What Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Looks Like

A photo of a hand with multicolored sprinkles on each tip, representing someone who understands recovery from binge eating disorder

Relationships are mysterious things. Even the obvious ones that define our commitments and priorities can be enigmatic. But there are relationships we often don’t recognize as “relationships,” despite their behavioral influence in our lives. Money, work, food, to name a few – they are all reflective messages of often confined emotions. Binge eating, for example, is, on the surface, about a relationship with food. But it’s really a manifestation of a deeper relationship with oneself. Therefore, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) recovery goes beyond the food itself to the relationship with oneself that drives the binging.

Eating disorders are especially complex and sensitive, in part because everyone has to eat! Survival depends on having a “relationship” with food.

So, unlike addictions such as alcohol, drugs, and gambling, whose “recovery” demands complete sobriety, eating disorders aren’t so black-and-white. Food sobriety doesn’t foster survival.

Before we go into the details of Binge Eating Disorder, please know that help and successful management are within reach. 

BED recovery looks different for every person, depending on the factors fueling the disorder and the specific treatment approach taken.

The list of contributing factors includes variables like genetics, biochemistry, personality, and environment.

If you suffer from BED, you may know a truth that the oblivious onlooker doesn’t: Body size is not a determinant of BED. 

People of all sizes suffer from this disorder. And, sadly, they often suffer alone because physical appearance alone doesn’t give away their secret.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

  • Approximately 12 million American men and women have BED.
  • The disorder is defined as eating large amounts of food and feeling out of control, at least once a week for 3 months.
  • Bingeing is associated with feelings of shame, embarrassment. depression, anxiety and isolation. Feeling uncomfortably full after a binge is common, as is eating when beyond fullness or not even hungry.
  • BED is different from bulimia nervosa in one very distinguishing way: People with BED do not purge (i.e. rid themselves of the food).
  • Binge Eating Disorder was only recently (2013) included as an official diagnosis. That’s why knowledge about it lags behind knowledge about anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Binge Eating Disorder recovery can be delayed for many reasons, including:

  • erroneous beliefs that BED is about willpower and white-knuckling and not truly an eating disorder
  • weight stigma based beliefs that people with BED “should just eat less”
  • assumptions that BED is the person’s own fault – “he just can’t get food under control”

A huge underlying cause of delays in recovery stems from Diet Culture.

What are Binge Eating Disorder recovery methods?

Psychotherapy, medications, nutrition therapy, and guided self-help interventions are common methods for BED recovery.

Recovery from BED has to extend beyond binge eating behavior and address underlying causes.  

BED is not just about food!

Understanding underlying causes of BED provides insight into what to address in recovery.  For lasting change, psychological, historical, genetic, and cultural factors are often included.

Recovery typically incorporates strategies to:

  • identify and understand cravings
  • recognize and manage binge triggers
  • heal underlying issues
  • learn to eat and exercise with mindfulness
  • understand the role food has played in your life
  • explore the why of bingeing
  • heal relationship with your body
  • consider role of cultural messages (Diet Culture) and those from family
  • learn to meet needs beyond food
  • “legalize” all food (Food is just food. It’s neither “good” nor “bad.”)
  • disengage body weight and food choices from sense of worth as a human

Why do people binge?

Reasons people give for bingeing include: distraction, grief, loneliness, reward, escape, rebellion, avoidance, boredom, companionship….or “just because.”

People binge eat for lots of different reasons. More often than not, there is an underlying “diet” mindset – ie a plan to lose weight. 

Way more often than not, dieting/restriction inevitably lead to rebound-eating. The amount eaten violates the diet rules. Shame and hopelessness develop, and the cycle continues. 

And continues. And continues. 

Unless, of course, you seek treatment. (Left untreated, BED tends to persist.)

All this suffering because of Diet Culture and the stigma and shame associated with bingeing and weight gain.

Bingeing helps people manage tough times, even though it doesn’t solve underlying problems.

As people recover, they learn to have self-compassion. They learn to acknowledge and embrace the bingeing that has been part of their path. 

Diet Culture, being its tenacious self, makes the healing process more difficult than it would otherwise be. (Self-compassion, where are you?)

