"Kelsi, would you mind writing a post about 'back to school'? How do you prepare to make healthy choices for the new school year?
...For me this time has always been traditionally a time of anticipation but also anxiety. While I often yearn for the security which school provides during free time in the summer I also dread going back. Between picking new classes, choosing the prefect school supplies, worrying about what new and old friends will think of me, and (dreaded) shopping for clothes I feel pretty frazzled right now..."
Today is the first day of my fall semester. Although it will be nice to get back into a routine and dive further into my education, as an email buddy said, going back to school can also be quite overwhelming. School is stressful enough without the added pressures of recovery. So how in the world are those of us in recovery expected to balance all of this? Here are a few tips that have helped me and a few that I have set as goals for the upcoming semester to help get me through without going insane...
1. Plan Snacks. Or even meal plan for the entire day if necessary. For me, when life gets busy I always feel better if I have my eating planned out. Sure it's a hassle to take the time to think ahead, but it also prevents me from thinking about food all day because my meal plan is already in place. That way I can focus on absorbing the class material and coping with triggers in a healthy way if and when they come my way. Yes, I am doing my best to move away from meal planning right now, but there is no shame in reverting back to it if it helps me stay on track.
2. Create a balance. This one is tricky for me and my fellow perfectionists. In order to receive the best grades possible, it might seem like a good idea to study, study, study nonstop, but I'm learning it's important to take a break every once in awhile. Planning a little social time, a movie night, or simply an hour away from the computer can all help recharge your batteries.
3. Do Your Best Work... and learn to be happy with it even if it's not perfect. Another tricky one for perfectionists, but it's so important. My therapist reminds me every week that as long as I am doing my best work, whether the outcome is an A or a C, then I should be proud of myself. Some classes are more difficult than others and it's okay not to be perfect.
4. Don't Procrastinate. After 20 years in school, I still struggle with this one. On the few rare occasions when I have worked ahead, I have found my stress levels decrease dramatically.
5. Playlists and Pump Up Songs. Sometimes when I'm on campus, it's easy to feel trapped in my own (typically destructive) thoughts. Music, I have found, can calm my nerves and bring me back to a healthy mindset. Whether I need a pump up song before a test or a relaxing song to bring stress levels down, once my headphones are in, I am good to go.
6. Put Things Into Perspective. More often than not, I blow certain situations out of proportion and get myself worked up for no reason. By looking at the big picture and asking myself if whatever is bothering me will mean anything a few years down the road, it becomes easier to keep my cool.
7. Get involved. This is a new one for me and one of my biggest goals this semester. Most universities have more clubs and on campus activities than I have ever taken the time to discover. I think if I can meet people with similar interests this semester, I will feel less out of place and meet some new, healthy friends.
8. Physical Activity. For some of us in the early stages of recovery, physical activity is not recommended. However, for those of us who are a little further along and feel comfortable compensating the burned calories, physical activity can be an excellent way to take your mind off deadlines and studying. For me, I'll need to start slow in order to avoid being triggered. Yoga and walking might be a good place to start.
9. Study Buddies. School is hard enough. Why not buddy up with people from class and make studying easier? That way, just in case a class is missed, they have your back.
10. Stop Comparing. Easier said than done, I know. This one gets me in trouble every single time. There will always be smarter, prettier, and more outgoing people in class with me. Like so many other things in recovery, as long as I am doing what is right for me, it really doesn't matter what anyone else is doing. I tend to focus on those few individuals who I think are "better than me," rather than taking into consideration the many different types of people on campus. It's time to step outside the 'eating disorder tunnel-vision world' and start loving myself for who I am and what I have to offer.
I'm looking forward to a new semester even though some of my triggering anxiety still lingers. If I can recover from an eating disorder, I can do just about anything. With the help of these healthy coping mechanisms, school and the start of a new semester might not be so scary after all.