Not really. But as I read more about the probable connection between eating disorders and anxiety, and how feeling "stressed" (anxiety, right?) is often a trigger for binge eating, compulsive eating, obsessive food thoughts or just plain old comfort eating, I think about my weight history and wonder how it might have been different if I had better coping mechanisms for stress. I guess I never really learned what to do with my feelings when I was a kid. I saw my mother drink her stress away. I watched kids in school doing things like acting out, getting in trouble, using drugs, running away, getting in fights. Me? I didn't really know what to do with my feelings, except pray. Pray, read my Bible, try to be a good girl. And stuff my feelings down deep, deep inside where no one would see them... where I could ignore them, at least for awhile.
Somehow, I didn't notice the kids who dealt with stress by doing constructive things like playing sports or joining clubs. I didn't understand the impact of that kind of a supportive environment, and the way channeling your energy into, say, a soccer game or an art contest or horseback riding, helped actually relieve pressure. I wasn't allowed to play sports or join clubs. I learned to internalize my anxiety, although I didn't learn to stress eat until much, much later in life.
Whether you have anxiety or just have stressful things to cope with in your life, that energy has to go somewhere. Some time ago when I was having a hard time emotionally dealing with a health issue one of my kids had, I started to feel like I just could. not. cope. with one more thing. I was so stressed out I wasn't sleeping. I keep having food thoughts and wanting to eat to 'escape.' But instead, I shut down. I internalized all of that negative energy and worry and became paralyzed with fear of what 'might happen.' I spent days feeling unable to DO anything. It's like the power of the anxiety turned into some kind of trap, keeping me from moving forward... or moving at all.
On one particularly bad day, I met with a friend who had gone through something similar with her child years ago. We started to talk about coping: support groups, counseling, accepting help from people. I asked her how she coped... what she did with her anxiety and stress. And she said:
"My house was cleaner than it had ever been in my life! I started volunteering for a non-profit and put all my focus on helping others there, in all my spare time. I grew the most productive and beautiful garden you ever saw and then canned all of the vegetables that resulted. I planted flowers all around my house and had the most perfectly manicured yard on the block."
That's where she put her anxiety. That's how she channeled that overwhelming, seemingly-negative energy into something positive and useful. Instead of letting it shut her down and paralyze her (by internalizing it), she sent that energy forth into her environment and let it be productive.
I don't know how I never knew that was possible until she told me. It seems so simple. But I had felt like I was powerless, because the stress and anxiety was something uncontrollable. But she showed me that even if you can't make those feelings go away, you can direct and express that energy into something good. This bit of knowledge has truly changed my life.
I used to sit in the living room eating bags of mini Reeses cups and pints of Haagen Dazs while wondering how I would ever gather the energy and motivation to clean up the house, walk the dog, sort the laundry or get anything done on my many lists of tasks that seemed completely overwhelming. Now I take my stress energy and just START somewhere... DO something. Put that energy to good use. You'd be surprised how much energy you actually have available when you are upset about something, even when you feel "exhausted" from stress, if you channel it into mopping the floor or working in the yard rather than letting is boil inside you while you sit and/or eat.
I am sure lots of people already know this, but maybe there is someone out there like me, who needs to hear this. I do hope someone out there will really HEAR what I am trying to share. You might think you have no energy when you are stressed, but I read somewhere that "anxiety is energy without a goal." So true. Don't let it drain you... give it some direction and let it help you. Spending it on productive tasks is a relief!