6 Strategies For Improving Body Image

A group of 5 teenagers looking at their cell phones, possibly good candidates for improving body image

The reflection you see in the mirror may seem straightforward for a quick passing. “Good hair day,” “bad hair day,” “looking good,” “just not feeling it.” But, in truth, what you see is more than visual. It’s deeper and more complex than that.

Your “acceptance” or “rejection” of a moment’s reflection in a mirror is really about your acceptance or rejection of what lies within you.

Approval? Disapproval? Love? Shame?

Strategies for improving body image can help you clarify these messages from within. And they can ultimately help you break free from the ones that don’t honor your inherent beauty and worth. 

These strategies, however, are not easy. There is no magic bullet when it comes to matters of health, whether that be of the body, mind, or spirit. 

The good news is that you can improve body image. And you don’t need to change your body or use toxic positivity to do so.

Body image is a relationship. In fact, it’s among the most important relationships you’ll ever have.

Body image is the relationship you have with your own body and includes thoughts, feelings, behaviors, perceptions, and culture.

If your body image is negative, you can’t feel good about yourself as a person. 

The same is true the other way around: If you don’t appreciate yourself as a person, you’ll probably have lousy body image.

A negative perception of your own body inevitably expands to other aspects of life.

Strategies for improving body image are not an all-or-none deal. To go from hating to loving your body is unrealistic, especially in Diet Culture (which is basically all of Western culture).

Improving body image doesn’t necessarily mean changing or loving your body.

The most common approaches to improving body image don’t work.

Why? Because they are predicated on being at war with your own body.

Dieting and weight loss will not improve your relationship with your body. That’s because improving body image is about more than making your body into what Diet Culture says you should look like.

So let’s say that one more time: Dieting and weight loss will not improve your relationship with your body.

Improving body image is so much easier said than done. (Thanks, Diet Culture.)

The reality is that Diet Culture will try its hardest to seduce you back into the land of false promises. “Your body is the problem. And, if you just ‘fix’ your body by losing weight, you’ll have a better body image. ‘Fix’ your body, love your body.”

That’s the empty promise of Diet Culture.

When you realize that trying to shrink your body size doesn’t work (i.e. diets fail, and changing your body doesn’t lead to long-term happiness or fulfillment), accepting reality becomes easier. 

And, once you can accept reality and “be” with “what is,” you can move forward.

Here is the truth: Weight loss or manipulation of your body into a smaller size or shape by some other means is not going to heal body image problems.

Why? Because your body is not the problem.

The problem isn’t a world populated by bodies of different genders, races, sizes, and abilities.The problem is the system that marginalizes them and demands they change. 

It must be more inclusive. Otherwise it’s incomplete.

Body positivity, as liberating as it sounds at first, can become toxic because it still emphasizes physical appearance more than your body’s functionality and dignity.

Truly living in a body – through taste, breath, touch, mobility, eating, and aging – is about so much more than just how you look in your body.

Social media and other technology burden us with tendencies to compare our bodies with other people’s.

Methods/considerations for improving body image:

1. Start where you are on the body image continuum.

No need to feel daunted. You can go at your own pace as you travel the body image continuum.

By applying the philosophy of the continuum, improved body image will present as body respect, body neutrality, body acceptance, body trust, and ultimately body love.

Even if body love seems out of reach, keep it in mind as a possible goal.

Unfortunately, the body image continuum exists within entrenched systems of oppression, also known as Diet Culture.

Diet Culture has to be dismantled in order to collectively improve body image.

As an individual, you have some agency when it comes to systemic change. Finding resources and methods to challenge the “ism’s” of Diet Culture is difficult. But it’s possible, especially as a community.

According to the body image-continuum approach, improving body image starts with body respect.

Body respect is the first step in improving body image.

You don’t have to love your body or even like how it looks. But you can always choose to treat it with respect.

No matter how you feel about your body, it has been there for you and with you since you were born. Nothing you’ve done or accomplished would have been possible without your body. 

That alone warrants respect.

In practice, body respect means listening to and fulfilling the needs of your body. It means purposely not doing anything harmful to your body such as restriction, overexercising, dieting, or purging.

In short, body respect means giving your body what it needs…and protecting it as you would your own child.

Body neutrality is the second step in improving body image.

In this phase, you accept your body as it is. You recognize you’re ‘enough’ and not ‘too much.’ 

You also accept that you can live your life without a strong emphasis on your body’s appearance.

Body neutrality is …..

  • falling asleep thinking about things other than your body and what you’ll do tomorrow to lose weight.
  • freedom from obsession.
  • a foundation.
  • the place from which you can work toward building body positivity if you want to.

Body acceptance is the third step in improving body image.

Body acceptance is just as it sounds – accepting your body, as it is, today. With acceptance, you don’t necessarily have to feel positive about your body; but you work with it where it is.

Body trust is the fourth step in improving body image.

In this phase, you trust your body’s cues and signals and respond with respect.

If your body is hungry, you eat. If your body feels uncomfortable dressed in a certain style, you change your clothing or make adjustments to be comfortable.

In any good relationship, you build trust. You earn trust. 

The same goes for the relationship you have with your body.

Building body trust is like building trust in any relationship. It goes both ways. You trust your body. Your body trusts you.

Body love/body positivity

There’s more to body positivity than having confidence in a bikini. Liking your appearance is only part of body positivity. 

Bodies are constantly changing, so it’s silly to zero in solely on liking your appearance. What about instead focusing on how you treat your body?

A relationship based solely on liking your looks wouldn’t feel good. Nor would it last. Similarly, a love of your body based solely on appearance won’t last, either.