What is Diet Culture and why does it matter?

You don’t have to be on a diet to be caught up in the culture of dieting or to have a dieting mindset.

The diet industry (I’m talking to you, Noom and WW) spends lots of time and money trying to suppress evidence that diets don’t work.  

The science is crystal clear: Binge eating is primarily a symptom of attempts at food and weight control (i.e. dieting).

Diet Culture is so pervasive that it’s easy to continue to think like a dieter, even when trying to allow all foods or behaviors.

For Binge Eating Disorder recovery, thinking differently means unlearning Diet Culture.

Often people with BED try to control binges by restricting foods. But that just makes binges worse.

Binges are a natural response to dieting and feeling deprived around food in an attempt to lose or control weight. 

Recovery from Binge Eating Disorder means replacing the diet mentality with something different, such as an Intuitive Eating approach. 

After all, you can’t stop binges with the very behavior that causes them. Dieting, food restriction, and other attempts at food or weight control pull the trigger for bingeing. Dieting leads to loss of control.

In other words, binge eating is what happens when you deny—or threaten to deny—your natural, biological instincts around food.   

By understanding Diet Culture, you’ll better and more compassionately understand the bigger picture.

(Ideally, the dismantling of Diet Culture will happen on a systemic level. And slowly but surely that is happening. Shout out to change agents and policy makers!) 

What does “recovered” mean?

Binge Eating Disorder recovery goes way beyond the cliché of “making peace with food” or “eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.”

Recovered means being aware of and responding to your body’s natural needs for fuel and joy, which will vary every day.

“Recovered” may also mean becoming an anti-dieter advocate!

Here are some tips for Binge Eating Disorder recovery:

No one chooses to have Binge Eating Disorder. Recovery can be challenging, even when you really want to recover, especially living in Diet Culture. (Recovery would be simpler if you could move to a less weight-centric place, such as a South Pacific island…say, Tonga?)

The takeaway: You don’t need to spend your life in a painful cycle of bingeing. Effective treatment is available.

Behaviors associated with bingeing are really more about coping than about food. Having a toolbox of effective techniques to cope with a complex array of emotions and feelings is essential. 

Be sure to keep your sparkly paint in your toolbox.

And give Diet Culture the middle finger.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, body image, and High Sensitivity. She passionately believes your birthright is to enjoy comfort in your body at any size and a fantastic relationship with food. Contact her here for more information.

How To Improve Your Body Image

A headless photo of a woman holding a pocket book and dressed in a long coat, as if she is going to reveal how to improve body image

She wiggles and giggles and waves and kicks, catching fingers and toes for chewing as they pass her angelic face. She delights in the perfection of herself and the perfection of being alive. There is nothing to improve. “Body image,” in the purity of her infancy, isn’t something to be learned, let alone grappled with or improved.

Her mama delights in her little one’s perfection, too, “booping” and chewing and kissing on every roll and digit. She may be swearing to herself that sunscreen will be an everyday commitment, but only because she is protective…

…and she wants to honor the perfection of this magnificent little creature.

Babies love their bodies. They come into this world instinctively recognizing and loving all that is good. There is no judgment. Just recognition, learning, loving, delighting.

We casually talk of babies and elders being “so close to God,” but do we ever contemplate why we say that? What is it that we are quietly aspiring to by acknowledging their natural content with themselves and their unfettered engagement with all that is pure, good, even holy?

Perhaps we recognize what they inherently know — that we are spiritual beings sent to this life in physical bodies, not the other way around. 

Perhaps we recognize in them a connection that became severed for us as we broke from the cocoon of innocence.

And, perhaps we recognize the simplicity that makes life so much more meaningful and enjoyable.

Perhaps we see in babies what we see in animals and in children with Autism and other handicaps, for example. They do, after all, operate on a similar frequency that allows them to see deeply and communicate on a “soul” level.

And perhaps we feel a bit jealous as we long for the self-acceptance we once had. (That is, until we started believing “the world” had answers we didn’t.)

We “see” in these tiny, flexible, chewable, silky soft miracles what and how we once were. 

It’s one of life’s many ironies that we evolve at the cost of our innocence. In our freshness from the womb, we don’t realize our innocence, our magic, for what it is because we are too busy living it. 

And we don’t have the developed consciousness to assess and attach value to it. (Life experience will begin to forge those attachments soon enough.)

But someone has to feed and protect the Innocents. And so we emerge out of our own purity to take on the duality of this world, separating our physical and non-physical realities as we do.

And suddenly, because of that fracture, we look upon our physical selves with harsh judgment. We seek to improve body image as a way to feel what we always felt before “The Big Break.”

We seek to control and “fix” what is visible, tangible, and corporal in an effort to remedy the invisible, intangible, and spiritual.

And, we seek to sanctify what is already sanctified by shaming and torturing the only vehicle we have for sharing that innate sanctity. 

And the result is tragic. 

No one is born with negative body image.

When was the last time you took delight in your one-and-only body, in all its splendor? (Maybe — or maybe not — in the form of belly button-playing or toe-sucking.)

Keep in mind that you weren’t born feeling ashamed of your body. You learned that shame. (The International Journal of Eating Disorders reports that, by age 5, half of all girls have internalized the thin ideal. Age 5! )

An infant on his belly peering out from a blanket that is on his head.

The relationship we have with our bodies becomes complicated as we age. And the muddling begins early and more often than not yields worsening body image.

How and why?

Two words: Diet Culture.

Christy Harrison‘s explanation of Diet Culture captures it well as a system of beliefs that

  • equates thinness to health and moral virtue
  • promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status and
  • demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others

Diet Culture is sexist, racist, and classist. And yet, this way of thinking about food and bodies is so embedded in society that it’s hard to recognize. It masquerades as health, wellness, and fitness and can be all-consuming.

We’re sold the idea that poor body image can be resolved by “looking better,” ie dieting and shrinking the body.

So, voila! Fixed? Problem solved? Body image resolved?

No. Unequivocally, not-even-a-question…NO! 

Your body is about so much more than appearance. And your relationship with your body is far more complex than mere appearance.

Your body isn’t broken.

Your body isn’t a problem.

And your body doesn’t need to be fixed.

Focusing attention on appearance and size causes us to lose our own power. And it scapegoats our bodies.

Your body’s appearance is not what needs to change.

You are so much more than a body or the clothing and makeup you wear.

You diminish self-worth and oversimplify your sense of self when you focus on appearance.

So how can you improve body image?

To unpack body-dislike and shame, we need to understand their origins. Remember the two words mentioned above?

Diet Culture.

As author and activist Lindo Bacon explains, you’re programmed to believe a culturally created belief as TRUTH.

The belief is that you must attain a “perfect” (thin) body type at any cost. And then you will be attractive and able to enjoy all the attached benefits. 

This message is like molecules in the air we breathe. We don’t  recognize just how ubiquitous the air around us is because we’re in it.

Diet Culture keeps you battling with the size and shape of your body and constantly — both consciously and unconsciously — trying to improve body image.

The result? An ongoing war…with yourself. 

And one you ultimately will never win.

Sure, small amounts of weight loss may lead you to think you’ve won. But even those battles are lost. Dieting is unsustainable long-term.

Some people will temporarily lose weight on a diet but almost all will regain the weight—plus a few extra pounds— long-term.

Sustained weight loss is very rare. Somewhere between 95-98% of dieters will regain the weight they lost — and often more — within 5 years.

Research studies consistently indicate that dieting does not lead to meaningful, long-term, sustainable weight loss. That goes for every shiny, “new” (i.e. repackaged, remarketed) diet, as well.

The most consistent, predictable outcome of dieting is weight gain.

This is because diets don’t work, not because you aren’t doing the diet correctly.

You will end up feeling worse about yourself because you were led to believe you “failed” the diet. 

In reality, what happened is biological, and survival-oriented hard-wiring prevailed. 

Diets are a setup for failure. They drop the burden of success onto you by convincing you they are about willpower and improving body image. 

And, while you are wallowing in your sense of failure? Your “diet” is sneaking out the back door, laughing unapologetically on its way to the bank and its next victim.

Diets fail you. You don’t fail them.

Why do people keep dieting if it doesn’t work? 

Again, two words: Diet Culture.

