How can I make myself feel better?
January 29, 2010 1:44 PM   Subscribe

How can I make myself feel better (about myself and in general) without using food, money, or dieting inappropriately?

I am working on a lot of issues at the moment (and am working with a therapist / doctor as well), mostly focusing on my depression, anxiety, ADHD and how I tend to deal with those things by either overeating/binging, spending lots of money that I don't have to spend, or starting an insane and unrealistic diet/exercise program (or some other insane program or project that will FINALLY FIX EVERYTHING).

The end result of my behavior is that I'm ~100 lbs overweight, thousands of dollars in credit card debt, and completely burned out from dieting (especially calorie counting and WW points tracking). My self esteem SUCKS. As you can probably imagine.

I've been doing well for a few weeks. With help, I decided to make tackling my credit card debt a priority, as it has been hanging over my head for years and years, but is the easiest, most straightforward, and fastest problem of mine to fix. I have set up a budget and repayment plan that allows me SOME spending money (not tons) and will let me pay everything off by the end of July. I feel like focusing on this, something that has consistent and predictable results, will help give me some self esteem and reduce one area of stress in my life.

However, I am also working on my general health. I am trying to make near-daily exercise, sleep, and healthy foods a priority. My budget helps this, because one of my goals is to eat breakfast at home and brown bag lunch everyday. I'm not sure if I'll lose weight doing this, but I don't seem to be gaining anything, and whenever I have followed stricter weight loss programs before I've always lamented that "If only I got into the habit of bringing my lunch everyday" or "If only I would stop the habit of getting breakfast to go everyday" I would be so much better. So...I do hope that eating better in general, making my own food, and exercising will help me lose weight. But I'm trying to give myself permission to NOT lose weight (or any significant weight) for RIGHT NOW. I've never given myself that kind of permission before, and it felt good at first...but...

I am currently ready to jump out of my skin. I hate myself and how I look. I mean, I'm really fat! And if I was not focused on paying off my debt, my first impulse would be to make myself feel better by going out and buying new clothes and getting my hair done and doing other things to make myself feel less awfully ugly and fat. Or at least making some grand recommitment to dieting plan with a strict schedule and plan. But I know if I do that, it's just setting myself up for more disappointment.

My therapist said that I seem to lack the ability to "self soothe", but she wasn't very helpful when I said that I just don't know what is soothing other than food or spending money. I know that is totally sick, but it's true. Nothing else soothes me as quickly and efficiently. I realize that the end result of using those things to soothe my bad feelings is just making life harder, which is why I'm trying to change things.... but I'm afraid that if I don't find SOME alternative, I'm going to crack, because sitting with these feelings is hard. I don't know if I've ever done this before.

I know a common suggestion is exercise. I like exercise. I do it almost everyday. It's enjoyable and all, but it does not soothe me. It sometimes improves my mood or energy levels, but it's not something that fills me in any real way. Neither is yoga or meditation. There are few hobbies I can stand, I'm not religious, and even my friends can't really cheer me up. I want to volunteer, but I work long hours and am a part-time grad student and take care of a house and ugh.

How do I stop hating myself? What do I do?
posted by dumbledore69 to Health & Fitness (55 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I asked a question about personal development blogs yesterday. There's some good stuff out there.

See the question. It can help with some of the things you're asking about (money, exercise, etc.) Perhaps not the psychological/emotional issues.
posted by dfriedman at 1:53 PM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: I subscribe to more personal development blogs than I have time to read...including many mentioned there. :-) I do get great advice from them...but so far I haven't found anything that addresses how normal people actually just...HAVE bad feelings and somehow deal with it.
posted by dumbledore69 at 2:02 PM on January 29, 2010

Learning new things and then looking back upon the progress I've made makes me feel good. There are free online resources for pretty much anything you might want to learn. Maybe becoming fluent in Italian or learning to knit a sweater or amateur photography. Just anything you can see real progress in and keep growing by doing.

The good thing about learning new things is there's always something that suits your interests as an option, or you can take the plunge and try something completely new. Learn and grow, either way.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:02 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the things that you already know to do/are supposed to be soothing aren't soothing you, then try different things. Read something about mindfulness or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Go to museums, or take an art class. Start learning about a topic you've always been sort of interested in. Break the routine you're in right now, which is clearly not working for you. It sounds like getting out of your head would be helpful, and the easiest way to do that is to do something.

I think I'm getting the impression, from the way you present the topic, that you think you've tried everything and there's nothing else left. I think it's possible that the real problem is an unwillingness to move beyond the things that are easy and fast rewards. Therapy is going to be a great potential help for this, so try to stick it out.
posted by so_gracefully at 2:02 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you could be interested in the concept of Health At Every Size, the fallacy of The Fantasy of Being Thin, and how Diets Don't Work.

*be careful* about going down the personal development blog route. These people do offer some good advice, but if you're not in a place where you can filter what will work for you, you will just have another reason to beat yourself up. You don't need that.

I might suggest you check out Jen Louden's work. It is a little too fluffy for me but I am in a good space now (it took me a long time to get here). But when you said 'self-soothe' that sure sounded like Jen Louden to me.

And I will say CONGRATULATIONS that you have a plan that will let you pay off your debt by July! That's awesome!
posted by micawber at 2:10 PM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am very much in the same boat as you. Eating out is a huge vice. I haven't quit smoking yet. And I love to spend money on myself when I feel crappy. I feel your pain.