Shift toward greater appreciation for what your body does for you. 

Your body is more of an instrument than an ornament.

2. Take a step back.

Think about the bigger picture: Diet Culture, the weight loss industry, social injustice, weight stigma, the science of weight. 

The relationship we each have with our body is complex, regardless of race, gender, social status, or any other factor. It carries history, memory…and promise.

Have self-compassion. Recognize that true change will take time. 

You could choose to start right now. No need to micromanage. Just go step by step.

The goal is not immunity to criticism. It’s about recognizing feelings and working on becoming more resilient to cultural messages and societal toxicity.

Everybody’s experience with improving body image is going to be different.

Accepting “what is” means you’ll have parts of yourself you like, parts you dislike, and parts you feel neutral about.

Improving body image is about divesting worth from appearance. It’s about getting to a place where you know you are intrinsically valuable and worthy.

You stop dwelling on your body because how you look is not the primary way you define yourself.

3. Expect ebbs and flows.

Just as the moon’s phases and the ocean’s tides change, bodies change.

Improved body image means you get up each day and accept what is. You recognize aspects of your body that you weren’t keen about yesterday and that you may feel neutral about today.

On some days, separating your worth from your appearance is easy. 

On other days, however, it may be hard to recognize that your value as a human isn’t based on your body.

4. It’s OK to care about how you look.

Being human means we want to feel a sense of belonging, which, at one point, was central to survival (and might still be). It’s natural to want to be liked, approved-of, and accepted. 

It’s also natural to want to be considered desirable.

Approximating the societal ideal with our bodies is a way to belong, if only because “everyone else” is doing the same thing.

The concern is how narrowly defined “attractiveness” is in our culture and the degree to which it’s based on oppression (see #6).

5. Acknowledge grief, loss, and anger.

Going to all sorts of efforts to have a body defined as the cultural ideal has taken up lots of your time and energy. You know that weight loss is not sustainable And yet, you’ve used up tons of resources going down that rabbit hole, even by thinking “this diet will be different.” (But it never is.)

Give yourself some grace. Allow yourself to feel sadness, anger, or whatever other emotion you feel for what you’ve given up or lost in your socially sanctioned self-improvement attempts (i.e. dieting.)

6. Body image is a social justice issue.

Social oppression is a mixture of sexism, classism, racism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism, and size-discrimination.

All the “‘ism’s” influence body image.

Bodies considered beautiful tend to be thin, white, able-bodied, and young. The message is that “fat and old are bad,” and “thin and young are good.” And that there is nothing in between.

So, if you really boil it down, poor body image is not an individual’s ‘fault’. People have been taught by culture not to accept themselves as they are.

Being able to trust, accept, respect, and be kind to your body – regardless of your weight, skin color, abilities, or age – is your birthright. Western culture disagrees…and profits from your dissatisfaction.

What if, instead of trying to fix yourself to fit into sociocultural standards, you challenged the status quo?

Your body is not the problem. Status quo is.

This article just skims the surface of how to improve body image. That’s for two main reasons.

First, body image is a complex topic. Unpacking it all and doing it justice takes more than a blog article. 

Second, as long as Diet Culture exists, so will poor body image.

The social injustice of poor body image doesn’t have to prevent you from accessing your body’s profound wisdom.

You have much more fulfilling ways to live a meaningful life than hating on your body.

beautiful display of food represebtubg a lifestyle of improvd body image
Two feet, indicative of hopefully body appreciation and improved image

Micromanaging your body = missing out on genuine meaning in your life.

Living fully with and in your body need not be a radical act.

Starting right now.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist specializing in body image, eating disorders, and High Sensitivity. Her passion is helping people live their best lives in the glorious bodies they already have.

7 Physical Effects Of Anxiety And Depression

a woman appearing angry with fists tensed and her body jumping, seemingly displaying physical effects of anxiety and depression

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas; but, when it comes to anxiety and depression, there are no “secrets.” Despite their mental origins, they have far-reaching effects on the body. The physical effects of anxiety and depression provide strong evidence that your mind and body are always in communication with one another. (It may come as small consolation, but anxiety and depression are not all in your head.)

Your mind and body interconnect; so, whatever your mind thinks/feels, your body also feels.

This synergy between the mind and body allows you to fully respond to emotions, thoughts, and sensations.

It therefore makes sense that, when you feel anxious or depressed, you physically feel effects, despite their mental origin.

General information about anxiety:

Everyone knows what anxiety feels like. Because it’s the body’s natural response to stress (and everyone experiences stress), no one escapes this life “anxiety-ignorant.”

There are different forms of anxiety, including worry, fear, and nervousness.

Giving a toast at a friend’s wedding, starting a new job, or going on a first date, for example, are naturally stressful situations.  They evoke a “what will happen next?”/apprehension-type of stress.

Occasional, situational anxiousness is completely normal. It’s transient in nature and doesn’t culminate in emotional derailment.

Even in these fleeting, innocuous occurrences, however, you will experience physical signals of your anxiety. 

Think back to the last time you felt a bit of “stage fright” before facing an uncomfortable (or simply unfamiliar) situation. Did your heart speed up? Your legs tremble? Your mouth feel dry?

Perhaps you even felt a bit nauseous.

Did you connect the dots between your physical symptoms and your nervousness? Or were you too nervous to put two and two together?

It may surprise you to know that many of the world’s most revered celebrities have always struggled with performance anxiety (“stage fright”). This is an important point of reference because it attests to the connection between the mind and body, regardless of preparedness, perception, expectation…or fame.

