If you have a problem with your shoulder, heart, or other body part, you probably seek medical care. Or at least know you could or should. But what if the problem is your body image, i.e. your relationship with your body? How do you know if body image therapy is right for you?
Body Image concerns of varying degrees are more often the norm than not, thanks to diet culture and unattainable beauty standards, both historically and cross culturally. Pressure to have a perfect body, as defined by societal standards, has no expiration date. The current equation is something like thinnish and tone body = attractive = worthy.
Especially for girls and women.
Because body image concerns are so common, how to know if body image therapy is right for you can be tricky.
How common are body image problems? By age 6, girls in particular begin to show concerns about their own weight, and 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat.
Think about that. Girls worrying about their weight at age 6.
And it only gets more intense from there. So much for playing hopscotch without a care in the world.
As girls age, the statistics do not become more encouraging. Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
Even for women in their 60s through 90s, body image is often the number one body concern. Women in their mid life and senior years feeling unhappy in their body is a callosal shame.
Body image concerns affect us all.
While all ages, genders, and cultures are equally at risk for body image issues, the triggers and pressures vary.
In Western culture, girls feel pressure from the societal appearance-ideal. (Remember, slim and tone = attractive = worthy.) Boys are more often faced with social pressures to be lean and muscular.
So body image issues are common. But still, how do you know if body image therapy is right for you? Even if asking for a friend? 🙂
See if you can related to any of these concrete examples of body image problems.
You look in a full length mirror, and your good mood disappears. Maybe you are naked after just having had a relaxing shower. Or fully clothed and doing a final check before heading out the door.
You automatically start attacking yourself in harsher terms than a bully ever would.
The harsh self talk may be so automatic that you don’t even recognize you are doing it.
Real life examples of critical thinking when looking at your own reflection in the mirror include: “My stomach is gross.” “If only I could lose ”x” number of pounds, I would be happy.” or even “I wish I could cut off these disgusting mounds of fat.”
Unfortunately, most women and girls can completely relate to negative body image thoughts.
Maybe you can relate too. Or perhaps you can relate so personally that poor body image seems like no big deal because of how normal it seems to think this way.
Negative body image is a big deal.
One way it is a big deal is the dislike of your body and/or features causes you to resort to extreme and/or chronic measures to ‘fix’ the problem. And you might not even know or care that the ‘fix- it’ attempts are risky. And often futile.
Intentional weight loss efforts are not effective in the medium or long term. Plastic surgery is not a magic bullet and carries many risks.
Both perpetuate ongoing patterns of futility for a lifetime. More often than not, they are ineffective. Especially in the medium to long term.
If you invest time, money, and who knows what else in an attempt to be comfortable in your body, you expect the method to work.
When the method does not work, you blame yourself and commit to trying again or stepping it up a notch. Wash, rinse, repeat. Days, weeks, years pass you by.
Another reason a terrible relationship with your body is a big deal is because it keeps your focus on trying day after day after day to improve on something (your body) that does not need improvement.
That energy of yours could be channeled toward soooooo many other pursuits. Or even in just being, self-compassionately, in the here and now, with what is.
Your body is not the problem.
What is the problem, if it is not your body? The actual problem is diet culture, healthism, weight stigma, and cultural standards of beauty.
We can’t change Diet Culture or societal standards overnight.
Instead, we can improve our relationship with our body, teach body respect to children, and over time cultural standards will change.
Body image therapy is part of the solution.
Back to the question of how to know if body image therapy is right for you?
Most people know what it is like to want to change something about their body. Maybe for example hair color (changeable). Or height (not changeable). The dislike does not cause significant anxiety and has little impact on your sense of who you are.
If you accept your body without dwelling on perceived flaws you generally have a positive body image. Body image therapy could be helpful for you to fine tune your body satisfaction. Or even to help spread the word through your own actions of the benefits of feeling neutral or positive in your own body. (Remember the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally? You could be the Meg Ryan character demonstrating the magic of positive body image. Onlookers will gasp, “I will have what she is having!” )
Because negative body image is more common than not, therapy for body image is even that much more impactful.
So, can you turn negative body image into positive body image?
The short answer: Yes!
The long answer: “Yes, and”. The ‘and’ refers to the simultaneous effort at eliminating weight stigma, diversifying standards of beauty, standing up to Diet Culture, and striving toward your own body neutrality. And eventually glorious embodiment. That is, actually feeling peaceful, at home, and dare I say even ecstatic in the body you have.
After all, it is where you will live your entire life.
And your body is THE instrument for sensory experiences.
The sight of a vast ocean or mountain range, the smell of cinnamon, the sound of a beautiful melody, or the taste of your favorite scrumptious food, can only be accessed through your body. Thinking of and treating your body as an instrument for pleasure rather than as an object to criticize is an example of what happens in body image therapy.
Feeling neutral and even satisfied in your body is your birthright.
If not now, when?
One of my missions in life is to encourage people to improve their relationship with their body, whatever the size or shape. I know it is possible. The amount of energy and creativity that body image therapy frees up is astonishing.
There is nothing wrong or unnatural about feeling anxious or depressed. If you are a human being, you inevitably experience anxiety and depression. That is life.
