Raise your hand if you are the parent of a teen anorexic ballerina and you are overwhelmed.
I wonder if there is a parent who has been on the battlefield of anorexia who has not felt overwhelmed.  I doubt it.  
What if I told you that you don’t have to be overwhelmed when your teen is diagnosed with anorexia?
I wouldn’t blame you if you automatically felt insulted by that question, or if your reaction was to think that I must not know anything about having a child with anorexia or I would never ask such a ridiculous question.  

I do know something about having a daughter with anorexia, and I also know that being overwhelmed is optional. It isn’t easy to never feel overwhelmed, but it is possible to feel less overwhelmed, or to feel overwhelmed less often, or to choose another way to feel that is more useful.

When your daughter is anorexic, feeling overwhelmed comes with the territory, or so it seems. You may be overwhelmed by the illness itself, overwhelmed by the responsibility of getting her to eat enough to restore her weight, overwhelmed by her extreme emotional behavior, overwhelmed by the less than clear treatment options, overwhelmed by the decisions about if or when she’ll ever dance again, and overwhelmed by what it all means for you, your daughter, and for the rest of your family.

I know it is hard to believe, but feeling overwhelmed is not mandatory. Spending a lot of time being overwhelmed is detrimental to you and it is detrimental to your daughter’s recovery.
But aren’t we entitled to being overwhelmed?  
Better questions to ask are: Do we want to feel overwhelmed for an extended period of time? Do we want to feel overwhelmed at every meal and every snack?  Do we want to feel overwhelmed more than we feel any other feeling every day?
Overwhelm seems like it serves a purpose, but it is actually an indulgent emotion.  It is a feeling that keeps us from feeling our other feelings, and it keeps us stuck.   So why do we automatically feel overwhelmed by our daughter’s anorexia, and how do we stop being overwhelmed so often?

If you feel overwhelmed, remember that it is just your brain doing what it was designed to do—help you survive. Your brain is good at making you believe you are threatened, even when you aren’t. Don’t let it fool you.

Most of the time, when we are feeling overwhelmed, that feeling is coming from subconscious thoughts that occur automatically without us even realizing it. We believe those thoughts, and so we feel overwhelmed.

It seems like since these thoughts just happen, that we can’t help but have them, and therefore we can’t help but feel overwhelmed. The very good news is that we can learn to consciously choose different thoughts, and override the ones that are causing us to feel overwhelmed.

By learning to become aware of when our unintentional automatic thoughts kick in, we can become aware of when those thoughts are making us feel overwhelmed. Once we learn how to compassionately observe our thoughts, we can begin to work on replacing our patterned subconscious thoughts with intentional thoughts that will create much more useful feelings for us.

By practicing a new intentional thought that we believe, we can replace our old thought patterns with new beliefs. Instead of staying in overwhelm, we can decide how we want to feel, and then we can choose a thought that creates that feeling for us.

The goal is not to eliminate overwhelm or any other negative emotions.  It is important to recognize when we are feeling overwhelmed, and to notice how much time we spend feeling that way.  Instead of resisting, reacting, or avoiding feeling overwhelmed, it is possible to simply notice the vibration in our bodies that the feeling of overwhelm causes. 

A feeling is just a vibration in the body, so learning to recognize what overwhelm feels like, and realizing that it is possible to just feel the vibration without acting on it, makes it much easier to handle this feeling or any other feeling.  Becoming aware of your overwhelm, and understanding that it is optional instead of inevitable, gives you the power to begin to purposely create more useful feelings as you support your daughter’s recovery.  

If you want to learn more about how to spend less time feeling overwhelmed by your daughter’s anorexia, email me at jenni@peacemealcoach.com for a free 20-minute mini coaching session.