How can you get back to respecting and appreciating the body you’re in?

Is it possible to improve body image, especially in Diet Culture?

Yes! Try these ideas:

  1. Separate wellness from size and weight.
  2. Celebrate body size and shape diversity as part of the human experience.
  3. Watch this video to see what Amy Pence Brown did.
  4. Find compassion for your body and every body, regardless of body size, ability, shape, gender, or age.
  5. Choose to see bodies of all sizes, ages, shapes, abilities differently than Diet Culture dictates.
  6. Honor aging as a privilege and size- and shape-diversity as fascinating and good.
  7. Practice gratitude for your one and only body, as it is today.
  8. Derive self-worth from other sources, beyond appearance.
  9. Recall that your identity is more than how you look and more than “just” your body.
  10. Meditate on how appreciating your body will give you YOU back. Being whole is your birthright, so appreciating your body — literally expressing gratitude for it — will bring you full circle.

Going against cultural messages takes time and practice. It is not “one and done.” But it does get easier with time.

External appearance changes no matter how many diets, programs, potions, or procedures you try. 

Yet, sadly, body image tends not to improve. Disentangling self-worth from appearance is tough, especially with Diet Culture’s messaging about body size and shape.

You can choose to focus on feeling good from the inside out. This is a complete 180 from what Diet Culture teaches (ie “perfect the outside to feel OK on the inside”). Cultivate your beauty naturally, inside and out.

Someone who unlearns body shame and instead recognizes her own inner and outer magnificence is truly beautiful.

Isn’t this what you want to teach that wiggly, giggly, toe-sucking bundle of joy gazing up at you for affirmation?

And isn’t it the same message you wish you could go back and deliver to that same bundle of joy you once were…and really…still are?

Dr Elayne Daniels is a clinical psychologist in private practice, specializing in body image, eating disorders, and High Sensitivity, with a passion for helping people feel comfortable in the bodies they have. Contact her here for more information.

Ask The Psychologist: “Why Am I So Sensitive?”

A photo of a plant, suggesting the answer to why am I so sensitive is because of the many delicate layers you have
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This world can be a cruel place for sensitive souls. It seems to struggle with its ability to balance progress with presence. And those who suffer the most are often those with the innate gifts capable of giving meaning to progress. To feel, to process, to act upon the call of compassion take time. And progress, in its misguided rush for the profit of the day, too often dismisses anything that asks it to pause, feel, or change course. 

The sensitive ones take the burden upon themselves to find a way and place to fit in. “Why am I so sensitive? Why do I not feel connected to this world? Does anyone understand me? Paradoxical as it will sound, if you recognize your own loneliness in this description, you are not alone.

You may be part of a small percentage of people described as Highly Sensitive. 

Curious as to whether you might be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Take this quiz to learn more.

Is it normal to be so sensitive?

High Sensitivity is a real thing. It’s a normal genetic trait found in 15-20% of people. 

If you happen to have come into this world with your planets in the house of High Sensitivity, you will be sensitive your whole life. That’s just how you’re wired.

Even though HSPs are in a minority, being Highly Sensitive isn’t bad, wrong, or deviant. 

High Sensitivity actually has many cool features, especially when you live in a way that honors it.

There are four components of being Highly Sensitive:

  1. Depth of processing: You pick up on things (including nuances that most people don’t even notice) easily and process information deeply.
  2. Overstimulation: Because you are constantly processing  information, you are prone to anxiety and overwhelm. Regular time to yourself helps to replenish.
  3. Empathy and strong emotions: You easily pick up on social and emotional cues and have tremendous empathy.
  4. Sensory-specific sensitivity: You’re highly responsive to smells, flavors, sounds, fabric, and/or things you see.

The scientific name for the High Sensitivity trait is Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS).

SPS sounds like a bad thing. (Why else would they give it an acronym?) 

Remember, High Sensitivity/SPS is not a bad thing. To the contrary….

Please hear this loud and clear. There is nothing wrong with you. You don’t have a diagnosis or condition due to being “so sensitive.” You’re not a “crybaby.” You’re not “too” anything. 

(Reread that sentence as many times as you may need to!)

