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5 Tips for Coping With Dressing Room Stress in Eating Disorder Recovery

Kaitlin Irwin

You push the door open and walk into the tiny room. You hang up various articles of clothing and close the door, trapping yourself in that enclosed space with just yourself and a mirror for company. You take a deep breath and manage to look at your reflection, totally vulnerable to the fluorescent lighting and stark head-on image.

For many people who have struggled with an eating disorder, shopping for clothes can be downright terrifying. What many people use as “retail therapy” can become a nightmare, an event full of anxiety, fear, guilt and a laundry list of other emotions. If the dressing room has become a place of misery, try adopting one or more of these coping skills to make it a manageable (and maybe even fun!) experience.

1. Use the buddy system.

Shopping with a friend is way more fun anyway! Bring along a buddy (or two) and have fun experimenting with your fashion choices. There are so many textures, colors and accessories out there. One of my guilty pleasures is going into Claire’s with friends to try on hair accessories and look at jewelry. It’s fun, it’s carefree and it’s a nice way to begin any shopping trip.

2. Find your body-positive mantra.

Repeating a sentence or affirmation to yourself can be a vital coping mechanism. For example: “I am more than enough” or “I radiate love.” You can adopt one of these or come up with your own. Repeat your mantra in your head throughout the day, especially when it’s time to venture into the dressing room or look in the mirror. It’ll help you put your mind where it needs to be: on your own inner beauty.

3. Disregard the size tags.

You can throw your entire day into a downward spiral by focusing on the size of your clothing. Those of us who struggle with ED tendencies often put unnecessary emphasis on numbers. There are so many other things to focus on. For instance, where are you looking forward to wearing this outfit? Do you have a pair of shoes that would go perfectly with it? Do you love the way the fabric feels? Is it your favorite color or texture? Are you particularly fond of the style?

4. Shift your focus.

A huge stressor in the dressing room is body image. If you find yourself thinking or saying something along the lines of: “I look terrible in this” or “this looks so awful on me” then you need to shift your focus. Besides, odds are that you look great in what you’re wearing. Instead of trying on clothing and focusing on something I don’t like about my body, I shift my focus on something that I do like. Let’s face it: there is something wonderful about all of us. Perhaps you love your eyes, maybe it’s your smile or it could be that you always rock a beautiful manicure. Focusing on these aspects helps you to find what you love about yourself, and makes looking in the mirror more enjoyable.

5. Do some prep work.

Finally, it really helps me to mentally prepare myself for shopping. I know which stores I need to avoid, how long I want to spend shopping, who I want to go with and when. It may not seem like these things matter, but it can make all the difference. Sometimes it helps to look at some body-positive role models (I’m particularly fond of Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer.) Seeing these successful, gorgeous and personable women reminds me that beauty comes in so many packages—surely way too many packages to fit neatly into a dressing room.

Kaitlin Irwin is in anorexia recovery. With lots of support, patience, and an Intensive Outpatient Program, she embraced herself, flaws and all. In her free time, she enjoys exercise, cooking, and art, and can usually be found with a good book, a journal, or her fiancé. She hopes to use her love of creative expression to spread positivity and love to others.