Eating Disorders

School Stress and Eating Disorder Recovery


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School. It brings with it a lot of stress, doesn’t it? Throw in recovering from an eating disorder and you have quite a juggling act on your hands. It is so important to look after yourself in times of stress, particularly when recovering from an eating disorder. Too often we forget this truth and just focus on what is causing us the stress.

It is so easy to think we need to put school first because we have due dates and tests and expectations. But we also need to take care of ourselves in order to perform at our best.

Schoolwork is important, but caring for yourself is even more important. If we don’t, we can easily use stress as an excuse to over-exercise or to say we’re not feeling hungry – I know I did.

When I was still in school, I really struggled to cope with all the stress that came with recovery, let alone schoolwork. I had to focus a lot of my time on coming up with a meal plan for myself, making sure I stuck to it, and learning new ways to cope with my emotions. School was just added stress on top of that.

But I did get through it, and you can too. There is no valid excuse to not look after yourself when in recovery at school.

Here are some ways that I managed to get through it:

  • Set aside certain times of the day to do your schoolwork. Allocating a specific time for schoolwork and sticking to it will allow you to get work done more consistently and easily, and lessen the unnecessary stress associated with encroaching deadlines.
  • Talk to people if you’re struggling. Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness. Take advantage of the school counselling service. I had a brilliant counsellor that helped me manage my stress. I would recommend it to anyone going through the same thing. They are able to help you organize your thoughts and give tips on how to organise your schoolwork as well. Take advantage of the free service!
  • Talk to friends. Having someone you can trust to voice your struggles/thoughts to can be really helpful. I have a friend who I could voice my “I’m not good enough”and “I can’t do this!” thoughts to, and she encouraged me and made me see that putting myself down was not going to help!
  • Study with friends. Sometimes, just having a friend to keep you company can make you feel better. You can tell them what’s going on in your head, and they can give you support if you feel yourself start to boil over.
  • Take breaks. I found going on short walks once a day was really important for me during my recovery, especially while I was at school. It gave me time to clear my head and take my mind off my impending workload.  [NOTE: Only do this if you’ve been given permission to exercise. Talk to your doctor first.]
  • Prepare food to take with you. It is important that you make time for food, especially when studying. You may not realize it, but your brain requires a lot of energy for studying. Keeping your energy levels up improves mood as well, which can help with stress.
  • Make sure you acknowledge the expectations you have for yourself. These standards will most likely be higher than what you have from the outside world. If you are getting pressure from others to get perfect grades, tell them it’s creating extra stress for you and you don’t need any more pressure. You probably put enough pressure on yourself, so any more from others will be unhelpful at best.
  • Make sure your expectations are realistic. The tendency with eating disorder sufferers is to be extremely perfectionistic. It would be nice to get straight A’s, but sometimes, it’s just not possible. Recovery is a full time job, so it’s very difficult to focus as much time and energy as you want on getting good grades. Celebrate your successes such as finishing an assignment on time or doing your best at a presentation. Remember that even a pass is worth celebrating!
  • Most importantly, school should not be your whole life. Like I said before, as much as you would like to have perfect grades, you need time off to relax as well. Read a book, watch your favourite TV show, go out with friends, join a sports team (if this is okay with your doctor), or join a school organisation that is not related to your studies. School and recovery to take a lot out of you, so doing something just for YOU can be really good.

Remember that managing schoolwork and recovery is NOT supposed to be easy, but you can manage it. There will be ups and downs, as there is with anything worth having. Believe in yourself.

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Katy has an honours degree in meteorology and an undergraduate degree in geophysics and mathematics. Katy chose to recover from her eating disorder in May 2010 and has never looked back. Throughout her recovery journey, she has struggled with crippling anxiety, which she has now learned to manage and by writing at Libero, she hopes to help others to manage their anxiety, have fun with recovery and learn to live again.

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