Tag Archives: Coronavirus

Coping During a Pandemic Whilst Having an Eating Disorder

Karen Chapman, a Mental Health advisor with Wellbeing Services, has written the following post with advice on managing an eating disorder during these unprecedented times. Jo Keeler, the founder of the Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group, has kindly contributed.

The current pandemic has been a very challenging time for all, and for those experiencing an eating disorder it may have been particularly difficult. Eating disorders are tough, and perpetuating factors can be triggered by changes to routine, isolation or conflicts within households.

As we continue coping with the pandemic, we can see our world has changed to how we knew it before. For those recovering from or experiencing an eating disorder these times can be very unsettling. The gyms and activity centres are closed, there is a reduced ability to go outside, and there are restrictions in the supermarkets and a reduced availability of specific foods. You may struggle with being isolated or living with family when you were not expecting to, and the future may feel uncertain. Perhaps having to make decisions in a supermarket has lead to panic or avoidance when the foods that you feel comfortable buying, without leading to guilt or fear, are not there. All of this can lead to increased anxieties and more to battle with whilst experiencing an eating disorder.

The Wellbeing Services logo - an orange tree, where the trunk is a hand reaching into the leaves.

If you need support, please contact Wellbeing Services at wellbeing@exeter.ac.uk

It is important to recognise this. You may feel you are slipping back into more disordered behaviours or your eating disorder thoughts are louder in your mind than usual. Don’t be hard on yourself for slipping back a little. If you have recognised that you are struggling more, that’s a really good sign and you can do something about it to prevent things getting any worse.  Remember that recovery isn’t a straight line, it’s more of a wavy line of ups and downs along the way. Don’t give up hope and keep taking those small steps forward. Please reach out to those who you feel you can trust.

Creating a routine and a new norm has been key for some. People also find it useful to try to be kinder to oneself (which can be hard at times), but even if you try to dilute or neutralise any harsh or fixed thoughts this is a form of self-compassion. It may be helpful to try writing your thoughts down in a journal if you find it hard to verbalise them to others. People also find it useful to limit their exposure to unhelpful social media – whether that’s having a break from social media, or only following pages that are pro-recovery, inspirational or positive.

One person has described surviving lockdown with an eating disorder as the following:

“I found the loss of my normal routine really difficult to begin with. My whole life revolves around knowing exactly what I’m going to and when I’m going to do it. Losing that was very scary and I was worried about relapse. I have created a new ‘quarantine routine’ which has massively helped me, but now I’m worried about when things go back to normal, I know I will really struggle to adapt to the change away from this new way of life and back into my old routine. I’m worried that I will see my social anxiety become worse as I haven’t been around people as much. I know I have my family and professional support though, and try to remember that I have managed to adapt before and will manage it again.”

Another person has shared their experience as below:

“Coping with an eating disorder in normal day-to-day life is challenging enough, but in lockdown it’s even harder. With everything that’s been going on recently I have found that my anxiety levels have been much higher than usual, which is often an easy way for Eating Disorder thoughts to take over. Since being back home I have much less control over what I’m eating and I struggle a lot when my routine is suddenly changed; succumbing to my eating disorder can often act as a coping mechanism. However, I’ve tried to adapt to the uncertainty as best as I can. It’s really important to me to keep challenging the foods that I have been in fear of, and not let lockdown make me feel guilty for consuming more of a particular food. If my mind feels clouded with negativity, a daily walk or some yoga helps me put things into perspective and remember there is more to life than my eating disorder. I also think calling a friend for a catch up is invaluable and can really lift my mood if all I can think about is what I’m eating. I reassure myself that every emotion I’ve been feeling is completely valid in such a confusing time, and that when it all ends, I will come out the other side having built more resilience against my eating disorder.”

From an individual who considers themselves recovered:

Logo for the Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group at Exeter, showing a brunette woman in a green t-shirt peaking against an orange background.

