Eating disorders have a high co-morbidity with other mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression or other mood disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common ‘comorbid disorder’ which studies suggesting as many as 80% of people suffering from an eating disorder also suffer from an anxiety disorder at one point during their life.
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
There is some debate by researchers about whether anxiety and depression are determining factors for eating disorders, or whether they occur as a symptom of the eating disorder itself. However, as the nature of eating disorders involves many complicated entwining factors, it is hard to find any conclusive evidence supporting either sides. What we do know for sure however, is that most people who suffer from an eating disorder are also likely to experience some levels of anxiety.
What are anxiety disorders?
Unlike popular belief, anxiety involves a lot more than simply feeling stressed or nervous, and is a serious mental illness. Anxiety can impair the sufferers everyday functioning, preventing them from holding down a job, maintaining a social life, or sometimes even simply leaving the house.
As well as uncomfortable physical sensations such as increased heart rate, muscle tension and breathlessness, anxiety can impair the sufferer mentally as well.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several types of anxiety disorder including:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorders: involves feelings of excessive worry for the majority of days.
- Social anxiety disorder: a fear of being judged by others leading to being consumed with worry about daily social situations.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: involves experiencing anxiety attacks which occur after a person has encountered emotional shock following a traumatic event.
Why Anxiety and Eating Disorders often go hand in hand
The high co-morbidity rate between anxiety and eating disorders can be explained by the need for control in sufferers. Being able to control even one aspect of one’s life, even if it is just food, exercise, or weight, can relieve symptoms experienced due to anxiety. Therefore, the eating disorder may be a coping mechanism for whatever is causing the anxiety.
Coping with Anxiety
- Mindfulness meditation: when you feel your mind and body going into overdrive, take a moment to practice mindfulness meditation. Worry if usually focused on the future and what might happen. Altering your mindset, and paying attention to the present moment mindfully will help break free of your worries. Meditation allows you to step back, relax your body and challenge your thoughts. With repeated practice, you can develop a capacity to separate and observe thoughts.
- Distinguish between solvable and unsolvable worry’s: Often we worry about things that are out of our control and isn’t solvable. It is important to take a moment and ask yourself if you are able to create a solution to the problem. If not, try to accept that it is beyond your control and worrying further will only impair your own happiness.
- Positive thinking: anxiety tends to lead to a very negative mindset, which can be hard to break out of. However, there are ways to train yourself to think positively, including saying positive affirmations to yourself, or spending time around positive influences. Having a positive mindset will improve your ability to cope with stress and anxiety.
- Reach out: talking about it and opening up is important, whether this by with a friend, or a counsellor. After all – a problem shared is a problem halved.