Most forms of anxiety, including anxiety disorders, have overlapping symptoms. How, then, are you supposed to know if your anxiety is appropriate for the situation of the moment or is something more serious?

If anxiety significantly interferes with your life, it may be considered a disorder. Six examples of anxiety disorders include:

  1. phobias
  2. social anxiety
  3. post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  4. generalized anxiety disorder (GAD
  5. panic disorder
  6. obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Regardless of whether a person’s anxiety is a disorder, treatments and coping strategies are available.

Panic disorder is a form of anxiety that affects over a quarter of Americans in the form of panic attacks.

Panic attacks come on suddenly and “out of the blue.” And they have major mind and body symptoms.

The symptoms of a panic attack can be so severe that you may be convinced you’re going to die. 

You may experience overwhelming fear along with intense physical sensations – pounding heart, blurred vision, dizziness, an inability to hear. You may also start to feel hot or faint. 

Why? Because your fight-or-flight system is temporarily going bonkers.

Even though you feel super-intense emotions on the inside, they’re usually not visible from the outside.

A good example of this is the panic attack news journalist Dan Harris had on national television in the early 2000’s. In this video clip, he gives a humble, honest, step-by-step appraisal of what was happening to him…and why.

He also shares his moment of awareness and the steps he took to gain control (in part by giving up control) of his panic disorder.

Panic attack symptoms are not dangerous.

It’s important that you repeat this to yourself because what you experience on a feeling level is incongruent with the perceived danger.

In fact, to give your body the opportunity to learn to manage anxiety, general guidance advises you to experience the symptoms and not resist them.

That doesn’t mean you should allow the panic to take over and cause a downward spiral. It does mean learning techniques for recognizing and guiding yourself through the constricting symptoms of the attack.

This coping principle applies not only to panic attacks, but to the emotional and physical effects of anxiety and depression in general.

The simplest and most effective conscious response? Breeeathe. Slowly, deeply, intentionally…breeeathe.

Typically, the more you breathe into the frightening sensations, the more your fear will diminish. (Thank you, mind-body connection!)

Physical effects of anxiety include:

  • sweating
  • racing thoughts
  • lightheadedness
  • feeling like you may have diarrhea or are going crazy
  • sensation of blood pulsing through your body
  • increased heart rate
  • blurred vision
  • dry mouth
  • ringing in ears
  • hands shaking

Although the symptoms of panic disorder are not physically dangerous, you should still seek help as soon as possible for the condition. 

Learning to recognize and respond to underlying thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will help to improve anxiety in general.

In the same way that your body experiences physical effects of anxiety (and depression) that have unconscious origins, it also responds to consciously applied coping skills.

Now let’s talk specifically about depression….

General information about depression:

Depression is so much more than feeling sad. It is not the situationally appropriate feeling of sadness or deflation in response to negative experiences or loss.

Depression is like a fog that pervades your mind and makes you feel sad, hopeless, and uninterested in things you used to enjoy. 

It can also show up as irritability and crabbiness or lethargy and fatigue.

“Depression” is actually an umbrella term for many different mood issues. 

As with anxiety, symptoms associated with depressive disorders overlap, despite distinguishing differences.

Because of depression’s negative emotions and thoughts, it may seem to be just “what’s going on in your head.”

However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Depression is not “just in your head.”

Again, because of the inextricable connection between the mind and body, depression is also physical.

As with anxiety, there are different forms of depression. 

Feeling bummed or disappointed is not the same as feeling depressed. Neither is grief.

If depression interferes with daily life functioning, it may be considered a disorder. 

If that’s the case, please consult with your primary care physician. Treatments for depression abound – from pharmaceutical and/or therapeutic protocols to behavioral and lifestyle adjustments.

Forms of depression that are considered a disorder include:

  1. major depression (clinical depression)
  2. dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder)
  3. seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  4. adjustment disorder with depressed mood

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as an example of depression.

Starting in late fall or early winter, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) start to emerge for some people. SAD occurs much more often in women than in men and is more common in the north, where winter daylight hours are shorter than further south.

The symptoms of SAD tend to begin in young adulthood and occur most often in people who have other mental health issues.

Signs and symptoms of SAD include oversleeping, overeating, and feeling very tired, emotionally drained, lethargic, and depressed during winter months.

Symptoms of SAD tend to go away in the spring and summer, when there is more daylight.

Physical effects of depression include:

  • sleep interruptions (trouble falling asleep; trouble staying asleep; waking up early and not falling back to sleep)
  • appetite problems (feeling less hungry or more hungry)
  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • lack of interest in things you used to enjoy doing
  • frequent stomach aches or headaches
  • restlessness or slowing down
  • dry mouth
  • trouble concentrating
  • headaches
  • memory problems

Mind and body automatically interconnect through the highs, lows, and stressors of life.

Taking care of your mind and mental health means you’re simultaneously doing the same for your body and physical health.

Your mental and physical health are both important. Recognizing the mind-body connection provides you with the ability to change the way your body reacts to thoughts and feelings. 

 A healthy mind and healthy body go hand in hand.

May you find peace of mind and body.

“Let go of control and find refuge in the body’s immediate present sensory field. When the mind relaxes its grip, the body models sustained attention. The body leads the way. It’s a great relief for the mind…”

—Willa Blythe Baker, “The Body Is Already Mindful”

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a MA-based psychologist, specializing in eating disorders, body image, and High Sensitivity. Contact her here to learn more.

40 Common Signs And Symptoms Of Eating Disorders

the naked torso of a woman demonstrates possible signs and symptoms of eating disorders

Common signs and symptoms of eating disorders can be tough to recognize. They’re sneaky, subtle, and often socially accepted. 

