Topic Tuesday: Recovery
“The Power of “Zooming Out” in Recovery” (By: Valerie Martin, LCSW, RYT)
One of the painful byproducts of an eating disorder is the feeling of being perpetually stuck in tunnel vision: thoughts about food, body shape/size, numbers — and “shoulds” related to all of these and more — play on endless repeat in our minds. No amount of intellectual prowess prevents us from losing the forest for the trees. The things that mattered before the disorder took over as the headlining act feel like distant tones in the background, so faint they sometimes can’t be heard at all.
In my work with clients, I often use the phrase, “Let’s zoom out.” This is really just another way of talking about the skill of perspective taking, which can feel a little abstract — whereas, in our tech-driven society where zooming out is now as simple and natural as moving two fingers on a screen, this phrase resonates at a physical level. Often, our thoughts become so consuming that we don’t realize we are the fish swimming in water, because the water is just all around us. We have to become aware of the process of our thinking before we can do anything to relate differently to the thoughts themselves.
When we’re completely hooked by ED thoughts, we lose sight of what matters most — our chosen values like kindness, freedom, connection, independence, justice, growth, grace, and wonder. As humans in general, we’re not great at thinking in the “zoomed out” big picture. We get so caught up in our thoughts, worries, and day-to-day tasks that we essentially flip on the “autopilot” switch. We often confuse what seems “urgent” with what’s really important, and spend our whole days and weeks feeling reactive instead of proactive.
Zooming out is about becoming conscious again — and again, and again, and again — and reconnecting to our values not just in principal, but in action. It’s about noticing when we’re on autopilot, and switching back to “manual” mode of conscious choice-making.
This is why I love use the principles of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, because the primary focus is on steering in the direction of our chosen values, and learning how to relate differently with difficult thoughts and feelings so we don’t get in our own way as much. Instead of feeling like a failure because ED thoughts are still there, we get to practice “unhooking” from unhelpful thoughts, zooming out to our values, and acting in alignment with those values while we make room for the anxiety that’s likely to show up in the process.
Whether or not you are currently in the process of navigating recovery, we all need frequent reminders to reorient in the direction of our values. I encourage you to practice the simple yet profound act of zooming out today. I often find that setting reminders in my phone a couple times a day can be very helpful. Remember that perspective taking, or zooming out, is not about invalidating the pain that you’re in, but rather about helping shift the lens that you’re seeing and experiencing that pain through, and reconnecting you with what you’ve identified as most important to you.
Next time you find yourself caught up in unhelpful thoughts, give it a shot: Breathe. Zoom out. Remember the forest. Ask yourself what really matters, and if what you’re hooked into will feel as important in six months or even six days. Then, ask yourself, “If I were to take a small step right now toward something that matters even more to me than this, what one action might I take?” This skill, like any, takes regular practice — and it’s definitely worth it. Happy zooming.
About the Author
Valerie Martin (LCSW, RYT, CSAT Candidate) is a therapist and yoga instructor in Nashville, Tennessee. She works primarily with eating disorders, trauma, relationship issues, anxiety and depression. Valerie’s therapeutic approach is one of mind + body integration, using EMDR, yoga (including trauma-sensitive yoga), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic (body-based), and experiential modalities. She also teaches yoga at Inner Light Yoga Nashville. You can find Valerie online at www.wonderwelltherapy.com, Instagram, and Facebook, and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-617-4947.