful exercise:
  • - I started referring to working out as “getting my blood flowing” or “moving my body” in order to remind myself that this was the ultimate goal of getting exercise. Also as an added bonus it sounds super new-age-hippy when you tell your friends your going to the Rec Center to “move your body” after class.
  • I made a list of different workouts I could do and put them in a jar so that I could pull one out whenever I wanted to exercise in order to mix up my super rigid routine. I included some of my old workouts but also added some such as a 90 min hike with a friend or simply taking my dog for a jog around the neighborhood. Believe me, the first time I pulled out one of these ‘not so serious’ workouts it was extremely hard for me to not race to the gym to do intervals but over time I learned that I didn’t lose any physical progress and that I actually really enjoyed these fun workouts.
  • I also altered small things about my workouts in order to move away from the rigidity. For example, instead of running for 45 minutes at level 6, I had to get off at 43 minutes and walk away. This was impossibly hard the first time. In my mind I just kept saying “its ok, ill just run home to make up for it”, but that’s not what I did. I pushed through the uncomfortable feeling of changing my routine and after doing this a few times I learned that nothing catastrophic happened.
  • I put a piece of paper over the cardio machine screens in the gym so that I could practice listening to my body rather than the numbers.
Mindful exercise - Hiking in Zion

Mindful Exercise - Hiking in Zion

So there you have it, my personal experience with an unhealthy relationship with exercise and some steps that helped me be able to mindfully enjoy getting my blow flowing again. Keep in mind that this is only my personal experience and that although these techniques worked for me, they may not be as effective for everyone. The goal of this article, was to start a conversation about the possibility that too much intense exercise can actually be harmful and that working out shouldn’t be a dreaded, stress-inducing activity. As with everything in life, they key to success is moderation. If you have any opinions or questions please leave a comment down below and let me know what you think!   Much love, Robin