how to deal with negative body image & anxiety

Below is the beginning of a post I contributed to Recovery Warriors, a badass online magazine for eating disorder recovery.To read the full post, click here.

Here’s a glimpse into a pretty common dialogue that shows up in various ways in my work with clients who are navigating eating disorder recovery (usually alongside depression and anxiety). I’ll call this fictional client “Brit”. 

Brit: “I was feeling really crappy yesterday.”
Me: “Yeah? What kind of stuff you were thinking or feeling?”
Brit: “I don’t know, really, it was just inner critic stuff and anxiety I guess.”
Me: “So if I could have plugged headphones into your brain at that moment, what are some of the thoughts I would have heard?”
Brit: “Hmm… maybe like that I have a lot of demands on me at work that I’m worried about, and that I was bad for not making it to the gym that day and eating a bigger lunch."
Me: “Gotcha. And what about the feelings, like emotions or stuff in your body? 
Brit: “Just anxiety like kind of a pressure in my chest, I can feel it some now just talking about it.”
Me: “Can you describe it more, what it feels like right now?”
Brit: “It’s kind of hot in my chest, and a little queasy in my stomach, and my shoulders are tense.”
Me: “Right now, does it feel okay for that feeling to be there?”
Brit: “I don’t really like it, but yeah, I guess so.”
Me: “Just see if you can breathe into those places, your stomach, your chest, and your shoulders, without needing to change or fix them. And are any of those thoughts showing up right now?”
Brit: “A little bit, but not as much. I think it helped just saying them a minute ago.”
Me: “Nice! Sometimes all it takes is just breaking it down a little bit to understand more about what’s going on with you instead of just having that vague sense of ‘yuck.’” 

(I’d go further with her on this, but this part is enough to illustrate my point for now.)

I see those heads nodding in recognition! (Says my clairvoyant alter-ego) —and believe me, this is very much still an ongoing practice for me, too. Whether it’s a specific event that triggers it, or a thought or feeling that shows up first, often I have to intentionally step back and break down piece-by-piece to get clear on what’s going on with me, as I walked through above. 

(To continue reading, head on over to Recovery Warriors!)

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Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.