“Get beach body ready!” — a familiar advertisement for well intentioned fitness centers.
As the summer months begin, many in the city and surrounding Bay Area will head to the beaches, lakes, and pools for some quality downtime. Unfortunately for some, this can be less than pleasant, as they are forced to confront body image issues. High achievement is a common trait in the Bay, and it absolutely influences how people look at their bodies. For those already working through other anxieties, this only adds to the list of things to worry about. Below are some tips to help work through this common anxiety.
Talking back to the critical voice
If you are able to change how you respond to the critical body image thoughts, then you can change how you feel about your body. Try the following exercise.
First, accept that the critical thoughts about your body are going to show up. This is something you do not have control over. Criticizing yourself for having critical thoughts is only going to make you feel worse.
Second, write down all of these thoughts on paper. For example, if you say to yourself “You’re fat and lazy” you would write this down, word for word.
Third, reach out to someone that you care about. Then, from the paper that has all of your critical body image thoughts, tell them they are all those things you have written down.
For example, if you tell yourself “Your stomach is disgusting” tell this person their stomach is disgusting.
There’s no way you would do step three!
Finally, write down all the reasons why you would not treat this person that you care about in such a critical way.
The next time your critical voice has something to say about your body, use these reasons to speak back and provide yourself with support.
Self care goals
When setting goals, try shifting to a mindset to be healthy, as opposed to looking a specific way.
As a general rule, when you treat yourself well, you will feel healthy. By eating properly, drinking or smoking less, and exercising, you make it easier to improve your mood.
To continue healthy habits, try to identify the nudges that made it easier to follow through with these goals.
For example, is it easier to maintain a healthy diet if healthy foods are readily available. If they’re not, we’re likely to go into hangry mode and start to crave unhealthy foods to satisfy the hunger.
Remove social media images
Looking at pictures of perfectly fit models on social media eventually leads to self criticism.
Do your best to unfollow or remove these pictures.
It might be easier to unfollow if you are able to replace the behavior with another activity that is also enjoyable.
For example, when you feel the urge to look at a model’s updates, instead reach out to friends/family, play a game on your phone, or looking at other (non model) engaging pictures instead.
If you are not willing to unfollow these models, try using an opposite action skill. There are many opposite action skills, but the theme is the same. If an emotion is not helpful (i.e. being self critical) then act / think / feel in a way that is the opposite of the emotion.
For example, if the typical emotional response is to feel jealous and self critical when looking at models on social media, the opposite action is to be happy and congratulatory for the effort somebody has exhibited in achieving this level of fitness. (Don’t forget to extend the congratulations to the skilled Photoshop editor as well!)
Feel free to to contact Good Therapy SF for more help with this, and other anxiety issues.