Some things that help me to "self-soothe:"

dancing in my kitchen to my favorite music
hot baths and showers
taking extra time with my morning hygiene routine (hair, make-up, etc)
going to the library
books on cd in the car for commutes and long drives
stupid tv night with my girlfriends
forgiving myself
spending time being grateful everyday
checking things off my to do list
reading Metafilter

The trick is that none of the above things are as immediate or as powerful as eating out or shopping. So you have to expect and plan for slower results. Here's an idea: make a list of the things that make you feel "a little better" and when you get the urge to soothe with shooping or food, pick three things from the list and commit to doing all three for yourself. The reinforcement potential of the items on your list will increase with repitition. They will become more powerful soothing techniques over time.

Also, it seems like you're opperating with some faulty beliefs about yourself. Ask your therapist to consider doing Daily Mood Logs with you.

It sounds like you are really committed to behavior change and improvement. That's really the first step. Good luck. You're doing great already, just keep it up.
posted by dchrssyr at 2:10 PM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I think I'm getting the impression, from the way you present the topic, that you think you've tried everything and there's nothing else left. I think it's possible that the real problem is an unwillingness to move beyond the things that are easy and fast rewards.

This is very much how I feel, even though I realize it's totally irrational and untrue. I am sure this is part of my core issue. This is why I am turning to the Hive Mind ... if I keep reading the same things I've always read and going back to the same ideas I've always had, I'm going to end up where I've always been.

So...all new suggestions are super welcome and appreciative. I hope I don't sound like I am resistant to new ideas, because that's what I want!
posted by dumbledore69 at 2:10 PM on January 29, 2010

I'm not sure what "exercise" entails for you, but along the lines of cmgonzalez's comment about "learning new things and then looking back upon the progress I've made," I think a strength program would be good for you. You won't have to count calories -- you'll need to be eating plenty of good food in order to recover from your workouts. But the best part is that you'll see yourself getting stronger very quickly. Every time you walk into the gym you'll be lifting a little more weight than last time, and it adds up fast. Plus you'll see differences in your body very quickly as well. It's a great, healthy way to feel good about yourself.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:18 PM on January 29, 2010

*hot baths
*going to a spa for the day (costs money but not that expensive)
*cooking delicious healthy meals, e.g., chestnut-apple soup, thai garlic ginger chicken over sticky rice, with pumpkin bread for dessert (or a baked apple for dessert)
*reading a engrossing book (usually a fun novel)
*playing with a pet (e.g., offer to walk a friends dog)
*going for long walks
posted by zia at 2:22 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Self-soothing is the ability to move oneself out of an unhappy head space by loving self-talk and thoughts. It can be developed by CBT through being aware of your thoughts. It is all about being compassionate toward yourself.

Tip. Whenever you hear yourself saying/thinking the words "I hate myself" or I hate xxxxx about myself" turn it around immediately and tell yourself "actually, I love myself and I am going to act with love toward myself". Talk to yourself about yourself as you would about your best ever friend in the world. Because that's what you have to be: your own best friend.

Here are some quickly found links on self-soothing. Google for more.
Learning how to self-soothe
Anxiety and how to "self-soothe"

posted by Kerasia at 2:24 PM on January 29, 2010 [9 favorites]

You say you're a part-time grad student; is it the sort of student-status that allows you to join free or cheap athletic clubs? Have you ever tried martial arts study?

I throw a lot of money at my problems, but by FAR the most effective self-soothing thing I've done in the last year or two was to start taking hapkido lessons. Mine are free with my YMCA membership, and the club is a great fit for me because of the particular people I get to interact with there.

Benefits besides (obviously) self-defense: it encourages healthy eating + drinking habits, and indirectly improves your agility, flexibility, strength, and endurance. I find it a lot more engaging than yoga. I'm an atheist and dislike mysticism mixed in with my exercise; FWIW, my instructor's interpretation of ki is a metaphor for adrenaline etc.
posted by tantivy at 2:24 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I guess exercise directly improves things like strength, not indirectly. I swear, the more I try to rewrite that sentence, the less clear it gets. I give up.
posted by tantivy at 2:25 PM on January 29, 2010

When it comes to my body I have one strict rule - if I look in the mirror and say something bad in my head I walk away. It doesn't matter if I haven't finished my makeup yet/brushed my hair/checked my outfit. If I look in the mirror and start with 'oh god look at that gut' there is NO WAY I'm going to recover. So as soon as I start that I walk away. It might be for a moment, it might be for half an hour. Until I can look in the mirror and attend to what I'm actually using the mirror for, I won't stay in front of it. It's gotten to a point where I can look in the mirror, see my post-baby saggy belly and not start in with the trash talk - the belly is there, I carried a child in it, I'm overweight as well, but it's not a big deal. It's just my belly. I still don't spend loads of time in front of the mirror though - quick face check, quick outfit check and done. No standing and plucking and pulling at my clothes. No sucking in and squirming and wishing. I just look, make sure I've wiped the toothpaste off, brushed my hair, not tucked my shirt into my knickers and DONE.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:29 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm very similar to you. I couldn't self-soothe at all not so long ago, and I'm still not that good at it. I'm also an anxious, critical person. These traits do not go well together.

But I've learned to get better.

This is one of those little things that seems SO easy to the people who can do it, but is actually quite difficult to put into practice in your own life if you don't already have the ability.

Start saying to yourself "Self, everything will be just A-okay. I'm going to be out of debt in July and then I'll start working on the next self-improvement project. Yes, I'm not looking my best right now, but that's okay. I'll start working on that in July, once I've paid off all this debt. For the time being, I'm fine. Not my best, but just fine."

