In Parts I and II, we examined the beliefs and values of corporate America and how this can contribute to anxiety and anxiety disorders. The intensity of the American work ethic and corresponding stress and anxiety also leaves employees susceptible to eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors.
Eating Disorders & Work Stress in Corporate America
The stress-level of the work environment in corporate America is often high due to issues discussed in Part I in this series, such as working long hours, not taking (or having access to) necessary breaks, engaging in work outside of scheduled or paid hours, and productivity requirements ranking above employee mental health.
The stress alone can result in onset or relapse into eating disorder behaviors. One study identified that “participation in stressful tasks is shown to increase ED cognitions and behaviors and (that) stressful life events, particularly those work-specific in nature, have been shown to predict ED relapse .”
Additionally, disordered eating behaviors can begin simply out of stress, causing decreased appetite, not having enough time for meals throughout the workday, and stress and burn-out, making appropriate nutrition more difficult when one returns home. For those that have struggled with eating disorders before and are working to continue or achieve recovery, a stressful work environment can be triggering.
People often use eating disorder behaviors as an ineffective coping skill for emotion dysregulation. If they find themselves experiencing work-related anxiety they do not know how to effectively cope with, they may relapse into old disordered habits.
Challenges in Coping
Coping with this increased stress and anxiety is not as simple as self-care alone. The nature of work stress is that it does not often cease because the work does not cease. Circumstances such as overworking and burn-out, working on stressful projects or subject matter, or working in a toxic work environment are circumstances unlikely to change or that the individual cannot change on their own.
Also, many do not have the luxury of setting boundaries with their workplace, particularly in the highly competitive culture of corporate America. Setting a boundary on working hours, breaks, vacations, self-care days, or even considering leaving a job is something many cannot do without jeopardizing their future career or financial situation.
Further, workplace stigmatization of mental health issues is a serious problem, making many feel uncomfortable disclosing when they are struggling.
This stigmatization is even more challenging for those with eating disorders as studies indicate that “more negative attributes are assigned to EDs than to severe depression, panic attacks, schizophrenia, and dementia .”
If the issues raised in this series are all-too-familiar with you, know that you do have some choices. Every organization is required to have a Human Resources department to address any challenges employees are having, whether it be work relationships, environment, hours, or performance expectations.
There are also government organizations and non-profits that advocate for employees’ rights to be heard in regard to these topics. Reaching out to any number of these will likely help you learn your rights and communicate them to your workplace.
It is also important to practice self-accountability, setting boundaries on taking the breaks provided to you, leaving work at the appropriate time and not taking it home, and engaging in appropriate self-care, therapy, and restorative stress-release activities. Make sure to protect yourself despite the corporate America culture.
If all of this fails, it is worth considering that there are times when setting a firm boundary, even if it means leaving your job or making a change, is worth it to save your life and take care of your mental well-being.
Resources: Siegel, J. (2018). Eating disorders in the workplace: a qualitative investigation of women’s experiences. Psychology of Women Quarterly; 43:1.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published November 19, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 19, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC