There is no escaping the fact that the South African lockdown has brought with it several consequences for the economy and local citizens. These consequences extend further than the loss of jobs, halted studies, and businesses being forced to close their doors. The impact that the lockdown has had on people’s mental health is tremendous, and yet it is so rarely spoken about in the media.
Regardless of whether or not you suffered from mental illness before the lockdown began, the various restrictions will have taken a significant toll on your mental wellbeing. Countless South Africans are struggling with worsened symptoms of anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances – and those suffering from eating disorders will have noticed that their recovery just got that much more challenging.
Why has COVID-19 made it more difficult to cope with my eating disorder?
Most people with eating disorders turn to food (or away from it) in an effort to cope with strong emotions or with what’s going on around them. When everything about the world and daily life feels uncertain, the urge to give in to the disorder becomes stronger.
Never mind the fact that those struggling with binge eating disorders, in particular, have to deal with the fear of the stores ‘running out of food’. Despite the government constantly reassuring the public that there will be plenty of food to go around despite the lockdown, nothing about an eating disorder, or the obsessive thoughts that come with it, is rational.
How can I cope better going forward?
The key here is to do your best to avoid falling back into old habits and turning to old coping mechanisms. Try to find other means of coping with stress, tension, and overwhelming thoughts. Many people recovering from an ED take comfort in activities that require the use of their hands, such as knitting, building puzzles, or reading books. The Eating Disorder Foundation recommends that you spend at least a few minutes every day writing your feelings down (journaling).
It is also a good idea to get in a good dose of exercise whenever you can. In doing so, you will benefit from a flood of ‘happy hormones’, known as ‘endorphins’, which can help to stabilise your mood. Just remember not to over-do it!
Seeking out support
Having a proper support system in place will be more important than ever before throughout the lockdown period. If you are living alone, ensure that you schedule regular chats with supportive family members and friends via Skype, Zoom, or WhatsApp. If you are used to seeing a therapist regularly, do not put this off until you can do so again in person. There are many therapists and psychologists who are more than willing to conduct sessions online – often at a slightly lower price!
If ever you need to speak to someone urgently, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group is always a great resource – especially considering that most individuals with an eating disorder will also suffer from anxiety, depression, or both. You can contact them via their mental health line: 011 234 4837 or via their 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789.
Keep the faith. You are strong. You are capable. You’ve got this!