Distinguishing between what’s “normal” and what’s indicative or symptomatic of a disorder is difficult.

Thanks a lot, Diet Culture. (Trigger warning.)

a headless manequin illustrating diet culture as a source of eating disorder signs and symptoms
a blurry image of a woman's face and fingers peering out of a curtain

Eating disorders involve so much more than food. They’re not about vanity or attention-seeking.

Eating disorders are treatable. But they are presentations of a serious mental health condition that requires expert medical and psychological care. 

Eating disorders are life-threatening.

Twenty-million American women and ten-million men suffer from eating disorders or have at some point in their lives. Whether or not you’re aware, you probably know people who have or have had an eating disorder.

People can and do recover, with treatment. Recovery is more likely the sooner an eating disorder is identified and treated.

That’s why it’s so important to know common signs and symptoms of eating disorders. This is life-saving knowledge.

People with eating disorders typically don’t volunteer the information.

They tend to deny their symptoms and often refuse treatment. Rarely do they seek help on their own.

Keep in mind that each person with an eating disorder will not exhibit all the signs and symptoms listed below. Signs and symptoms vary across types of eating disorders and across people.

What is generally true is that eating disorders affect all aspects of people’s lives, including emotions, behaviors, and physical well-being. People of all races, religions, sizes, shapes, genders, socio-economic status, and any other variable you can think of develop eating disorders.

What are emotional signs and symptoms of eating disorders?

  • attitudes and comments that suggest weight, dieting, and control of food are the most important things in life
  • sudden interest in weight loss, diets (e.g., keto), or specialized “lifestyle” (e.g. no carbohydrates)
  • preoccupation with food, weight, dieting, carbs, calories, food labels
  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • feeling guilty around food or about eating

Here is a hypothetical example for illustration:

Jess begins a diet because she “feels fat (even though “fat” is not a feeling).

First, she scours the internet for “best diets,” “clean eating,” and “how to go keto.. She follows Influencers on Insta and TikTok for tips. She has no interest in doing anything else, and her moods are up and down. For the first time ever, she refuses to eat her favorite birthday cake (red velvet) on her birthday. 

All she thinks about is food. Her goals in life revolve around weight loss. She feels happiest when the scale indicates weight loss. But the happiness is short- lived and quickly replaced by anxiety about how to keep losing weight. 

She feels “in control” and “out of control” at the same time.

What are behavioral signs and symptoms of eating disorders?

  • excessive exercise, including exercising despite injury or illness
  • dieting/starving
  • binge eating
  • self-induced vomiting
  • laxative, diuretic, and/or diet pill abuse
  • food-chewing and -spitting
  • hiding food
  • having an artificially low body weight
  • impulsive or irregular eating habits
  • refusal to eat certain foods or categories of food (e.g. no fats, no dairy, no sugar)
  • food rituals (e.g. excessively cutting food, foods cannot touch)
  • skipping meals or eating tiny portions
  • suddenly becoming vegan
  • withdrawal from friends, activities
  • frequent mirror-checking
  • using the scale multiple times each day and allowing the  number to determine the direction of the day.

Example:

After she weighs herself, Megan starts her day with a strict exercise routine. She has lots of rules she has made up that she has to follow in order to “earn” any food. Recently she declared she is vegan.

In response to dieting and excessive exercising, she binge eats 2x/week. The food she binges on is food she won’t otherwise allow herself to eat. 

Binge eating is secretive, rapid, and a source of shame. It is followed by a promise to herself that she will never do that again and will instead “try harder” to stick with fanatical exercise and extreme dieting. 

She constantly checks her stomach size in the mirror and by grabbing it to see how much flesh is there. Hanging out and chilling with friends no longer interests her. She doesn’t seem to care that so many people are concerned about her.

What are physical signs and symptoms of eating disorders?

  • major/rapid weight fluctuations in either direction
  • gastrointestinal complaints (e.g. constipation, acid reflux)
  • menstrual irregularities (missing periods or having a period only on birth control, which isn’t a “true” period)
  • difficulty concentrating
  • abnormal laboratory results (anemia, low potassium, low white and red blood cell counts)
  • dizziness, especially upon standing
  • fainting
  • feeling cold all the time
  • sleep problems
  • cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting)
  • dental problems, such as enamel erosion, discoloration, and tooth sensitivity
  • dry skin and hair and brittle nails
  • swelling around salivary glands
  • fine hair on body (lanugo)
  • muscle weakness
  • poor wound healing
  • decreased immune functioning
  • irregular ekg

Example:

At his recent physical, Sam’s doctor told Sam his pulse and body temperature are abnormally low. His PCP also told him he is “x” number of pounds lighter than he was a year ago. 

Sam reports sleeping poorly, despite feeling tired most of the time and dizzy when he goes from sitting to standing. He also complains of burning in his throat from acid reflux. 

The doctor’s visual impression of Sam is that he looks gaunt and has an empty look in his sunken eyes. She orders a blood draw and ekg.

The doctor is well aware that ‘even’ people with serious eating disorder symptoms often have normal labs. She also knows negative lab results don’t mean they “are “fine” or that their symptoms are benign.

There are several different types of eating disorders.

These include:

anorexia nervosa; bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). Others include avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), pica and rumination disorder.

You can’t tell from looking at someone if they have an eating disorder.

face of a woman who you can not tell if she shows signs of an eating disorder
a bowl with yogurt and granola help in the hands of a girl who may or may not have an eating disorder

People showing signs and symptoms of eating disorders need professional help. 

There are many approaches to treatment. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all.

Because there’s no singular approach that is ideal for everyone, finding what’s best-suited for each person is the way to go.