The first time you tell yourself this, you won't really feel any better at all. You'll think, "There's no point in doing this, it's a waste of my time and energy. Why don't I go buy myself that awesome hat, that'll make me feel better." Don't give in to these thoughts. You have to keep telling yourself what I outlined above. Remember, you're fine. Everything is fine. Not their ABSOLUTE BESTEST, but good enough. These thoughts will start having a greater and greater effect on you.

See, it's impossible to 'fix' yourself all at once. You're doing yourself a disservice by thinking that your financial woes are the easiest and most straightforward of your issues to fix. You have a bunch of deeply ingrained habits that you are working to divest yourself of, even if you're only doing it subconsciously. Adopting good financial habits are a difficult and commendable goal, one that many many people never end up achieving, or even attempting. It's a pretty major undertaking that deserves, and demands, the entirety of your attention and effort. Once you've achieved financial soundness, you can focus on improving your fitness level, another difficult and commendable goal. But trying to do both at the same time would be like trying to run a marathon while writing a novel, or trying to scale K2 while creating that awesome iTunes alternative you've always wanted.

I think you realize all of this on a conscious, rational level. But your willpower, your ID, your lizard brain, your whatever, doesn't respond to rational entreaties. It needs to be told, over and over. It's like a child, or a dog.

Remember, everything's just fine. You've got some major shit going on. Once you've dealt with that, you'll deal with your other issue. In the mean time, you're just dandy as-is.
posted by sid at 2:30 PM on January 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Three concrete suggestions, and a more esoteric one:
1) Limit what you eat. I'm not talking about amount; I'm talking about the range of meals you eat. Figure out two or three (max) lunches you can bring to work and rotate among them. (Maybe two days for each so you're not scrambling to buy new ingredients all the time. One lunch that I like is half a can of garbanzo beans mixed with chopped celery and red pepper, a can of sustainable, low-mercury tuna, and a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.) Only eat these things. Always have the ingredients in the house. Do the same for breakfast and dinner: You have high-fiber cereal and almond milk for breakfast, or you have sprouted wheat toast with peanut butter or whatever. If you want to, figure out the nutrition info for them, so you can feel confident in your three 600-calorie lunches. Don't make yourself think of new things to eat all the time. (Do make sure that your limited choices have a full range or vitamins and nutrients, though, so you don't end up with, say scurvy.) As long as you decide what you're going to eat, you don't have to count calories or bother with points. Think of it as a way of giving yourself a break from choices. You're setting yourself up to feel good about what you eat.

2) Look at the spending money you've allotted for yourself and take out $100 and go to Target. (I know, you should heal the root of the issue and everything), but buy yourself some new clothes. They have cute and affordable plus-sized stuff. You can't deprive yourself of everything at once. This does mean that that's your spending money for the month. Can you make that sacrifice? Then do it. Splurge in a controlled way.

3) I am not into long walks where I meditate and find peace with silence. I am really into long walks where I listen to podcasts. Terry Gross and I take a walk together most days. Can you make exercise more rewarding for yourself?

4) You sound really overwhelmed and depressed, as did your last two questions. I know you say you are working with a doctor and therapist, but I feel like you're perpetually in a dark place, one I visit every once in a while, and it's not a place where I care to live. Please continue to work with these professionals to make sure you're getting as much care as you need.

And always remember: kindness to yourself. I'm rooting for you.
posted by purpleclover at 2:33 PM on January 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seconding weight lifting. You get visible results within days, you walk taller, and you feel confidently invincible.
posted by dzaz at 2:34 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Something I am working on lately is just being okay doing nothing. Taking some time where instead of having food or TV or whatever to entertain me when I am feeling bad, I just sit still and let my mind wander. If I find it straying into negative thoughts, I turn it toward more positive ones - I actually keep a list in my head of nice things to think about.

Sometimes I do this spacing out while in the shower, sometimes I play nice music in the background. Having mental space lets me unwind and let go of all the stress and anxiety that builds up.
posted by mai at 2:38 PM on January 29, 2010

Do you make art at all? I find that drawing and listening to my favorite music helps to calm me when I'm anxious about everything. YMMV, but if you like to make stuff, draw stuff, write stuff, paint stuff, play music, etc, that's something that might make you feel good, since it's doing something productive, and also relax.
posted by NoraReed at 2:45 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can empathize with the crazy dieting thing. I have been planning since I was a teenager. I have never stuck with one of my crazy plans. I have been very healthy and fit, and there are times when I was less than mentally and physically fit.

What helped me is coming to terms with actually behaving like an adult. I'm a grownup; I can no longer eat an entire plate of brownies or a bag of cookies because I'm stressed and I feel like it. I can't justify eating a loaf of French bread just because it tastes good and I can't charge those new shoes if I don't have the money.

I had to take control of my eating -- not for vanity but for my physical health and my mental well-being.

Keep working on your self-esteem in ways that feel good to you: self-help books, blogs, podcasts, giving back to others any way you can, journaling, spending time with friends that make you happy, doing a great job at work, paying your bills, keeping your surroundings clean, going to the doctor for checkups, spending time in nature, spending time being creative, etc.

Keep working on it and things will get better. Get enough sleep. Start treating yourself with care and love. Continue brown bagging your lunch and eating breakfast and dinner at home. You will consume much less sodium and fat this way. Choose the healthier option ninety-nine percent of the time. Keep exercising on a regular basis. Buy Michael Pollan's "Food Rules".

