When you’re in the thick of it, when you’re struggling with sadness, when you yearn to try another diet, when you’re angry with yourself for yet another mistake, when you feel like losing weight will fix everything, it’s so hard to pull yourself out. Of course, acknowledging those feelings, accepting their presence and not judging yourself is foremost.
But during those times we also could use some encouragement and support and hope. And, in addition to talking to trustworthy loved ones, we could use that encouragement and support and hope from ourselves.
Naturally, in the moment this isn’t easy to do. In fact, it frequently feels impossible. Which is why we need to turn to our past selves.
Here’s what I mean: Psychotherapist Sheri Van Dijk specializes in treating individuals with bipolar disorder. She has her clients write a letter to themselves when they’re stable that they read when they’re struggling. For instance, they write a supportive letter to their depressed self, saying something like: You won’t be depressed forever. Your mood will change. It’s important that you stay on your meds, and attend your therapy sessions. This will help you weather the storm, and soon you’ll be on the other side. It will get better. You will get better.
I think this is a powerful strategy for all of us, whatever we’re struggling with. It’s a strategy we can add to our coping toolkit, because it’s a compassionate way to approach and relate to ourselves, especially during a time we need it most, when we’re vulnerable and shaking and unsure.
And you can write all kinds of letters to your future self, letters that help you during all kinds of difficult times. Here are just some examples:
- When you’re feeling like you need to get on a diet
- When you hate your body
- When you’re convinced you can’t do anything right
- When you’re yearning to restrict your food
- When you’re stressed out and overwhelmed
- When you’re second-guessing yourself
- When you need a pep talk: for applying to a job you think is out of reach, for negotiating a raise, for pitching a new publication, for saying no and creating a boundary
- When you want a drink
- When you feel you have to punish yourself for eating by going to the gym or sticking to a strict eating regimen
- When the simplest task feels insurmountable, like getting out of bed or taking a shower or paying a bill or calling the plumber
- When you’re deeply disappointed in yourself
- When you feel very lonely and like you’ll feel that lonely forever
Your letter can be a paragraph or a few pages long. You can even dedicate a small notebook to composing a series of letters. On top of each page, you might write, “Read when you’re feeling ________” or “Read when you need ________.”
In your letter you might talk about how you’re not alone, and how everyone struggles. Everyone. You might talk about the importance of sitting with your pain, of honoring it, of putting on some music, and letting it flow through you. You might include some wise, supportive words from others (like Laura for staying sober, thriving and strengthening your resilience; and Emily for finding joy in food; and Jennifer for accepting your body and savoring a fulfilling life).
And you might list some specific strategies or activities that can help, that usually help you (e.g., getting outside; making a list of what’s bothering you; dividing a difficult task into the teeniest, tiniest steps; talking to your mom; taking a yoga class; going for a run; drawing what you’re feeling; going to therapy; going to AA). Because when we’re struggling, we tend to forget. We tend to forget what helps and what gets us through.
Writing a letter to your future self is powerful because when you read that letter during a difficult time, you will remember that you’ve struggled, and you’ve absolutely emerged from the stressful, tricky, awful, anxiety-provoking situation, the rubble, the darkness, the mess. And you will again. And you will read this in your own words, and in your own handwriting, and that’s incredibly powerful, too.