You can find out more about the Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group here: www.facebook.com/EDPSGexeter/

“I’ve been recovered from my eating disorder for 5 years and that largely is part to moving from a challenging environment and gaining some independence. This lockdown period has been extremely challenging, in some ways, mirroring some of the circumstances where my difficulties began. The loss of control, lack of ability to access my support network, increased food-talk in the public and general stress has made me worry about symptoms returning. Speaking to others in a similar situation to myself helped me recognise that this objectively is a very challenging time, even for those without a susceptibility to mental health problems. I have found it helpful to reconnect myself with other aspects of my identity and interests that are not related to food, exercise or appearance. For example, I’ve spent time doing arts and crafts, meditating and watching funny movies. I’ve also made an effort to reconnect with my values and recovery journey, to remind myself that it is periods of very challenging times that have enabled me to be where I am today. I have done this before and have come out the other side, and I can do it again.”

It is really important to recognise the challenges you may face as this can empower you to adapt and take small steps forward.

Helpful resources

Wellbeing Services and Jo collaborated on a webinar on 20th May that you can watch using the link below:

Wellbeing Services also offer individual support sessions for students experiencing eating difficulties. Support sessions are open to all students, and no assessment or referral is necessary; sessions can be booked directly by students. Please scroll down the page below to find out more:


Please also see Beat’s website for top tips on staying well:


Managing Stress and Fatigue During Lockdown

A photo of Megan, author of this blog.

Megan Maunder is a PGR Mathematics student (CEMPS), who has kindly shared her thoughts on ways to manage stress and fatigue during lockdown. 

As a neurodiverse and chronically ill person I am finding lockdown particularly challenging. The change in routine, inability to make long terms plans, and absence of some of my favourite activities and distractions all add to my discomfort and my ability to self-motivate. Talking to family and friends, I am not alone in this. I’ve found one of the biggest issues with lockdown is that we are suddenly consumed by the minutiae of life. We often turn to the bigger picture to help centre ourselves and give us a sense of perspective, but now this may be inherently scary, and we have little planned to look forward to. Many of us are now bogged down in the small things, and whilst they might help and give comfort, they in themselves can also be a source of distress.

The uncertainty of this situation is something I’m struggling with but with the help of family, friends, mentors, and adapting my existing coping techniques I’ve found a few things that help:

Make Lists

We tend to be quite good at making to do lists when it comes to planning university work or errands but we’re not so good at doing this for positive things that help us feel better. Make a list of everything you enjoy that you are still able to do, activities, hobbies, and self-care. It sounds ridiculous, but often when I’m stressed I often forget what I can do to help myself. Make sure you schedule time each week to do some of the things on your list and, whenever you feel overwhelmed choose to do one of them for at least 10 minutes to help focus and calm you down. For me this includes Tai-Chi, short walks, reading, and I’ve recently taken up watercolours.

At the start of each week, I also make a plan for meals (with a few contingents) so that my partner and I know exactly who is cooking and what we’re eating each night. Making all my food decisions for a week in one block helps reduce some of the stress and fatigue around decision making. It also helps reduce food waste and it’s surprisingly easy to hype yourself up for whatever is planned that evening. Tonight I’m looking forward to making Mediterranean Tarts!


A picture of a To Do list in a wire-bound notebook, with numbers from one to four listed.

Plan your day and allow time for activities that reduce your stress levels. 
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels.

Timers are your best friend. When I lived alone, I found it almost impossible to function well without them, particularly for meals and separating work and leisure. If you don’t like the idea of eating alone, I find the TV or video calling a close friend or family member helps. If you live with other people, I suggest setting a mutually agreed upon time for lunch and your evening meal. This gives you all a chance to decompress, and take some perspective and makes sure you eat and look after your body. For example, my partner and I  have set times for lunch and when to start preparing dinner, it gives us a way to manage our schedules, separate work and leisure, and encourages us to eat healthily.

Digital Boundaries

Most of us struggle with maintaining a healthy level of digital connection. Spending too much time ‘plugged in’ can often make me feel anxious and overwhelmed. Being apart from so many family and friends it’s tempting to schedule in more virtual commitments and want to feel more connected – I was definitely guilty of this at the start of lockdown! I was constantly connecting but I quickly felt burnt out and realised I needed more time offline and to myself. I’ve now cut down on online social events and massively reduced my social media consumption. I set screen limits for certain apps and make sure I have plenty of ‘analog’ activities. I’ve recently removed all work/university content from my phone and tablet. Before, with locations changing and travel I needed to access my work emails and files from these devices but now I’m permanently at home I only access them via my laptop. This way I can ensure my time off is truly separate from university work.