It all starts with recognizing the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and not being afraid to acknowledge them. 

You just might save a life.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a private-practice psychologist specializing in treatment for people of all ages and genders who have eating disorder symptoms. Contact her here for more information.

What To Do When You Can’t Work Due To Anxiety And Depression

Image of a trans woman in bed with a dog, appearing as if she is depressed and anxious and not working.

It’s a noble aspiration – a Scarlett O’Hara, “As God is my witness!,” fist-raised-to-Heaven determination – this whole notion of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”Push on!” “Get over it!” “Do whatever it takes!” And on and on the merciless cheerleading goes. But what happens when you can’t work due to anxiety and depression? What do you do? How do you rally yourself off the bench to go in for the win, even if the “win” is just another day on the clock?

Society celebrates the never-say-”die”-ers. They get guest spots on talk shows. And they “go viral” on social media. Maybe they get gold medals and big-dollar endorsements in the Olympics.

And why?

Because they push through…the pain, the inconvenience, sometimes even the common sense.

And, while these noble stories can be the stuff of inspiration, they can also be cautionary tales.

If we’re not careful, they can blind us to discernment (Your team is down 50 points with one minute left in the game. Do you keep cheering for a win?) and harden us to compassion – even unto ourselves.

Get help for anxiety and depression!

The ultimate goal if you can’t work due to anxiety and depression is to treat your symptoms and get back to work. 

Whether or not that means back to the same job, however, depends on several factors. 

If the job environment was the cause of anxiety and depression, consider looking elsewhere to work. 

But be aware of the possibility that the job environment, instead of being the cause of your anxiety and depression,  felt intolerable to you because of anxiety and depression.There is nothing wrong or bad about having anxiety or depression.

In fact, both are fairly common, especially since the Covid pandemic.

There is abundant support available, including therapy, medication, and support groups. 

There are also some new-ish treatments available, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and psychedelics.

Some depression symptoms are mood-based. Examples include sadness, lack of interest or pleasure, and a negative outlook.

When depression symptoms are more severe, the effects become more intense.

These intensified symptoms might present as very low energy, trouble focusing, and feeling extremely unmotivated. Your appetite and sleep pattern might also be negatively affected.

Biological changes, such as changes in hormone levels, can also occur with more severe depression.

As with any other ailment or debilitating condition, the ideal approach is always to seek help before your symptoms of anxiety and depression become severe.

However, if you suffer from anxiety and/or depression, you know how insidiously their symptoms can creep up on you. And trying to determine when to get help can lead you to risk waiting too long.

There is nothing to be ashamed of when seeking help. In fact, getting help is the responsible thing to do.

If you had a cardiac or pulmonary problem, you’d probably make an appointment with your doctor. You wouldn’t stumble to your car and drive to work in the middle of a heart attack (we hope)!

It’s no different if you can’t work due to depression and anxiety.

Here are several insights and suggestions to help you navigate life when anxiety and depression are along for the ride:

  1. Meet with your primary care physician, who then might refer you to a psychologist for therapy and/or a psychiatrist for medication. Some primary care doctors prescribe antidepressants, but many defer to their psychiatry colleagues.
  2. Isolating can be so tempting when you’re depressed or anxious. Staying in bed, keeping pajamas on all day, closing the blinds.

    But that just makes depression and anxiety worse.

    Instead, even if it takes all your might, get out of bed. Shower. Brush your teeth. Eat something for breakfast. Go outside for some fresh air and essential vitamin D.

    As counter-intuitive as it feels at first, the positive effects will be immediate.
  3. A technique I recommend when activities of daily living feel too hard is to conduct “mini experiments.”

    Check in with how you feel prior to getting out of bed (maybe on a 1-10 scale). Once you’ve showered, check back in with yourself to assess how you feel. Compare the two ratings.
  4. Practice focusing on the one thing you are doing in that particular moment. This concentration on “the present” is at the heart of mindfulness practices, which can have profound benefits for people suffering from anxiety and/or depression.

    Here is a simple example for getting out of bed when you really don’t want to move: First you sit up in bed. Check. Then you swing your legs around so they hang off the bed. Check. Then you put one foot on the floor. Check. Then the other. Yes! (And so on.)

    You are literally taking just one step at a time. The steps add up; and yet, focusing on the one step at hand feels less overwhelming.
  5. Sometimes listening to music is helpful. Same with journaling.
  6. In my experience, professional treatment is essential in order to feel better. Anxiety and depression, depending on their severity, tend not to just go away on their own, especially if they are so intense that you can’t work.
  7. If you can’t work due to anxiety and depression, you may want to consider applying for Social Security Disability benefits.

    Know, however, that there are strict criteria to meet, and documentation of ongoing treatment is required.
  8. For anxiety and depression to improve, you may need to make some lifestyle changes. Incorporating exercise, getting more social support, and/or finding a hobby are all “natural” and very doable examples.

    Sometimes getting a pet can help, too – as long as having another life to care for serves as motivation to immerse yourself in a new and positive rhythm of responsibility.

If you do not know where to turn, keep in mind that there are several hotlines to reach out to. 

Please keep the following two important hotline numbers where you can easily access them (in your phone, wallet, home, and car, for example). You never know when you or someone you know may need them.

The staff at NAMI are well-trained to answer questions on a wide range of mental health issues. Available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, they provide free information and referrals to treatment programs, support groups, and educational programs. NAMI also offers help for family members, information about jobs programs, and connections to legal representation in your area.