Remember that there is no magic cure and there is nobody that cares about you like yourself. Don't look at eating less and more healthfully as deprivation, look at it as treating your body well. You're deprived being 100 pounds overweight. Giving up junk food and overeating is not deprivation, it is a gift. This is your one life and your one body. Grow up and start treating it with love and respect -- you are worth it!

If you're depressed -- don't wait to see a therapist or a doctor. Sometimes SSRIs such as Celexa have an added benefit of an appetite suppressant.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 2:47 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding weight lifting. You get visible results within days, you walk taller, and you feel confidently invincible.

Thirding and "confidently invincible" is a great way to put it!
posted by jgirl at 2:49 PM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: so far I haven't found anything that addresses how normal people actually just...HAVE bad feelings and somehow deal with it.

This. Well, if you do want to check out from bad feelings for a while (and don't want to sit there and try to live with them and let them go by, which is really impossible to always do imho), what about cinema? I have streaming Netflix (though obvs if you have a good local video store.. they need the business!) and a long list of films to watch, and I suppose since I'm usually feeling a little guilty about needing to spend the time getting some culture, most of them are classics, art films, famous directors, etc., there are some excellent documentaries as well. Lets you focus on something else for a while.

Or go for looooong walks and maybe take photos, listen to music, or podcasts, or just observe, and if you live somewhere where that's difficult or you're always tempted to go in stores and spend money.. just do. not. bring. credit cards. Only a little bit of emergency cash.

BTW, July is not that far off at all! Congrats on making a plan and getting that done, it'll be done before you know it. Lots of people (myself included) are in more credit card debt than it'd be possible to repay that fast.
posted by citron at 2:54 PM on January 29, 2010

A lot of the suggestions are great and involve no buying, which is best for your budget, but I was also struck by one part of your question.

And if I was not focused on paying off my debt, my first impulse would be to make myself feel better by going out and buying new clothes and getting my hair done and doing other things

You mention that your your new budget gives you some money each week. If saving up for an expensive haircut or item of clothing is not an option because you need to do something now about finding a trainee at a upscale salon? On craigslist trainees post describing the kind of cuts they're perfecting and often work at upscale salons I wouldn't otherwise patronize, but charge about the same or less than a Supercuts cut. Or if you have an afternoon to spare at Ross/Marshall's/other discount store, scour the racks for a great deal on a designer shirt or scarf. I hope you can keep enjoying those things that made you feel better in the past but in a controlled way that doesn't harm your long-term goals.
posted by PY at 2:55 PM on January 29, 2010

Honestly I find planning to be very self-soothing. It gives me a feeling of control while being fun at the same time.

Like you, I'm in the process of losing weight but my weight loss is world record level slow. It's hard to stay motivated, etc, so I have to focus on long-term goals. My husband and I turn 40 in two years and I am planning our epic, amazing birthday party already. And while part of this is that yes I will be tons thinner and look amazing, I like the planning part a lot. I fuck around with invitations online, I look at different venues, consider different bands and menus, etc. (It's sort of like mock spending - I mean, I will spend this money in the future, so it's fun but at the moment it's also pleasantly free.)

So maybe there's a low-stress, longer-term goal vaguely related to your weight loss you and debt clearing you would be interested in planning for. If you can clear your debt by this summer, what would happen if you kept saving at the same rate? Could you (I don't know) go to Italy in two years? That would mean you could start learning conversational Italian now, look at hotels, pick cities, plan an itinerary, borrow library travel books, etc.

Just a thought - it might not be something you'd enjoy, but I like the escapeism and faux spending; maybe you would too.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:01 PM on January 29, 2010

During my roughest times in grad school, I tried a lot of these self-soothing methods. And, at least for me, the pleasure was kind of fleeting. What really helped me feel better about my circumstances and myself was spending a lot of time with my close friends. Fortunately, we were all poor grad students so our activities would often involve free or super low cost activities like cooking dinner together, watching bad reality TV, hiking, etc. Surrounding yourself with people who appreciate you and just laughing with friends is so therapeutic. Even just talking to my really close (but at a distance) friends over GChat was enough to lift my spirits.

On another note, I love jigsaw puzzles. When I'm doing a puzzle, I am just completely focused on the task at hand and I can see my progress. For me, it's a form of meditation. Do you have a hobby that's like that for you?
posted by kookaburra at 3:16 PM on January 29, 2010

One of the best things I learned to do recently is give yourself a pat on the back at the end of each day. Not literally. But when you're lying in bed about to go to sleep, just think about all the good things you've done during the day.
posted by hnnrs at 3:18 PM on January 29, 2010

I have plans for the short, medium, and long-scale. It may be helpful for you to think along these lines, too, and think what you can do in each situation:

Long-scale: If I eat well (easier to do when cooking for myself, like you are!), take regular long walks with the dog, and do regular meditation, my overall mood is stabler and better and lows come less frequently. You're doing a lot of the right things here, and I suspect that over time you'll notice a benefit.

Short-scale: If I'm in an acutely bad mood, or am upset, it's helpful for me to have a plan of what to do. My ability to think and make decisions can be impaired, and nothing I can do feels like it will make me feel better. But I know from a lot of past experience what does actually work -- it doesn't make me happy necessarily, but it stops me from feeling upset. I have a written list of what to do. For instance, if it's a weekend day and I get upset, my list has: 1. Remove myself from the upsetting situation, if necessary. 2. Eat food, if necessary. 3. Read a book for a while to calm down. 4. Go for a long walk. 5. Come back, make tea and a sweet snack, and watch a movie. This is a list to be followed in order. I have other lists for other situations, but exercise and distractions like movies are common.