Of course, if you’ve been told over and over to “stop being so sensitive,” “lighten up,” or  “you need to get a thick skin,” it makes sense that you would wonder why you are “so sensitive.”

The reason you’re “so sensitive” is that, as an HSP, you process information deeply, be it emotions, thoughts, or sensory stuff. This naturally makes you more physically sensitive and emotionally sensitive than people without the trait.

So, true, you may feel overstimulated in a noisy setting. (Why can’t anyone else hear the person snapping gum or tapping a pen on the desk?) Or irritated more often by things that don’t bug other people. And I bet you feel things deeply, including your feelings and those of others. (That’s why you can watch only so much of the news and can’t stomach horror movies or images of cruelty.)

At times life itself can feel “too much,” as if a black cloud is following you. 

In our go-go-go culture, sensitivity is generally considered a weakness. That’s both an unfair and weighty judgment to live with. It’s also exhausting.

A headshot of a red headed woman with her hands by her head, similar to how a Highly Sensitive Person might gesture
ablurry photo of a woman and her fist is clenched, demonstrating a Highly Sensitive Person's response to pen clicking

But here’s some good news: Being an HSP is not doom and gloom.

Sure, as with any personality trait, being “so sensitive” has challenges. 

But it also has many strengths.

It’s even considered a superpower.

A child standing on a rick with her arms outstretched, demonstrating her superpowers as a Highly Sensitive Person

What’s good about being “so sensitive”?

What better way to answer a great question than to hear it directly from someone who is “so sensitive”?

“I used to dislike being sensitive. I thought it made me weak. But take away that single trait, and you take away the very essence of who I am. You take away my conscience, my ability to empathize, my intuition, my creativity, my deep appreciation of the little things, my vivid inner life, my keen awareness of others’ pain and my passion for it all.” 

 Caitlin Japa

Doesn’t this sound like a beautiful human being? Someone who seems to be connected to what genuinely matters in life? Someone you would like to know and even emulate? 

Who are these “HSPs”? What makes them so special?

HSPs tend to be:

conscientious

hard-working

natural leaders

intuitive

aware of surroundings

healers, teachers, helpers

compassionate

understanding

(All of this is true, as long as you’re not in a state of overstimulation.)

Want to see some of the great company HSPs are in? Click here to read about some of the great HSP contributors to our world.

Why are you “so sensitive”?

(If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that….)

1. Brains of HSPS have more activity in areas responsible for empathy, emotion, and reading social cues. This translates to HSPs being extra alert and tuned into people around them, as well as to themselves.

2. HSP’s take things in easily, like a sponge – so much so that sounds, emotions, images, smells, and people’s vibes are easily “absorbed.” Because of how quickly and automatically this happens, overwhelm or “too much-ness” happens.

3. HSPs have more active mirror neurons than do non-HSPs, which allows them to feel a deep empathy for and understanding of other people.

4. Being Highly Sensitive is a personality trait, not a disorder, there is no diagnosis or treatment. It’s just how you’re made. Your nervous system is wired with Sensory Processing Sensitivity.

(Another consideration: How about the sensitivity level of those around you? It’s certainly possible that they are not sensitive enough. 

“Majority” is not always the definition of “normal.” It may define “norms,” but it doesn’t necessarily define how things are supposed to be or how they would best exist.)

Understanding your sensitivity is key to managing overwhelm.

HSPs navigate life differently than people who are not “so sensitive.” 

They generally like to take time to enjoy subtle experiences. They get more joy out of smelling the aroma of freshly baked bread than from listening to a loud concert.

HSPs take in a lot from the environment and are able to subconsciously evaluate what they take in. That means stronger intuition. 

They process more information and process it more deeply than non-HSPs.

Why not lean into the pleasurable aspects of HSP superpowers? Instead of questioning yourself – “Why am I so sensitive? Why can’t I shut this off?” – why not embrace what only a small percentage of people have and can do?

(Cue poignant song lyrics, beautiful piano playing, a crocus popping up through the snow, or the smile of a child.)

Misunderstandings about why some people are “so sensitive” mean life can be challenging for HSPs.

Imagine as a child being told constantly to “put your big girl/boy panties on” or “just let it go!” 

As an adult, you’d probably be filled with depression, anxiety, and low self-worth. 