If severe anxiety is causing suicidal thoughts, call this free, 24-hour crisis intervention hotline. Counselors can help ease your anxiety. There are separate hotline numbers for Spanish speakers: 1-888-628-9454; the hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889; and veterans: 1-800-273-8255. You can also speak with a crisis volunteer live on their website.

The bottom line: Help is available, and hope is too. 

It all starts with taking just one step.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a clinical psychologist in MA. Her expertise is in the areas of eating disorders, body image, and High Sensitivity. Contact her here.

3 Articles About Body Image In The Media That Every Parent Should Read

a child with a camera, representing the importance of parents being familiar with body image in the media

Whatever your child’s age or gender, body image is a topic that belongs in your daily teaching and communication. If body image is a sensitive or confusing topic for you as an adult, imagine how it can impact a child’s impressionable mind.

Information about body image in the media will help you become more comfortable with this topic. It’s a subject every parent needs to understand. Especially because social media is here to stay.

“Body image in the media” covers 2 super important topics, especially for kids and teens: body image and media

“Body image” refers to the relationship people have with their own bodies. It includes thoughts, feelings, judgments, behaviors, and perceptions.

Cultural influences are also part of the relationship people have with their bodies. This often overlooked influence is called Diet Culture. Other blog posts describe Diet Culture in more detail.

“Media” refers primarily to social media, and to TikTok and Instagram in particular. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are other forms of media.

Whether or not you have talked with your child about body image in the media, read these articles. The content may be a review of what you already know. But read them through the filter of being a parent committed to helping your child develop a healthy body image.

Kids may roll their eyes at you. (Take it as a sign of good parenting.) Nonetheless, tweens, teens, and even young adults still need guidance from parents about topics such as body image in the media.

Three articles about body image in the media to read before talking with your child are listed below. Depending on your child’s age, you could read them together.

The Effects Of Social Media On Body Image And Mental Health

Social Media Makes Me Feel Bad About My Body

How To Protect Your Mental Health Online

Here are some key take-aways from the articles:

1. When scrolling through social media platforms, users naturally compare themselves to the images they see.

The images (e.g. on TikTok or Instagram) are often digitally altered and heavily filtered. They are not real. Users’ mental health (and body image especially) deteriorates as a result of viewing these images. That is what’s real.

2. There are three main reasons social media use is concerning:

  • The definition of “normal” becomes distorted. The images of bodies on social media are modified to enhance cultural features deemed attractive. These “highlight reels” are the images that bombard us. Not only are they not realistic, they’re harmful.
  • The sheer number of people available for comparison has exploded. ‘We can’t talk about “global overpopulation” without weighing the influence of all those people and all those visual platforms for expression.

    It used to just be our group of friends and peers at school. Now there are social media influencers and a zillion other humans online, all vying for coveted attention, approval, and social envy. Body image doesn’t stand a chance.
  • There is no break. Most people are on several platforms, and they have easy access. (Hello, cell phone/handheld device.) They’re bombarded with images and feel worse and worse about themselves the longer they’re online.

3. Not everyone on social media is kind.

There are trolls online who make insensitive comments that damage mental health. People say mean things online that they would not say in person.

4. It feels good to collect “likes,” “loves,” heart emojis, and friend requests.

That kind of (fake) validation can become addictive, though. Plus, it makes it tricky at times to distinguish between real friends and social media friends.

It’s not all doom and gloom.

Learning how to navigate social media is essential, especially when it comes to body image.

  • Seek out people with whom you feel good about yourself.
  • Focus on liking and posting “feel good” images. Puppies and other animals are always good because they are always “in the moment…and they don’t have body image issues.
  • Apply the Golden Rule: Treat people online how you want to be treated online.
  • Take social media breaks.

As a parent in 2021, being social media-literate and familiar with the effects of media platforms on body image and other mental health issues is supremely important.

Fortunately, not everything online is suspect. And your education about body image in the media can start with three articles…and a little help from Google.

Dr Elayne Daniels is a clinical psychologist specializing in body image, eating disorders, and Highly Sensitive People. Her passion is helping people feel comfortable in their own bodies…from the inside out. Contact her here.

6 Ways a Highly Sensitive Person’s Brain is Different

A photo of a brain, demonstrating an example of what a Highly Sensitive Person's brain may look like

They’re enigmas to most of the world. They “over-think,” “over-feel,” and have an almost eerie ability to read a roomful of strangers at a heart-level. They can go from “life of the party” to needing a three-day nap with no social interaction. And, when they come out of hiding, they go about saving the world with their empathetic do-gooding and creativity. Who are these alien earthlings? And what are the ways a Highly Sensitive Person’s brain is different from the brains of…well…the not-so-sensitive?

Put another way, why is an HSP’s brain considered the “most powerful social machine in the known universe”?

(If you aren’t sure if you are an HSP, take this quiz to find out.)

What is High Sensitivity?

High Sensitivity (HS) is a trait, present at birth, in about 15-20% of the population. It has no gender-bias, and it’s not a disorder or diagnosis.

People with the HS trait are ultra-responsive to what’s going on in their environment. Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)  notice darn near everything, and they process it all deeply. They’re extremely perceptive.

In general, American culture views sensitivity as a weakness. HSPs are used to hearing, “You’re too sensitive” and “You need to lighten up.” In other cultures (e.g. Japan), however, sensitivity is considered a strength.

The scientific name for High Sensitivity is Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS).

Scientists have discovered SPS in over 100 species, including fish, birds, dogs, monkeys, and horses.

The fact that the trait exists in so many species suggests it has some kind of evolutionary advantage as a survival strategy.

Why else would 10-15% of dachshunds or guppies be Highly Sensitive?

Because they’re more responsive to their environment, animals (and people) with SPS are more aware of opportunities, such as food and mating options. 