Medium-scale: I try to make a general practice of feeling my negative emotions, so long as they're not too strong for me to handle. (If they are too strong, I do the steps listed above.) So, using mindfulness techniques, I'll focus on my breathing, try to see where the physical sensations of the emotion are manifested. How bad am I really feeling? Is there pain? Where? Sometimes this makes me feel better; usually it makes me feel a little bit better. But what it definitely does is make me less afraid of feeling that emotion the next time it should arise. I've been there, I've looked at it, it didn't come anywhere close to killing me.
posted by wyzewoman at 3:24 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cleaning and decluttering can be wonderfully relaxing. There's nothing quite like getting rid of trashbags full of unwanted trash and junk to feel light and's a "15 Minutes a Day" decluttering program that makes it manageable.
posted by aquafortis at 3:26 PM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: What helped me in a similar situation:

1. Try and eat at least five fruits and veggies a day, no matter what else you eat. Frozen blueberries and cherry tomatoes and plums are my favorites, and on days where you just don't want to leave your apartment you can still do something healthy if you have fruit and veggies on hand.

2. Comedy--whether TV (try Arrested Development, early seasons of The Office, Seinfeld, etc) or movies or even watching the lame local news and laughing at it. Just something to get you laughing.

3. Use your smaller pool of fun money for "luxuries" that aren't prohibitively expensive: fresh flowers, elegant-smelling soap, new lipsticks, perfume (Kiehl's has really great fragrance oil for $25, lower than most fancy perfumes).

4. Stop reading magazines that feature airbrushed bodies--whether they be fashion mags, "fitness" mags, tabloids, whatever. They are unrealistic and slow-acting poison for your self-image.

5. Stick to your pledge giving yourself permission not to lose weight. It's really easy to fall into a trap here--I've done this before and started thinking of it as a weight-loss strategy (if I don't stress about it, maybe I will finally lose weight!)--but that just leads to disappointment, which leads to feeling bad about myself, etc.

6. A little, uh, physical self-love always makes me appreciate what my body can do.
posted by sallybrown at 3:32 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

What do you like to do, when you have time? For me, it's sewing, or other creative projects - teaching myself basic (very basic) woodworking, etc. I find it immensely satisfying to work on something that gives me concrete, visible results. Painting a room, that kind of thing. When I'm trying not to spend money and still want to treat myself - I know this sounds silly - but I love to go to the library and spend a couple of hours reading magazines I'd never buy, but are still interesting. I like to thrift store shop too, and that's a great way to get more bang for your buck with you so admirably working on your debt and budgeting.
posted by lemniskate at 3:53 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised no one has mentioned meditation yet. A much better explanation than I could write can be found here.
posted by litleozy at 4:03 PM on January 29, 2010

ah, missed it in the question. whoops
posted by litleozy at 4:03 PM on January 29, 2010

Have you reached out to friends and family? I've asked friends for help with goals or done things with friends that would help keep me on track (e.g. trying a new healthy recipe, working out together). Make sure they're friends that won't cause you to backslide--friends who like to go out to eat or have no interest in a healthy lifestyle (mentally and physically) might not be the people to reach out to right now.

Talking to your friends will also help with the self-esteem piece. Being around people I love that love me ALWAYS makes me feel better about myself. And it helps me temper the extremely critical things I say and think about myself with more realistic thoughts. You could try writing down some of the negative things you believe about yourself and asking a friend (or your therapist) to go through them with you. This helped me realize how negative and unfair I was being to myself. Or if you don't feel comfortable reading them to a friend, ask yourself if you would ever say those things about one of your friends. I doubt you would.

If you haven't done Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I highly recommend it. There's a process called a thought record whereby you record negative thoughts, analyze them, and work on coming up with a balanced thought that takes into account the negative thought and the positive aspects of the situation you may not have previously considered. Everyone can benefit from CBT, but I think it's especially good for the hypercritical.

Good luck with everything. :)
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 4:06 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get a dog! Getting one from the pound is cheap to free (soemtimes they run events where you can adopt for free). Having something to care for makes me feel better about myself. Walking a dog is great excercise and a great way to meet people, not to mention the fresh air and scenery. Walking with a little buddy doesn't even feel like excercise to me...just fun. Go to the dog park...I've met tons of good folks there. Being around people and socializing is a great way to get out of your head for a while. You'll have someone that's ecstatic to see you every time you walk in the door, likes you no matter what you look like in the morning (dogs are non-judgemental!), and best of all, you'll be saving a life. Which feels pretty damn good.
posted by Z if for Zillah at 4:32 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like to bicycle. I find that if I try to bicycle to work in the morning I want to strangle someone. If I do it at the big city park near my house, it's OK. If I do it here when I'm done I love everyone in the whole world, despite the fact that my legs are on fire. It may be that you can tweak the nature of your exercise and get a whole lot more soothing out of the deal.

One of the interesting things I found with a martial art is that once you get to a certain point, you have to let go of all that forebrain language center and emotion stuff because there just isn't time to for luxuries like thinking in words. This is not a stage you get to right away, but I've found other activities that involve less bruising that put you in that same concentrate but don't think mental space. I find that when I come out of this state I'm always more serene than when I went into it. (I'm way ADHD as well and can't even comprehend mediation so don't balk at my use of the term concentrate.)

Also, what sorts of hobbies can you stand?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:44 PM on January 29, 2010

Get a dog!

Please do not get a dog unless you have the time, energy, and money necessary to take proper care of one. I agree that dogs are wonderful, but they are also time-consuming and expensive (food, training, medical care), and from your question it sounds like you already have enough on your plate.
posted by sallybrown at 4:48 PM on January 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A few small things I suggest.

