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Self-Care is the Greatest Gift

By Annie Stewart--Throughout my recovery, self-care has been one of the most vital lessons I have learned. Practicing self-care makes me a better person – a better friend, employee, a better sister, and a daughter.

I cannot give to anyone else if I first don’t know how to give love to myself. Now, I can talk about self-care all I want but it can be difficult to make self-care a priority practically when there are exams to study for and papers to write…not to mention, balancing relationships and all the joys and struggles associated with that.

Throughout my recovery, I have learned how to make self-care an absolute priority; sometimes I have had to be absolutely vigilant and set healthy boundaries with others.  That is not easy to do, but as a therapist once told me: “Build your life around recovery, not the other way around.”

Here are a few ideas to practice self-care during the school year. Of course, these are based on my own experience. Therefore, the key is to practice self-care in a way that is personal and special to you.

Get Moving

In high school, I absolutely hated running. I played sports that required a lot of running but I hated running just for the sake of it. However, something shifted in college.  Running became my biggest outlet to relieve stress and anxiety. I would exercise after classes and this is the activity that centered me like nothing else. I tend to get lost in my head a lot and am thinking about a million things simultaneously. 

As soon as my feet would hit the pavement or the treadmill, every anxiety ceased. It was like running was (is!) this metaphorical experience, where my ability to move, to run, enabled my worries and anxiety to run away. Exercise is something I know I need to practice self-care, more so for my mental health rather than my physical health.

The most important part of exercise is to ask yourself: What do you enjoy? What gives you pleasure? Maybe it’s yoga or Pilates. A lot of yoga centers have group rates so it can be a fun, cheap way to get those endorphins pumping and have fun with friends.

Depending on where you live, maybe it’s skiing or snowboarding in the cooler climates, or maybe it’s surfing or swimming in the warmer climates. Or maybe it’s joining a team sports intramural team at your university. Whatever it is, remember exercise ought to be about self-care; that is its most important purpose.

Note: We encourage you to check with your medical team before starting any physical activity if you are struggling/recovering from an eating disorder.

Get Creative

There is something therapeutic about any activity that involves moving your hands. When I got out of inpatient treatment, I started painting. In the past few years, cooking has also become a new hobby. Cooking is especially healing and restorative for me, because my relationship with food was once so disordered. Cooking gives me complete ownership in what I am eating. I follow recipes consisting of foods I enjoy and it also gives me the capacity to share food with others.

There is something beautiful about sharing a meal with others because you aren’t just sharing food but fostering community. If you and a friend or a few friends plan an evening of cooking together and split up the food costs, this can save money and creating a meal together can be a new way to foster connection.

One of the reasons I love cooking is because these activities extinguish ED’s power. You are practicing two activities that ED once told you is bad: joyful eating and shared community. I realize that everyone is at different stages in recovery so if you don’t feel comfortable eating with others yet, that is okay too. Or maybe it’s not cooking but another creative activity, like art, dance, music, photography (another passion of mine), or fashion. I believe everyone has the capacity to be creative; it’s just a matter of figuring out what gives you the most joy.

Know Thyself

This one may not sound very fun but has been absolutely life changing for me. I have found it so important to ask myself how to get energized. Does being with people for a whole day make you feel exhausted or energized? I am by and large an introvert; if I don’t have alone time I get grumpy and am not enjoyable to be around to say the least.

During my years struggling with an eating disorder, I felt so ashamed of the fact that I am an introvert. Through my recovery, I learned how faulty my thinking was and now I have learned to embrace myself and all that I am, especially introversion. Part of practicing self-love and acceptance is to know what you need and when you need it.

If you have never taken a personality test such as the Meyer’s Briggs, I think that is a great place to start. Sometimes it’s great to even take these tests with friends, as I have found it helpful to know how my results compare to my friends. I know not everyone is as fascinated by personality as I am, but I think it’s so helpful to be aware of your own needs and limitations.

Every single one of us has enormous potential to make the world a better place. The world needs your intelligence, your heart, your compassion, and your skills to bring good into a world that is in dire need of it. You are more able to fully do this when you take care of your own needs first. 

I am only able to give love and service to others when I have given that same love to myself first. So when you are studying hard for that exam or writing that stellar paper, never forget to take care of yourself. It is the most important gift you can give to yourself, your family, your friends and your community.

About the blogger: Annie Stewart graduated from university with a degree in sociology and gender studies. She is especially passionate about seeing individuals develop a healthy relationship with food, exercise and the body. Beyond that, she is also passionate about social justice, good strong coffee (usually accompanied by a book), traveling and telling her own story of recovery in the hopes that it can be a beacon of light on someone else's road to healing, health and wholeness. She hopes to eventually go on to graduate school and pursue a degree in clinical social work.

Also by Annie:

Twirlgate: Women Athletes Deserve Better

Colleges Need More Eating Disorder Resources

Recovering from an Eating Disorder in College: A Survival Guide

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