Looking After Our Wellbeing In These Challenging Times

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought about a period of change and uncertainty that most of us have never experienced before. It’s always important to look after your mental health and wellbeing, but it’s even more crucial now. Check out our tips and strategies which are designed to help you manage your mental health throughout the current situation.

Don’t panic

This is a challenging time for the world at the moment, and many of us are understandably concerned for our loved ones and society in general. Restrictions on the way we work and live can also create stress. It is important at times of anxiety to remember what is within our control and to focus on these things, rather than becoming worried about the things that we have no control over. An easy way to do this is asking yourself ‘is this a current worry that I can do something about now?’ It can help to express your worries by writing them down in a notebook or journal, which you can then put aside and let go. Then draw your attention onto the things you can do something about; capture these and try to keep your focus on them.

Keep a routine

Staying at home, whether you are working or studying, can mean we have some extra time in bed. While it is important to have good and restful sleep, it’s also important to keep to a routine. This doesn’t only help you to complete the tasks you need to do, such as study, work or housekeeping, but also gives a sense of structure, which can better help us to cope. Take some time to set out your routine and think about how you’ll spend time by yourself at home. For example, plan activities to do on different days, or habits you want to start or keep up. Be sure to build in times to rest and relax too.

Set yourself goals

See this time as an opportunity to complete a task you have been putting off for some time, or as a time to finally start a new hobby, or learn something new. Why not share your progress with friends and family, or on social media? We’d love to hear your progress – tag our University social media accounts with your stories: Twitter – @UniOfExeter Instagram – @UniOfExeter Facebook – University of Exeter.

Be creative

It can be easy to spend a lot of time using electronic devices or watching tv, but absorbing yourself in a creative task can often be more rewarding for your mental health. You don’t need to have lots of equipment – pick up a book (or find some online), do some writing, draw a picture, or sing a few songs! Again, you might want to share your creativity with others.

Connect with others

We are fortunate in today’s society to have many options available to connect with each other. Make use of video calls and phone calls (either individually or within groups). Many celebrities are delivering group activities such as cook-alongs and fitness routines via social media and this is something you could also arrange between your friends and family.

Maintain activity and fitness

Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. It can improve your mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger, and make you feel more relaxed. At present in the UK, the government states that you can leave the house once a day to walk, run or cycle alone, or with members of your household. If you can do this safely (remember you must maintain social distancing and keep 2 metres apart from others at all times) then it can help your mental health to enjoy some activity and fresh air. If you prefer to keep fit indoors, there are also a number of options for home workouts available online – or you might even make use of that old fitness DVD you have lying around!

Maintain a level of self-care and hygiene

It’s important to be comfortable when at home, however it can be easy to let our routines around day-to-day hygiene go out of the window when we’re not leaving the house. Even if you’re staying in your pyjamas, have a different set for the daytime!

Keep your home comfortable

Try your best to keep on top of household chores. Being surrounded by mess or dirty plates has a negative impact on our mental health in the longer term. Why not build your chores into your daily routine and then when they’re completed you can relax?

Be kind to yourself

These are exceptional times and you’re bound to go through a range of emotions. Try to accept that and treat yourself with compassion and kindness.

Remember: Wellbeing Services are available

Our Wellbeing teams are still available to support you during these uncertain and challenging times. We can offer remote appointments via telephone or online, and will do whatever we can to help you through this unusual period.

If you are a student usually based on our Exeter campuses, you can email wellbeing@exeter.ac.uk to request support or call Wellbeing Services on +44 (0) 1392 724381 and leave a voicemail.

You can reach our AccessAbility team at accessability@exeter.ac.uk or by leaving a voicemail at +44 (0) 1392 723880.

If you are a student usually based on our Cornwall campuses you can contact Living Support as follows:

  • Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm: +44 (0) 1326 255341 or livingsupport@fxplus.ac.uk
  • Evenings and weekends: +44 (0) 1326 253503

Further University information:

Information and advice from the University on the coronavirus outbreak: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/coronavirus/