When we talk about mental health, we talk a lot about the brain; however, mental health isn’t all in the brain, it can affect and be affected by our bodies too. In this post we talked about the brain-body connection and how mental illness can have physical symptoms. But what happens when it is the other way around? What happens when our bodies have a negative impact on our mental health?
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Self-esteem is a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value – in short, it is how much you like and appreciate yourself. It can involve a variety of different beliefs about yourself, including beliefs about your appearance and your worth.
Body image describes how you view your body, not just in mirrors or in photos, but in your mind. Body image encompasses the thoughts and feelings about one’s body, including how it feels to move in that body, perceptions of body shape, and beliefs about appearance. These thoughts about body shape are often tied to a person’s self-esteem and their ability to practice self-love.
It is most important to understand that self-esteem and body image are not in the mirror, they are in our heads. The way we think about the way that we look can have a real impact on our moods. Here’s an example – as someone who is in recovery for an eating disorder, this is a daily occurrence: I see my legs in the reflection of a glass door and my immediate thought is ‘oh my gosh, my thighs are huge.’ Then, I make the leap from this to ‘I feel huge… I’m not good enough… why would anyone love me?’ These negative thoughts about my body can turn into thoughts that have a negative impact on my mental health; I feel discouraged and want to give up, I stop practicing self care, and I wallow in those negative thoughts. Every time this happens, I have to tell myself that the shape and size of my body does not determine my worth and that I have more to offer the world than just the shape of my body.
Body Image and Mental Health
The affect of poor body image on mental goes beyond occasional negative thoughts. A study at Bradley Hospital found that people with weight preoccupations or body dysmorphic disorder display higher levels of symptoms for depression and anxiety, and are more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Because of this, part of maintaining mental health involves also maintaining a healthy body image. By treating your body with respect and practicing self-love for your body, you can improve your mental health.
So, how can I have a healthier body image?
- Eat and move in a way that makes you brain and your body happy – not as a way to control your body shape
- Surround yourself with positive friends and family. On social media unfollow anyone who promotes one body type over another and shames people for their body.
- When you have negative thoughts about your body, think about what you’re feeling and where those thoughts might be coming from. Are you stressed? Anxious? What is really going on?
- Practice self-care and remind yourself that you are worthy of love and kindness.
- Dress in clothes you like and clothes that fit how you want them to fit.
- Seek support from friends and family members.
- Stop comparing yourself to others.
- Notice when you have negative thoughts about another person’s body and turn that thought into something positive.
How has body image affected your mental health? Let us know in the comments or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to do an interview for this blog!