1. Read Pema Chodron-- you might start with her book "Start Where You Are"
2. Read "Happiness" by Matthieu Ricard. A great book. It's not quick or easy. Profound.
3. Say to yourself, "The best time to have lost weight/gotten therapy/gotten out of debt was X years ago. The second best time is now."
4. Find someone who needs your help and offer them your help. You *do* have two hours a week to volunteer at an animal shelter/nursing home/school/homeless shelter. We actually do feel better by giving, by altruistic helping. This has been scientifically studied and validated.
5. Walk 20-30 mins. every day.
6. Second the "avoid magazines" suggestion.
7. Make a list of 10 things you enjoy doing. Do one of them this week.

Good luck! You can get through this!
posted by airguitar2 at 5:11 PM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

One thing that might help: don't try to give up your current coping mechanisms, just delay implementing them.

For instance, if you're upset, tell yourself that you can eat a bag of chips...if you're still upset in four hours. Or, you can go buy yourself something cute...tomorrow. Then, try doing something else immediately to get yourself through the waiting period. It might help lower the stakes for yourself mentally if you know the fallback option is there should you need it while you explore other ways to self-comfort.
posted by psycheslamp at 5:29 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are studies that support a link between self-esteem and socialization. Go out and socialize (inexpensively if possible) with friends.
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 6:16 PM on January 29, 2010

My only question is you said you exercise every day and I would ask do you exercise outdoors? Do you live near a park or path or walkable road where you can go out every morning and/or afternoon and walk/jog for miles?

I've had lifelong anxiety problems and outdoor exercise for at least 40 minutes a day and "count your natural breaths" meditation for at least 20 minutes per day has just about turned my life around for the better.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 6:36 PM on January 29, 2010

Volunteer to help people who are a lot worse off than you. It will put your problems in perspective.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:02 PM on January 29, 2010

Paint your toenails a bright colour. I am not really into this sort of stuff that much, so every time I look down and see that my toenails are a fabulous shade, it mades me smile. I do the pedicure myself (it doesn't cost much to buy the stuff). Depending on your budget, you may be able to pay someone else to do it. But doing it myself distracts me, as I have to concentrate or I end up with stuff everywhere! Maybe a do-it-yourself facial would be good too.

I saw this book, 59 Seconds : Think a Little, Change a Lot in the store today. I don't really get into the self-improvement genre too much, but it offers lots of little things to do (and the research backing them).
posted by AnnaRat at 7:06 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I totally feel where you're coming from. My goal for 2010 is to feel better about myself. Like you I'm making the big changes like joining a gym, eating healthier and getting my debt under control. But I've also found that small things can really make a big difference. Do something like dye your hair and get a new doo. Try whitening your teeth, or buying 5 new nice shirts (so you have something nice for each work day). Give yourself a little more grooming time in the morning. Little things like this give you a more immediate sense of self-improvement, and help keep you motivated to reach those long term goals.

Good luck!
posted by bloody_bonnie at 7:30 PM on January 29, 2010

I have many of the same issues as you do, and like you the things that make me feel better the quickest are food and shopping. Shopping in particular feels like a quick fix... throwing money at any particular problem usually makes it a little better, and makes me feel like I am doing something to get things under control, and in the heat of the moment that seems so much more urgent than worrying about my budget (I can just work on that later when everything else is under control, right? Except that never happens...)

Anyway, here are some things that help me feel better that don't involve spending a bunch of money I shouldn't:

Thrift shopping - you can stretch a little bit of spending money a long way at places like Goodwill and Salvation Army. And it's fun! I've found some really cute clothes, artwork, knicknacks for my house, books and all kinds of miscellaneous at incredibly cheap prices. It's rare that I spend more than $20 and I usually get a pretty nice haul of stuff.

Housecleaning - when I am really stressed about the state of my life, I find that cleaning burns off some of that nervous energy. Sometimes you just need to do something, anything, constructive to give yourself back a feeling of control.

Super-organize something in the area you are bugged about: if you are worried about your diet, clean out your pantry, re-organize your kitchen, go through your recipes and put all your favorite healthy ones in a single binder for easy reference. Or if it's money, reorganize your bill paying system, catch up on your filing, etc.

Clean out your closet - get rid of anything that doesn't fit or isn't flattering, then play around making new outfits out of stuff you have

Play around with your makeup & hair stuff and see what new looks you can come up with

Have a "spa day" using stuff you have around the house: salt scrub, oatmeal mask, etc. Use a nice lotion, do all your grooming chores, and just spend a couple hours taking really good care of yourself.

If you're cool with porn, pick up an issue of Voluptuous magazine. Seeing larger women portrayed as sexy and desirable always helps me feel better about my body.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:15 PM on January 29, 2010

Are you, your doctor and/or your therapist open to alternative methods? I was in the same boat with anxiety, where I would know my reactions were really unhealthy, but there was nothing I could do to sway them. They were overpowering emotional feelings, and no matter how many little voices in my head told me I was being irrational and I should stop it, I couldn't stop feeling that way. So, I've been taking care of my body, but how it feels not how it looks. Massage and acupuncture help me be more calm, and feel good in my own skin. They do also cost money, and it can be hard to find in certain areas, but it's worth it if it's available. From there, I've moved on to other forms of therapy that I can tell you about personally if you're curious.

