Support Your Mental Health: Addressing Body image and Mental Health

With summer and sunny days just around the corner, body image issues and eating disorders often become worse. The obvious reasons of more revealing clothing, airbrushed models in advertisements, diets and workout plans populating your television, magazines, and social media can trigger even the most mentally healthy among us into negative or self-deprecating thoughts. However, lack of structure in the summer months (think: vacation) can lead to disrupted routines, more free time, increased social obligations or decreased social interaction which can all lead to unhealthy behaviors and trigger body image issues and eating disorders.

Body Image and Mental Health

Body image is how you think about, feel about, and treat your body; it is both mental and emotional. Body image and self-esteem directly influence a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and can deeply impact your mental health. Dissatisfaction with your body can lead to more complex issues, such as eating disorders, if not addressed. Our mental image of our bodies and our emotional struggles to accept our bodies as they are can lead to immediate negative thoughts that turn into a negative impact on your overall mental health. For example, someone dealing with being overweight might not fit into the shorts they wore last summer which could lead to thoughts of “I’ve gotten so fat”. Then, the thoughts might turn into “I am huge…I’m not good enough…How could anyone love me.” The initial thought may turn into action that eventually drives change, but the subsequent thoughts can have a lasting negative impact on your mental health. When distorted or negative body image leads to feelings about your worth as a person, your body image is negatively impacting your mental health.

Most people have considered modifying some aspect of their physical appearance such as changing the color of their hair, trying to minimize the appearance of a scar, or working out to tone their arms. However, the “imperfections” in these cases are not all-consuming. In other words, healthy body image does not mean that you think your body is perfect, but you are comfortable with the body you have and take good care of it. Simply noticing imperfections is not a sign of poor mental health, but when you consistently negative feelings and persistent thoughts about your body image, it can lead to overall mental and physical health struggles.

How to Encourage Healthy Body Image

  • Eat well-balanced meals
    • Exercise to make you feel strong, never as a punishment
    • Dress in way that makes you feel good about yourself
    • Surround yourself with positive friends and family
    • When you judge your body, try to find at least one trait (physical or non-physical) that you absolutely love about yourself
    • Practice doing what makes you happy (and can get your mind off of your body image)

*information from: http://www.hartsteinpsychological.com/summer-triggers-body-image-issues, https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/body-image-self-esteem-and-mental-health, https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/body-image-mental-health, https://projecthelping.org/body-image-mental-health/

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