They’re also more aware of threats, such as predators, and are more prepared to respond.

In other words, HS provides a survival strategy of being observant before acting. The wait-before-acting approach guarantees that a species continues to evolve. (This sensitive survival strategy is only beneficial if found in a minority.)

Let’s briefly review what a Highly Sensitive Person is before discussing the Highly Sensitive Person’s brain.

“DOES” is a helpful way to remember the 4 pillars of High Sensitivity.

  1. Depth of processing: HSPs are deep thinkers.
  2. Over-arousal : HSPs are prone to anxiety and overwhelm due to deep processing.
  3. Empathy: HSPs have a huge capacity for empathy; they feel emotion deeply.
  4. Sensory specific sensitivity: HSPs tend to be sensitive to smells, bright lights, loud sounds, tastes, and tactility.

All features in the “DOES” framework are due to differences in the Highly Sensitive Person’s brain.

How does the Highly Sensitive Person’s brain work differently than the brain of someone who is not HS?

Understanding a Highly Sensitive Person’s brain brings clarity to the why and how of an HSP’s experience.

1. While at rest, a Highly Sensitive Person’s brain works harder than the brain of someone who is not an HSP.

Why? Because of stronger activation in parts of the brain (the cingulate and premotor area/PMA) responsible for visual and attention processing.

HSPs process everything deeply, even when not reacting to something specific in the here-and-now. An HSP could be processing something from three hours ago or something  suddenly remembered from last month.

So, in plain terms, the brain of a Highly Sensitive Person never really shuts off – even at rest.

 2. At least three sets of genes and their variants distinguish a Highly Sensitive Person’s brain from the brain of a non-HSP.

The three genes are responsible for serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

  • Serotonin Transporter:



Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and hormone that helps neurons communicate with one another. It’s central to mood and emotion because it’s primary function is to stabilize mood.

Serotonin transporter is a chemical that transports serotonin out of the brain.

HSPs have a variant of the serotonin transporter encoding gene, known as 5-HTTLPR. The 5-HTTLPR gene variant decreases serotonin in the brain and increases sensitivity to surroundings.

The HS brain may have less mood-stabilizing serotonin than the non-HS brain, but it has an enhanced ability to learn from experience.

The presence of this gene variant enhances the effects of both good and adverse childhood experiences.

This may explain why childhood experiences – both positive and adverse – so dramatically impact wellbeing for  HSPs.



For better or worse, HSPs’ childhood experiences affect them more than do the childhood experiences of non-HSP.

Dopamine:

This neurotransmitter is known as the reward chemical.

If you have a sensitive nervous system, you don’t need much to feel “rewarded” by external stimuli. Chaotic, noisy, loud environments exhaust rather than excite you.

Carry that reality over to an environment like a loud football stadium, and you and your non-HS friends are likely to have very different experiences. Their “dopamine hit” will probably register as unsettling for you.

The explanation for this difference lies in the fact that the relevant dopamine gene variants all have to do with dopamine receptors. As an HSP, you simply don’t need the same amount of “reward” from external stimuli.


The same dopamine variant also explains why HSPs feel more rewarded by positive social or emotional cues.

Norepinephrine:

Norepinephrine helps the body with the stress response. It’s also central to “emotional vividness,” or a person’s perception of emotional aspects in the world.

A variant of the norepinephrine gene, common in HSPs, boosts emotional vividness. If you have it, you experience emotional aspects of the world intensely.

You may also have more going on in parts of the brain that create internal emotional responses to experiences.

HSPs naturally respond more strongly to emotions than do non-HSPs. In addition, they notice emotional nuances when others don’t necessarily pick up on anything.

This ability to perceive emotional nuances – to “feeel” what others are feeling but not necessarily overtly expressing – is the foundation of empathy.



If you’re Highly Sensitive, this norepinephrine gene variant may be at least partly responsible.

3. HSPs have more active mirror neurons, which explains their gigantic capacity for empathy.

Mirror neurons are brain cells that help us understand what someone else is feeling. They’re involved in recognizing sadness and relating to it.

Because of such active mirror neurons, HSPs absorb emotions from people around them. Often they’re not even aware they’re doing so.

4. HSPs’ emotions are extra vivid due to a part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).

The vmPFC is involved in emotion regulation, especially the vividness of emotions.

The emotional vividness is not of a social nature (unlike mirror neurons). The vmPFC is more about how vividly HSPs feel emotions inside in response to what’s happening outside, in the environment. 

So HSPs often do have stronger feelings than other people because of the workings of their vmPFC. HSPs’ brains are so finely tuned that they can pick up on subtle emotional cues and react to them.

5. fMRI studies of the brain suggest the cortex and insula are more strongly activated among HSPs than non HSPs.

The insula is located deep in the brain. It has a lot of jobs, including interoceptive awareness.

Interoceptive awareness is about knowing what’s happening in your own body, such as hunger, thirst, and needing to pee. Emotions and moment-to-moment awareness are also part of the insula’s job.

By combining the most nuanced internal awareness with emotional context, the insula gives emotional meaning (e.g. pain, pleasure) to physiological states.

6. Another area of greater activation for HSPs is in the middle temporal gyrus (MTG).

This part of the brain has to do with emotional meaning-making. It’s involved in awareness of and response to stimuli. Examples of stimuli include things like loud sounds, strong smells, bright lights, and other people’s moods.

The Highly Sensitive Person’s brain is a gift.

It deeply processes information, makes interesting connections, and cares about people.

Science shows us that HS is associated with certain genes and patterns of brain activation. It’s not just hypothetical or theoretical.