I also make sure I prioritize comfortable shoes and pants. If my body doesn't feel good because I want to look a certain way, and then something goes wrong, I am so much more likely to lose control. Whenever I feel insecure about my looks, I remind myself that I have a Maser's Degree, I've spent a lot of time developing as a person, and I'm doing quite well. It sounds like you have a good job and are furthering your development. Self-soothing would be recognizing that you feel bad because of your body, and reminding yourself that you have other things going for you, and the important people in life appreciate that.
posted by ohisee at 8:23 PM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: dumbledore69: “I am currently ready to jump out of my skin. I hate myself and how I look. I mean, I'm really fat! And if I was not focused on paying off my debt, my first impulse would be to make myself feel better by going out and buying new clothes and getting my hair done and doing other things to make myself feel less awfully ugly and fat. Or at least making some grand recommitment to dieting plan with a strict schedule and plan. But I know if I do that, it's just setting myself up for more disappointment... My therapist said that I seem to lack the ability to "self soothe", but she wasn't very helpful when I said that I just don't know what is soothing other than food or spending money. I know that is totally sick, but it's true. Nothing else soothes me as quickly and efficiently.”

Part of the reason you're so unhappy – and part of the reason you feel (mistakenly) that "nothing else" soothes you besides spending money and eating – is that you've convinced yourself completely that there you are nothing but a physical manifestation and an appearance. People in our own society are often overwhelmed by the reality of physical matter; the biggest symptom of this is what could be called common materialism, and it can take the form, depending upon how moral a person you are, of something between greed and a longing to spend. You can tell that a lot of people have this similar tendency to be overwhelmed by physical matter because so many of the common psychological disorders you see nowadays stem from common materialism; for example, it's a catalyst to narcissism, to anger and frustration – the most angry people I've ever known have usually also been the greediest, and I think that flows from the fact that, if you believe our entire happiness is down to the matter we see and touch in front of us, despair and frustration are easy. I think you're a lot less sociopathic and immoral than those angry people, but you still feel the despair. That's why consumption, what the German philosopher Hegel called 'the negation of existence' – by which he roughly meant spending money and eating – soothes you; because it makes you feel a tiny amount of power over the physical world, which you feel is engulfing you.

I hope all that doesn't sound too abstruse. And I'm not making some kind of religious pronouncement about how 'we aren't just bodies, we have immortal souls!' All I mean when I say that we are more than simply physical bodies is that, well, we are – just like every physical body is more than just an arrangement of molecules. They have place, they have motion, they have momentum, and they have various other qualities. And you are a human being – not just a body – who can do things: walk, talk, read, think, sing, write, etc. I guess what I'm trying to get at is: you sound like you're spending a lot of time focusing on how you look – your weight, and everything you do that may or may not change it – and not very much time thinking about who you are. You don't have to believe in souls and heaven and hell and all that to know that a human being is a whole lot more than how they look.

So my suggestion in general would be to choose and pursue activities that help you focus less on appearance and more on who you are at your core. I said above that spending money and eating don't really soothe you – I meant that. You may feel as though they're soothing you because they soothe certain very unhappy feelings you're having, feelings about the weight of physical reality coming down on you. Eating and spending money are the purest and most direct ways we humans have of exerting control over the physical world – when we eat, we're destroying chunks of matter and making them part of ourselves; and when we spend money, we're taking other chunks of matter and marking them, declaring them our own. There are other powers in the world. Intellectual action, political thought, philosophical and artistic endeavors – these all occur within a realm of the mind, where how you look right now isn't an oppressive weight on you.

Just pick a pleasing, pressure-free pursuit in that realm. Read something fun and imaginative, like science fiction or fantasy. (Escapism is a noble pursuit, especially when you're escaping to a world which is more meaningful and 'real' than the one you're escaping from.) Get into the habit of having long conversations with a friend or two over the phone. Dive into classical music or jazz; learn some stuff about who and when and where, and start listening to some of the greats. In fact, I think maybe the best thing you could do is buy a (cheap - you can find lots for <>use a university piano and learn on that.) A guitar, for example, is pretty easy to pick up and play with a little effort. I think sitting there, making sounds, and enjoying the sounds you're making would be a much healthier way to start approaching who you are.

It's great that you're exercising and working on eating healthier to lose weight. Those are good things. But losing weight is not an absolute goal – it's not the entire purpose of your life – and most importantly you are a vital and active human being even before you lose a single pound. Keep doing the exercise, but make sure you keep the struggle in perspective; you're doing it because it'll make life more enjoyable, and not because your worth as a person depends on it. You're a lot more than what you look like.
posted by koeselitz at 8:25 PM on January 29, 2010 [15 favorites]

Serene Empress Dork: “If you're cool with porn, pick up an issue of Voluptuous magazine. Seeing larger women portrayed as sexy and desirable always helps me feel better about my body.”

Ooh - that reminds me: one thing you could do is model nude for an art class. Most art classes in my experience tend to prize larger women as subjects, since round forms are technically much better for life drawing studies than long, lanky ones. You don't have to do it if it'd make you totally uncomfortable, but I assure they'd be happy to have you, and it can be a wonderfully vivid illustration of how little the commonly accepted requirements for 'how a person is supposed to look' really matter in the long run.

By the way, sorry – html error: the parenthetical(s) in my comment above should have read:

(cheap - you can find lots for < $100!) musical instrument and learn to play it. (And you could even just use a university piano and learn on that.)

posted by koeselitz at 8:35 PM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: You can control and improve your environment; very soothing!

