Learning to slow down and engage in regular self-care can be a difficult part of eating disorder recovery. It’s easy for those of us with perfectionistic mindsets to become hyper-focused on always being productive and accomplishing our goals. Our whole self-worth can become based on how efficient we are at meeting deadlines and crossing items off of our lists. When productivity is the primary focus, the practice of taking time to slow down and relax can fall by the wayside. We start telling ourselves that taking time for self-care isn’t that important; we have other priorities that need to come first. We tell ourselves that we have to accomplish X, Y, or Z before we “deserve” to take time to relax. An eating disorder just fuels this mindset even more, constantly telling us that we are lazy or not good enough if we aren’t getting enough done.
I hadn’t realized until recently how much my own self-care practice suffered throughout the depths of my eating disorder. Friday night, I came home from a long day at work and decided to take some time to relax. I sat down on the couch and turned on Netflix. I hadn’t even gotten 10 minutes into my show when my mind immediately starting jumping around.
“Why am I wasting time watching TV?”
“I should get on the floor and do some yoga or crunches while I watch!”
“Maybe I should get my computer and get some work done at the same time!”
I tried to remind myself that taking time to relax and watch TV doesn’t make me a bad or lazy person, but in the back of my mind remained this lingering cloud of guilt that I couldn’t seem to shake. I realized that Friday night was the first time in months that I had allowed myself to sit down and watch a TV show without doing something else more “productive” at the same time. And it totally blew my mind how difficult it was.
It led me to start thinking about other activities I’d been engaging in for “self-care” since I began working on recovery. Yoga, face masks/pedicures, and reading all came into my mind. While these are all activities that I find relaxing and enjoyable, none of them seemed to elicit the same kind of guilt as sitting watching TV. I wondered why?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even though these activities do count as self-care, I could also justify them as serving some other more “productive” function. Yoga is good for my body and counts as exercise. Face masks are great for my skin and complexion. Pedicures help keep my feet looking nice. Reading is good for my brain. Although they are relaxing and enjoyable, all of these activities could also be seem by the perfectionistic, disordered part of my mind as productive in some way. Watching TV though… what was productive about that?
I started to realize that maybe I haven’t quite mastered the “self-care” part of recovery as much as I thought I had. While I’m not saying that things like yoga, reading or exercise can’t be positive activities for self-care, it’s also important to allow yourself to listen to what your body and mind really need. Sometimes the self-care your body craves might be sitting watching a movie, taking a nap, or meeting a friend for a glass of wine. It might be more difficult to pick out concrete benefits of these activities, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. It’s okay for your self-care to serve no other purpose other than relaxation. Taking time to relax, unwind, and take care of yourself is ultimately the most productive thing you can do for your recovery.
Life is busy, and we live in a culture that places a great deal of value on efficiency and productivity. We are always going to have to-do lists full of tasks that we need to get done. As soon as we cross an item off of our list, another one will get added. It’s the nature of the world we live in. So what happens if we go through life with the mindset that we aren’t “allowed” to really relax until after we get all our tasks done? The truth is, that day will never come, and we are likely to lose steam, health, and happiness in the mean time. The important thing to learn is not how to stay on top of every little task all the time. It’s how to prioritize what tasks really do need to be done immediately, which tasks can wait, and to recognize that taking time to slow down, breathe, and enjoy life is just as important as accomplishing things on your list. Without taking time for self-care, we will miss out on so much that life has to offer.