“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
For individuals struggling with an eating disorder, anxiety is an all too familiar feeling. And, too often, this anxiety is reacted to as if it were a parasite- something dangerous, something unwanted and definitely something that we want to avoid. Many eating disorder symptoms revolve around trying to manage, numb or avoid anxious thoughts and feelings. However, evolutionarily speaking, anxiety is a healthy, adaptive and important emotion. Anxiety developed out of human’s need to anticipate dangers in the environment to ensure our survival. While on the path to recovery, if we keep in mind why anxiety exists and alter how we look at our own experience of anxiety, we can transform it from a dangerous and avoided emotion to one that we can embrace and accept in our lives.
Many people interpret their anxiety as if it were a red traffic light. When you notice strong feelings of anxiety, you slam on the breaks and immediately stop moving in the direction you were traveling in. Sometimes, you even throw your car into reverse and retreat in the opposite direction. However, anxiety is truly the body’s own, built-in yellow traffic light. The emotional feeling of anxiety and the physical reactions that accompany it are your body’s way of saying “proceed with caution” or “look both ways before continuing.” Yellow stop lights exist to warn of potential dangers and to encourage attention, not to signal imminent threat or to tell you to go in a different direction.
Try to view your anxiety as this yellow light- your body’s way of telling you to pay a little more attention than usual. Afterall, we tend to feel anxious in situations that matter- when we are on an interview, meeting people, calling a new therapist or in an unfamiliar situation. Additionally, when we embark on significant change in our lives, like the journey to recovery from an eating disorder, our body necessarily wants us to proceed with caution and be aware of our surroundings. The anxiety associated with recovery means we are moving into new territory and is a positive sign that you are doing things differently. Our anxiety can also serve as a reminder to ourselves that we care about what is about to happen and, when embraced, can help us to be more productive or goal-oriented. It is our avoidance of our anxiety and our tendency to shift course when we feel anxiety that tends to lead to long-term problems. Try to change the way you look at your anxiety, and the way you look at the rest of your life may just change.
Gillian Bush, Psy.D. is a Florida Licensed Psychologist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety and eating disorders. Dr. Bush received her Master’s degree from Teacher’s College, Columbia University in New York, NY and received her Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Currently, Dr. Bush is a private practitioner in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, is a co-chair of the Outreach and Education Committee and co-leads one of their weekly free support groups.