The High Sensitivity trait is real.

An extra-special HSP gift is the one your brain gives to YOU. It is the gift of protection.

Your brain is able to recognize and understand what is going on around you. You see things coming before they happen.

So, the next time someone comments on your sensitivity, let the smile of knowing (and gratitude) spread across your face.

Offer to go into detail about the science and inborn nature of High Sensitivity. You know, the cingulate, premotor area, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, mirror neurons, ventromedial PFC, insula.

The superpower stuff you came into the world with.

See how your critic processes that!

Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist and coach in MA whose absolute passion is helping other Highly Sensitive People thrive. Contact her here.

How Media Affects Body Image: Do Body Positive Campaigns Work?

A woman of African American descent in a blue bikini and holding pink balloons demonstrates an example of a body positive campaign photo. ,

Open up any social media app, and you’ll see it – in ads, in videos, in your friends’ posts and photos. Turn on the TV or open a magazine, and you’ll see it – in commercials, in programs, in fashion and makeup ads. You really can’t escape the countless normalized examples of how media affects body image. And you have to wonder if body positive campaigns can even keep up, let alone if they work.

Liking our own body is not easy, especially in Diet Culture. (See earlier posts for more about Diet Culture).

Disliking and being super-critical of our own body have become the norm.

Beauty standards are narrowly defined. Most people will never look like media images, no matter how hard they try. And that’s regardless of how many diets, cosmetic surgeries, or “lifestyle” changes they pursue.

Thanks (but no thanks) to Diet Culture, we praise weight loss, idealize thinness, and think of food as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

This system of beliefs explains why we talk trash about our own bodies, restrict food, and have difficulty seeing our own beauty.

Diet Culture is so powerful that we may not even realize it exists…

…just as fish don’t know they’re wet.

Tina Fey describes social media’s portrayal of Diet Culture pressures in her book, BossyPants.  

“Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama….”

Tina Fey, Bossy Pants (2013).

This is obviously impossible.(The achievement, not the expectation.) But Diet Culture promotes these sorts of ideals, anyway.

And social media is its get-away car.

We take in the images and compare ourselves. Filters and other photoshop techniques make images look extra-convincing, triggering us to feel that much worse about our bodies and selves. 

If only we tried harder to manipulate our bodies to be thinner, we too could look like the images on Instagram. (Not!)

That’s why, in general, media is no help when it comes to body image. (Unless by ‘help’ you mean promoting body-loathing.)

Self-acceptance is difficult when we don’t measure up to what media defines and presents as attractive. 

And, once that failure to measure up becomes internalized as insecurity about and resentment toward our bodies, self-acceptance is all but impossible.Here is where body positivity enters the picture.

Body positivity challenges Diet Culture’s definition of beauty.

The body positivity movement (“#BoPo” for short) promotes acceptance of diverse body sizes and appearances.

#BoPo campaigns are meant to be an alternative to how bodies are typically portrayed. 

The hope is that promoting more realistic messages about body size and shape will improve body image.

Body positive campaigns are a way to challenge societal views and address unrealistic standards of beauty. Their mission is to help people accept and feel more confident about their own bodies, regardless of weight or size.

In #BoPo, unique aspects of appearance are viewed in a positive light rather than as deviations from societal (aka Diet Culture’s) ideals of beauty.

Understanding how media affects body image is more important than ever. 

Information spreads like wildfire. Lots of ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ of posts occur constantly. Posts go viral in a matter of minutes. 

And unrealistic body standards are reinforced…and accepted as “truth.”

How welcoming and inclusive the idea of body positivity sounds! But is it?

And do body positive approaches influence how media affects body image?

Research on the results of body positive campaigns is mixed.

Jes Baker, a body image blogger and author, calls out the sociopolitical limits of body positivity messages.

Her point: Many bodies are excluded in the body positivity movement.

Rather than including white, able-bodied, flawless women who wear a size 0 or 00, #BoPo posts extend to white, able-bodied, feminine, heterosexual women who wear a size 12 or smaller.

Many bodies are excluded, rejected – as if unworthy of recognition.

Body positivity actually still limits how we define attractiveness. It excludes fat/transgender/dis-abled bodies and doesn’t recognize stigma, oppression, or prejudice.

Body positivity still applies only to women of a certain size, shape, skin color, and sexual identity. It doesn’t improve weight stigma, fat phobia, or other kinds of prejudice.

A 2020 study of over 250 Instagram posts suggests contradictory messages are common in so-called body positivity land. Weight loss support or praising thinness are examples of contradictions.

They also identified inner-positivity as the most common body positivity theme on Instagram. 

Inner positivity posts focus on courage and resilience.

These are messages that can benefit all of us, regardless of how we feel about our bodies or how our bodies look.

The best way to reduce media’s effects on body image?

  • Post some images without people. Puppies and nature scenes, anyone?
  • Comment on posts in a way that is not about size, shape, or shaming.
  • Emphasize “inner-positivity” in your feed.
  • Take breaks from social media.
  • Follow body positive influencers.

Social media is not going away. Nor is its influence on social norms. 

There’s a lot of room to reclaim body positivity for more people. Until then, body positivity efforts remain short-sighted.

Why not use social media in a way that recognizes all bodies, regardless of size, shape, gender, or age? 

Until we address the ‘ism’s’ (racism, weightism, fat stigma, misogyny) of the world, body positivity will continue to marginalize people. 

And there is nothing positive about that.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a psychologist in MA who is passionate about helping people feel more comfortable in their bodies. She also works with people who identify as Highly Sensitive. Contact her here.

Posted in Overcoming Body Image Issues