By Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C
For those who are struggling with an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, or another mental illness, there are often a variety of urges that they experience. For example, people who are experiencing depression may feel the urge to isolate from others. Individuals who are struggling with anxiety might experience the urge to avoid situations that cause them to feel anxious. Individuals who are suffering from an eating disorder may experience the urge to social occasions that involve food.
These urges come from a good place, as the individual is often trying to “feel better.” Using the behavior may even feel like it 'helps' in the short term. However, in the long-run they only serve to make the person feel even worse.
One Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skill that can be useful is called “opposite action.”
An Example of Opposite Action
Emotions are important in that they provide us with information and signals about things to pay attention to in our lives. There are times when an emotion “fits the facts of a situation” and motivates us towards effective action. For instance, feeling anxiety about an important exam could serve as a motivator to study. Or feeling anxious while walking home alone at night could help someone to maintain a better awareness of their surroundings.
However, there are times when an emotion “does not fit the facts of the situation” and when acting on an emotional urge is not effective.
For instance, feeling intense anxiety about eating dinner at a restaurant does not “fit the facts of the situation,” and could cause someone to feel the urge to avoid socializing and going out to eat. Over time, this avoidance behavior only serves to make the anxiety worse. Additionally, it could start to negatively impact an individual’s relationships.
In this instance, it would be helpful to note that you are experiencing the urge to avoid eating out and to the take an “opposite action,” which is more in alignment with your life values. For instance, pushing yourself to have meals out at a restaurant (despite feeling afraid), would be taking an opposite action.
If you are struggling with a mental illness and are having trouble putting this exercise into practice, it’s so important to reach out for help from a trained professional. Seeking help when you are struggling is a sign of true strength, not weakness.
Additionally, it’s important to note that behavior change can take time. I often ask that clients begin to challenge themselves in gradual and manageable steps. Further, it’s helpful to be compassionate with yourself, wherever you are in your healing journey.
If you are interested in learning more about DBT, I’d recommend checking out The DBT Skills Workbook.
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The Eating Disorder Center is a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center founded by Jennifer Rollin. We specialize in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, OSFED, and body image issues. We provide eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Silver Spring, Germantown, and Washington D.C. We also offer eating disorder therapy virtually throughout California serving those in cities including Palo Alto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Woodland Hills, San Jose, and Beverly Hills. We provide eating disorder recovery coaching via Zoom to people worldwide. Connect with us through our website at www.theeatingdisordercenter.com
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The Eating Disorder Center
We are a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center in Rockville, Maryland.