National Eating Disorders Association
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9 Coping Strategies for the Start of the School Season

Katrin Alyss

Going back to school can be filled with anxieties. For young adults, anxiety is common as they ready themselves to beginning a new chapter in their lives at a university. However, these concerns double for people with eating disorders because not only are they now faced with changes in their mealtime routines and times that they would go see their treatment team, but going away to school is a major transition. Students with eating disorders may try hard to get the perfect grades and put extra pressures on themselves, unleashing unwanted eating disordered behaviors.

Whether you are going back to high school or starting college or a graduate program, here are some tips to help you cope with the transition to ensure that you make time for self-care:

1. Check with your treatment team to see you are indeed ready for certain classes. Classes in nutrition concentrations might be triggering as they tend to focus on calories and weight management. You also don’t want to overwhelm your schedule, especially if this is your first time back after coming out of treatment. Let your treatment team review your schedule and advise you of any potential triggers or high-stress class schedules that could interfere with your treatment schedule and mealtimes.

2. Have a plan in place with your treatment team and establish a support system. Know who to call or text during the high stress periods such as midterms and finals.

3. Try and keep a routine with your meal times and bring snacks if needed to your classes. Talk to a guidance counselor at high school or a social worker to advocate for you with your teachers to allow you break time to eat your snacks.

4. Find a hobby you can engage in when you feel triggered. Whether it’s reading, playing an instrument, knitting, etc., having a distraction can prevent you from resorting to eating disordered behaviors.

5. If your treatment team approves of it, use light exercise as a stress reliever. Even if it’s playing a game of tennis with some friends or taking a friend’s dog for a walk, it’s a great way to get moving and take a break from academics.

6. Hang out with friends and body-positive people who embrace you and your recovery.

7. Being around animals makes for great company and is another great stress reliever. While most college campuses won’t allow them in dorms or apartments, you can volunteer at a local animal shelter. Also, some campuses will bring therapy dogs to campus during finals period.

8. Make an appointment with your college’s counseling or wellness center as soon as possible. If you are in high school, talk to a social worker there or a trusted counselor.

9. Have your therapist’s number on your phone to call or text in a crisis. 

When I have college classes, I put more pressure on myself and strive for perfection, and when I don’t meet those expectations, I take it out on myself. I am now trying to enjoy the class and learn what I am supposed to learn. If I ever made a choice my therapist thought could tempt me into previous behaviors, I changed that choice. Make this school year about learning, focus on making positive new memories, and don’t be afraid to reach out when you feel yourself wanting to slip into behaviors. It’s okay to ask for help. Your treatment team and your support system are cheering for you and they want to help you succeed.

Katrin lives in Roseville, Michigan with her husband and kitties. She loves learning about psychology.