- install an inexpensive wall-mounted shelf to reduce clutter on your bathroom sink or elsewhere;

- paint a room a different, fresh, clean color;

- put some of your stuff in boxes to make your space seem larger or more orderly;

- take stuff out of boxes (if you have some still-packed items) to make your space seem more cozy, friendly, and convenient;

- go through your clothes to find new ways of combining them into outfits;

- take advantage of the amazing recipe repository that is the Internet, find a new, interesting, healthy, inexpensive recipe or two, and enjoy learning to prepare food a new way;

- prepare some interesting meals in advance and freeze them in meal-sized increments;

- knit, sew, embroider, or bead curtains, placemats, clothing items, or accessories for yourself or as gifts;

- clean and polish your shoes or some other item that could use some maintenance;

- dust and clean the inside of your car until you want to be in it.
posted by amtho at 9:35 PM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: Hot baths are divine.

Bubble baths, even more so. Or fun salts.

I used to buy myself junk food and chocolates to make myself 'feel good'. I've since worked on cutting down on that by buying myself healthier options - instead of that candy bar, I get an apple instead. And I've started taking a *lot* of bubble baths s a way to relax, wind down, and treat myself. Very fun, and it's working on reducing my cravings for junk foods as a 'reward' or 'treat'.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:33 PM on January 29, 2010

I am nthing the bubble baths suggestion. I like to put aside an hour or two, run a deep, hot bath with lots of nice-smelling bubbles (I like Imperial Leather) and some bath confetti. I make sure I've got some fluffy, warm towels on the radiator and then I just sooooak. Then I pat myself dry, moisturise and cuddle up in my dressing gown to paint my nails. Yummy. In fact, I think I'll go do that right now.

Best of luck!
posted by teraspawn at 3:38 AM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's awesome that you're exercising every day - to make the most of it, do you have a long-term goal where you can see yourself clearly progressing?

If you're at all into running, sign up for a 5K, or whatever seems slightly challenging to you, find a training programme online, stick it on the wall, and cross off every session you complete (being aware that you inevitably won't do them all and remembering not to beat yourself up for the ones you miss!). Or if it's strength training, ask your gym to create a programme where you can also tick off sessions, and which gets gradually more challenging. Basically, start with a goal that you can't imagine being able to attain, and work towards it. Look back regularly and think "Wow, I didn't used to be able to run for the bus, and now I can run for 10 minutes straight, and if I keep ticking off these sessions, I'll be able to run for 30 minutes by April."

Sorry, I know that doesn't help with the immediate, minute-by-minute need to overcome anxiety, but I do find it increases the psychological benefits of exercise exponentially to make each session part of a bigger achievement, compared to just repeatedly taking e.g. a step class where you do the class and that's that.
posted by penguin pie at 5:27 AM on January 30, 2010

I wonder if you might benefit from attending a few meetings of Overeaters Anonymous. I was a regular for quite a while. Even though I no longer go, and even though I have some issues with twelve-stepping in general, I think you might benefit from the atmosphere, and it might help to move your mind in a new direction.

The reason I'm suggesting OA is because talk there tends to focus on two areas that I think you could use more exposure to:

a) Serenity, as distinct from happiness. Learning to understand the difference between wanting to feel good, and wanting to feel sane.

b) Releasing and uncritically considering the feelings that may lead you to overeat and otherwise mistreat yourself.

Because it's not just about food, sleep, and exercise, although those things are important. It's about giving yourself permission to believe that you deserve to be sane.

I'm not saying that you should get a sponsor or work the steps, or accept any new spiritual beliefs. Just show up and listen. It may give you a new and helpful way of looking at your situation.
posted by bingo at 8:43 AM on January 30, 2010

I use food as a comfort mechanism, too. Lately I've been trying a few things to balance that out. (1) I'll pick a new recipe that has lots of steps, and I find that the process of making a new dish is soothing in itself, and by the time I'm done making the meal I eat less than I would have if I'd just gone to pick up take-out. (2) I'll go to the gym and work really hard to justify eating something that I know is bad for me. In particular, I have a weakness for frozen custard, so if I go to the gym and push myself then I feel like I can justify the indulgence. (Of course the tough part about that is you have to be realistic in knowing how many calories are in the food you want and what you have to do to burn those calories, and so that might not work as well because it borders on calorie counting.)

On the shopping angle, I've taken to shopping for workout clothes. Having sporty gear makes me feel like working out is more fun (and stylish), and I often find it more fun to shop for those clothes than regular things like jeans and dresses - shopping for those things can end up being a downer for me because it just reminds me that I'm overweight. I've been buying stuff from the Nike outlet or the clearance section of the Nike website. I've also bought some stuff at Marshalls/TJMaxx, so that can be kind to the budget.

What you might consider doing when shopping is go ahead and buy what you like, then take it all home and ask a friend to come over and narrow down your choices. That way you get to show off a bunch of new clothes, but you can also stick to a budget by returning outfits that aren't worth the expense.
posted by Terriniski at 9:48 AM on January 30, 2010

Since getting a pet does sound like a lot for you right now, as the person above noted: A great way to spend quality endorphin-releasing dog-time (or kitty-time) without owning a dog (or kitty) is to volunteer at the local humane society or pound. Your "job" is to walk dogs or cuddle puppies and kitties. Yayyyyy. Uh, it helps if you're an animal person before going this route, obvs.
posted by NikitaNikita at 5:08 PM on January 30, 2010

self esteem = esteemable acts

someone once told me this and it completely blew my mind. doing esteemable things for self, others and community builds self-esteem.
posted by beckish at 7:57 PM on January 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just think about some of the things that make you happy and try doing at least one of them daily.
posted by sandyb at 1:11 PM on January 22, 2011

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