According to the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, roughly 2.1% of the adult population and 2.7% of the adolescent population in the United States of America has an eating disorder, whether it’s bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. Of these individuals, over half meet markers for other mental illnesses, such as an anxiety disorder, depressive mood, substance abuse, or other disorders - and when the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, reports that approximately 43.8 million adults experience some variance of mental illness, those numbers are believable.
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These individuals experience a range of symptoms that they need to work around to maintain a level of normalcy in their lives, and being able to go to work is part of that normalcy. However, not everyone in a working environment can or will be sensitive to the struggles of those around them. When an individual with an eating disorder and/or mental illness performs a task of any kind, stress can put unaccounted pressure on the person to feel a certain way - adding in co-workers who may say the wrong things can throw a person off balance. Even if said individual is in recovery, which is still a sensitive time, these unforeseen situations can have an effect on their mental state.
If triggered by the actions or words of a co-worker, here are some steps you can take to come back to a peaceful mind set until you can unload later:
Solidify your Safe Space - A Safe Space in this instance is a space you create, or a memory, in your mind that brings you peace. This image should be strong enough to imagine fully at any moment, and will help to calm yourself down in moments of distress. After a conversation leaves you feeling off, take a moment and bring up the image of your Safe Space and take a few deep breaths. Though the situation may not change, you can feel more at ease before facing your job or your co-worker again.
Create a Homebase - Your homebase can be your cubby, locker, or desk. Within company policy, create an environment that brings you joy. It can be as simple as picture of something or someone important to you, a small succulent plant to keep your space green, or a desk calendar with inspirational quotes. Keep reminders with whatever makes you happy throughout the day.
Pack your favorite meal - Lunch can be a hard meal to eat when you have a full time job. Often times the breaks aren’t long enough, the food available isn’t what you want to eat that day, or you feel uncomfortable trying to eat with everyone or at your desk. It can be a tricky time to get through, especially when there are co-workers who continually make comments about their or others’ bodies or weight. One of the best ways to encourage yourself to eat lunch is to pre-pack your favorite meal. You don’t need a special reason to treat yourself nicely. Make your favorite dinner and bring in leftovers for lunch the next day. Not only did you make yourself a pick-me-up, but now you’ve got a reason to enjoy lunch that day.
Sarina Alley is a Salem State University graduate, living off the coast of Maine; she currently watches the effects of global warming very personally.