Recovery Tips to Include in Your School Backpack

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Paula Edwards-Gayfield, LCMHCS, LPC, CEDS-S, BC-TMH

It’s August! Excited to return to school? Dreading returning to school? Maybe a little of both?

For some, returning to school is exciting while connecting with friends, catching up on events that happened over the summer break, and sharing stories. But for others, it can be filled with dread and having to answer the same questions may result in stories that are not exciting from that individual’s point of view. It’s also a time where individuals begin to compare themselves and they may have noticed changes physically in one another – and so as parents and providers. I want to encourage you to be aware that transitions can be challenging for some. Transitions are filled with emotion (fear, excitement), anxiety about the unknown, and can impact the individual.

School starts soon! Imagine back-to-school shopping…in addition to supplies, it may include new clothes. Have you experienced any physical changes? Do your clothes fit differently? What will people think? I am not as attractive, fit, stylish, (and so many more)—thoughts begin to flood your mind. These automatic thoughts must be true because they are my thoughts. Despite what family and friends say, you reject the comments and may hear yourself saying “they’re just being nice” or “how do they not see that I’ve changed?”.

Do you hear the emotional distress? If you are a parent or another support person, do you recall your own experiences when preparing to return to school? Thoughts are a part of and can reinforce emotional distress during transitional moments. It’s inevitable to encounter triggers and you want to prepare your loved one. Your student needs your support, they need you to be an emotion coach and to model non-judgmental, honest communication.

Because this can be a stressful time for students in recovery, here are a few tips to help:

  • Be aware of patterns that trigger negative thoughts about oneself and that trigger urges or eating disorder behaviors.
  • Be mindful of how you talk about your body.
  • Embrace body neutrality, avoid diet talk, focus on size, shape, and weight. Communicate assertively with others who are commenting about body size.
  • Establish a support system at school. Notify the school counselor or other support staff to assist when needed.
  • If you are attending a new school – find a support network, plan ahead for the dining hall and social eating, establish a routine, prioritize self-care, establish a treatment team.
  • If you are returning to the same school—find your friends, reach out to your supports, establish a routine, get re-connected, engage in self-care.
  • If you are starting college for the first time – make a plan, find your counseling department on campus, research ways to get connected, plan meals with your treatment team, find ways to get connected socially.
  • Limit social media engagement and consider who you follow. Communicate with your loved one that social media often reflects the “highlight” reels.
  • Manage stress and anxiety, explore how you / your child manages these emotions. Try not to dismiss their emotions and the distress they may be experiencing.
  • Neutralize food talk, do not label food as good or bad – all foods fit!
  • Schedule time to ensure breaks to take care of you and recharge.

Most importantly, make you a priority!

Paula Edwards-Gayfield, LCMHCS, LPC, CEDS-S, BC-TMH is a Regional Assistant Vice President and Diversity & Inclusion Co-Chair at The Renfrew Center. Ms. Edwards-Gayfield is an advocate for increasing awareness about eating disorders affecting Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and is passionate about access to culturally sensitive, inclusive, and equitable care; an experienced presenter addressing eating disorders and diversity, as well as a contributor to the book, Treating Black Women with Eating Disorders: A Clinician’s Guide. She is a certified member and approved supervisor (CEDS-S) of iaedpTM and a former Co-Chair of the African American Eating Disorder Professionals – Black, Indigenous and People of Color Committee (AAEDP-BIPOC). She serves on the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) Clinical Advisory Council and serves on the advisory board for Eating Disorder Recovery Support (EDRS).