But if, as a child, you were raised in a supportive environment, your active nervous system would be respected rather than criticized. And, as an adult, you would likely feel content with yourself and your life.

For people who are “so sensitive,” I recommend the following:

Spend time by yourself each day to help manage overwhelm and anxiety. It’s crucial! 

Also important is putting thought into how you will spend your time. Be choosy about how, with whom, and where you spend time.

Anytime you ask yourself “Why am I so sensitive?” remember that your High Sensitivity is a superpower. Like all traits, there are benefits and challenges that go along with it.

Once you understand your sensitivity, you’ll navigate your way to the land of thriving. Unapologetically.

Wearing the superhero cape is optional.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, body image, and High Sensitivity. Her passion is helping Highly Sensitive People embrace their sensitivity so they canTHRIVE! For more information, contact her here

How To Know When You Need Counseling For Depression And Anxiety

A pug in a yellow jacket and the legs of a owman in boots may suggest she is wondering when to consider counseling for depression and anxiety

Feeling overwhelmed by life – unable to keep up, let alone meet society’s expectations for spirited ambition and perpetual “on-ness” – can be maddening, deflating, isolating. And, if you find yourself paralyzed by anxiety or slowly sinking under the weight of depression, you may begin to feel downright hopeless. You may be tempted to tough it out alone. Or you may wonder how to know when you need counseling for depression and anxiety. 

No matter what you’re asking yourself, you’re in good company. Now, more than ever, people are feeling the same emotional challenges…and asking the same right questions.

One good thing that has come from the Coronavirus Pandemic is more comfort with and less shame about mental health.

Indeed, rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, and other conditions have skyrocketed due to COVID’s impact. As a result, more people recognize that addressing mental health matters doesn’t require whispering or tip-toeing. You don’t even have to use the “asking for a friend” line (unless you actually are).

Mental health challenges are nothing to be ashamed of. Fortunately, depression and anxiety are no longer taboo topics (at least in most circles).

(Recent celebrity and athlete disclosures of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges have also helped reduce stigma. Thank you, Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, and others.)

Less stigma about mental health means it’s easier to acknowledge struggles and seek counseling. Yay!

Counseling is a great idea for just about everyone. You don’t need to qualify by having depression or anxiety. 

Counseling, believe it or not, is a powerful tool for personal growth, with or without an underlying condition or glaring “issue.”

It can give you access to a healthy, objective perspective from a trained professional.

Counseling can help you push forward out of “stuck” beliefs and behaviors so that you can become more of who you know you were created to be.

It can help you cultivate clarity and courage so you can recognize (or flat-out leave) toxic situations and relationships.

And it can nurture your natural curiosity and self-exploration, giving you the ability to live a more authentic, enlightened life.

So back to how to know if you need counseling for depression and anxiety…

People often assume that if someone “looks fine,” they “feel fine.” 

That assumption, however, is all myth.  (Remember the proverb about not judging a book by its cover?)

It’s impossible to have certainty about other people’s degree of depression or anxiety, especially just by looking at them. 

An obvious exception is in cases of someone displaying severe signs – suicidal tendencies, stage fright, or a direct admission of depression.

To help you determine if you may need (or benefit from) counseling for depression and anxiety, ask yourself some questions. (I encourage you to write down your responses, as there is power in seeing your thoughts in writing. It’s the same premise as journaling.)

Here are 10 questions to reflect upon in order to know if you need counseling for depression and anxiety:

a woman standnig in front of a tall snow covered mountain
  1. How often do you think about coping with depression and anxiety?
  2. What are the ways/habits you use to cope?
  3. How many of your methods do you consider good for physical and mental well-being?
  4. Do you feel shame about depression or anxiety, or about how you are coping?
  5. How do depression and anxiety affect your relationships – personally, professionally, and with yourself?
  6. How has the quality of your life been affected overall?
  7. If your close friend, sibling, or child were suffering from depression and anxiety in a similar way as you, would you encourage counseling? Why or why not?
  8. What are the pros and cons of you pursuing counseling for depression and anxiety?
  9. Is there a time frame, after which you would seek counseling if your symptoms were not improved?
  10. In what ways have depression and anxiety caused problems in your life, both every day and in the big picture?

