Looking After Yourself
“Parents and carers of people with eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, can experience high levels of psychological distress. This distress can be higher than those parents/carers of other types of severe mental health illnesses (Haigh & Treasure, 2003)”
Feelings of self blame, inadequacy and burden are normal when a loved one becomes unwell with an eating disorder. Unfortunately, from diagnosis to intervention of eating disorders and beyond, a number of parents become unwell themselves (22).
Researchers have found that even after 12 months of their loved one recovering weight and eating disorder behaviours reducing, many parents and carers still feel a strong sense of distress (23). This could be for lots of reasons, such as being on edge, cautious of relapse, expectations of recovery are too high or too low or general ongoing feelings of being overwhelmed.
This is why taking time to look after yourself now is so important.
A parent involved in developing this resource said that:
“Looking after yourself has to be a priority; without that you are unable to look after your loved one”
It can be incredibly hard to prioritise this and may feel like too big a risk. This is what parents and carers had to say on the matter:
In order to support your loved one you need to be well yourself. It’s so important to look after yourself in the process of supporting your loved one to recover.
Try and take time for yourself in the week, even if it’s just a moment. It’s okay to take time to see a friend or family member to blow off steam, vent, cry or even forget for an hour or two that there is an eating disorder plaguing you, your loved one and home.
There is support available for parents online such as:
It’s also okay if you need more formal support. If you feel like you’re not coping or experiencing difficult thoughts, contact your GP. There are counsellors, therapists and online courses to support your mental health.
The following list outlines hints and tips from parents and carers of things they would have liked to have known from early in their loved one’s illness:
- It’s okay to make mistakes! You are human and recovery isn’t linear. By owning your mistakes, whether it’s if you lose your temper or giving your loved one less, own it! You can model that it’s okay to make mistakes and not be perfect.
- You must have “self control” around the eating disorder – calm, composed, non reactive. But take time away from your loved one and the eating disorder to let out feelings – even crying in the bathroom, playing sport, etc
- To look after yourself, you need to separate your loved one from their eating disorder or you will feel attacked by your loved one
- Remember who YOU are
- You’ll need to find a way to do this
- It’s okay to use therapy if you need it
- Reach out to your extended family if you can
- If you are in contact with friends and family and they want to know how recovery is going, do it on your terms. It can get overwhelming with lots of people texting or phoning each day for updates. You decide when and how you give information: perhaps a weekly email.
- Think of the eating disorder as visiting – “my loved one is being visited by tormentors”
- Take it one day at a time
- Shutdown anorexic conversations at start of the day: “what I put down in front of you is what you have to eat, I have it under control” – prevent repetitive conversations which can cause anger and frustration. This will take a while to work and will need to be repeated.
- Don’t stick to the same meals or foods to avoid fights or you’ll get stuck and the fight will be just as hard, if not harder, later
- Keep repeating – it will stick
183 Pleasurable Activities is a document listing activities which may give you ideas of things that you can do to take some time for yourself.