When depression and anxiety affect your daily life, counseling is a great resource. 

This is especially true when their negative effects close in on your relationships or cause you to lose interest in what you used to enjoy. 

Difficulty working, feeling irritable, having medical problems, or questioning your worth are other telling signs that depression and/or anxiety may warrant professional help

Counseling is helpful for depression and anxiety because it helps you learn how to identify and name feelings. It also teaches you effective ways of coping.

Talking about feelings can be difficult, especially if you’re from a family where feelings weren’t discussed. The sweep-it-under-the-rug-so-it-goes-away strategy only serves to intensify feelings and is never helpful.

Being able to put words to your feelings is so important. 

Unnamed and unexpressed feelings tend to accumulate and fester. They fuel depression, anxiety, and harmful coping behaviors such as alcohol use, self-harm, smoking, compulsive spending, and promiscuity.

The counseling office is a safe space to talk through challenges, be it struggles with family or romantic partners, losses, fears, or blocks to moving forward in your life.

Counseling provides a forum for talking about feelings and thoughts you might not feel safe or comfortable discussing with anyone else. 

An additional benefit is that you learn skills that last after counseling ends. The strategies you practice continue to improve well-being.

As you assess whether you need counseling for depression and anxiety, ask yourself how often you feel each of the emotions listed below.

(You may also ponder how much and how severely each particular feeling interferes – if at all – in your life.)

***If any of the feelings could lead you to cause yourself or someone else harm, getting help is essential.

Overwhelm/burnout

Overwhelm and burnout happen when you believe you have way too many things to do or deal with. 

You feel unable to relax and possibly even unable to breathe. 

You may notice you are unusually tired or even chronically wired. Perhaps you even feel “wired” while your body and mind are exhausted.

Fatigue/racing heart

Because mental and physical health are linked, you may have physical symptoms (e.g. fatigue, sleep disturbance, or headaches) from depression or anxiety. 

Fatigue can make even pleasant activities difficult. 

A racing heart due to anxiety can create panic (and an even faster heart rate), especially if you’re convinced you’re about to have a cardiac emergency.

Disproportionate anger/resentment

Feeling angry at times is normal. However, if anger sticks around or leads to harmful urges or acts, get help. 

Suppressing anger leads to it coming out at inopportune times and likely in a disproportionate way.

Anxious thoughts/depressed thoughts

Worrying and feeling bummed out on occasion are normal. But when either occurs often, interferes with concentration, or causes physical symptoms, counseling could help. 

If you are experiencing suicidal ideation or a suicidal emergency, please seek help immediately. And keep this number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline on-hand at all times: 800-273-8255

Negativity/hopelessness

Losing hope or believing there’s no point in bothering to try can be a sign of depression or avoidance/anxiety.

Social isolation

Spending time alone is fine. But if you’re alone because you’re chronically uncomfortable with other people, counseling may be helpful. (This is not necessarily true if you are introverted or a Highly Sensitive Person.)

Concentration problems/preoccupation

Having trouble concentrating or being preoccupied by your thoughts could signal depression or anxiety. 

Difficulty with concentration is nothing to be concerned about if it happens infrequently or if it’s due to not getting enough sleep the night before. (Sleeplessness as a pattern, however, could be due to depression.)

Preoccupation is concerning when you can’t help but go down a rabbit hole of thoughts – when the more you try to stop the thought spiral, the more it strengthens. 

Even though you know that “what you resist, persists,” you still feel trapped in your thoughts.

Hopefully these ideas provide you with a better sense of how to gauge your need for counseling for depression and anxiety. (Or simply your potential to benefit from counseling. I have yet to meet someone who can’t.)

There are as many reasons people go to counseling as there are people. Depression and anxiety are among the most common struggles. Counseling can help us all move forward more effectively.

repetition of the sentence" better things are coming"

Give it a try, especially if you’re feeling symptoms of depression and anxiety. (In other words, if you are a human who has lived through 2020 to the present!)

Better days are coming, so hang in there.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, body image, and High Sensitivity. She is passionate about helping people access their own vitality and wellness. Contact her here for more information.