Anxiety and depression have physical symptoms associated with them. Knowing how to keep the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression from derailing your life is an important part of well being. And of life in general. Otherwise, symptoms can take over, and your quality of life will suffer. How? Socially, interpersonally, health-wise, and in all other ways you can think of.
Let’s take a closer look at anxiety, starting with a definition.
Anxiety occurs when you feel nervous or stressed about something.
Maybe before an exam, or on a first date, you notice feeling slightly agitated or restless? Or worried, and/or a preference to avoid whatever is stressing you out?
Feeling anxious can be uncomfortable, even to the point you may wonder why the feeling exists.
Did you know that you, like everyone else, are wired to experience anxiety as a protective mechanism?
Anxiety is protective? Say what?
Anxiety is adaptive when facing challenges. So, we don’t want to get rid of it completely.
Back in the day of our cavemen and cavewomen ancestors, feeling anxious when lions approached was a good thing. Our ancestors’ anxiety helped them to fight off the animals or run for safety.
Anxiety kept them alive by activating the fight-or-flight mode. The same mechanism remains today as part of our brain. It prepares you for action and safety. In many cases, the fight or flight activation is a ‘false alarm’, because there are no lions or their equivalent chasing you. The threat in the present is more benign, like a first date or arriving late to an appointment. Much less is usually at stake than being attacked by a ferocious beast, but your nervous system doesn’t distinguish.
Without the safety mechanism of anxiety, humans would not have survived.
So, you can actually thank your anxiety for the evolution of our species.
Despite the benefits of anxiety, uncomfortable physical symptoms often occur in the body when you feel anxious.
Remember, anxiety is normal and something most of us experience. The severity can vary, from mild to severe.
Anxiety is considered a disorder depending on how long it lasts, how much distress it causes, or if it interferes with your life in other ways.
Physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Rapid heart rate (maybe even feeling your heart pound)
- Shortness of breath (to the point where it may be hard to breathe)
- Muscle tension
There are about ten different categories of anxiety, many of which have overlapping physical symptoms. Examples of the categories include Phobias, Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, professional help may be the best next step.
Here is some good news: You can take steps on your own to manage your anxiety and physical symptoms.
Five of the best ways to keep the physical symptoms of anxiety from ruining your life include:
- Physical activity, be it formal exercise, walking in the park, dancing in your room to favorite music, or some other movement – it all counts as being physically active.
- Find time to be outside every day.
- Aim to avoid or at least limit alcohol and caffeine. Avoid nicotine. All worsen anxiety.
- Make sleep a priority. Anxiety and sleep problems go hand in hand. Getting enough sleep is important; it may reduce anxiety AND can help you cope with symptoms if you do become anxious.
- Relaxation techniques actually work. There are many different types. Discover what works for you. Maybe yoga? Guided meditation? Pick something that calms you and be sure it does not add to anxiety.
Up next is depression. Let’s define it and describe what it feels like to be depressed.
Feeling sad is normal. We all have losses and challenges, and sadness is a natural emotion.
Most everyone knows what feeling ‘off’ is like. Or feeling blue, sad, down in the dumps. Having these feelings on occasion is completely normal. With more moderate depression you may feel joyless and disinterested in what you usually like to do. Low energy and a bad mood can accompany depression too.
As with anxiety, depression levels range in severity from mild to severe.
Depending on how long depression lasts, how much distress it causes, and how it interferes in your life, you may have more than ‘just’ feelings of depression.
Feeling helpless and hopeless can also be a part of depression. This can become so central that suicidal thoughts may occur. (If this happens, call your local emergency room asap. The Samaritans are also available to talk to for support. ) Seeking professional help from a therapist and possibly a medication prescriber (aka a psychopharmacologist) is important, so that the symptoms do not become debilitating or lead to thoughts of suicide.
Physical symptoms of depression can include:
- Aches and pains, such as back or joint pain
- Sleep problems, such as insomnia or awakening a lot during the night
- Changes in appetite
- Slowed speed and movement, or agitated speech and movement
- Digestive problems
Fortunately, there are tried and true ways to keep physical symptoms of depression from ruining your life.
The same strategies to keep physical symptoms of anxiety from derailing your life also apply to depression. These include: physical activity, time spent outside, limiting or avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, prioritizing sleep, and practicing relaxation techniques.
Two additional recommendations for improving physical symptoms of depression are less well known. They target the sense of meaninglessness and lack of pleasure that can accompany depression.
- Engage in daily activities for mastery.
The bar for what is considered mastery may be low. That is ok. Even if making your bed is a mastery activity, great! The point is to do something that you really don’t feel like doing because of depression, and give yourself credit for having done it. Voila! Mastery.
This type of activity can be helpful to offset feeling like you can’t do anything right, or that you are too glum to do anything.
2. Engage in daily activities for pleasure.
Pleasure is often absent when feeling depressed. Even if it feels like just going through the motions, purposely plan and do something each day that brings you some sense of joy, pleasure, or peace. Examples include using your favorite body cream after showering, cuddling with your pet, or lighting a candle and listening to your favorite music.
There is a lot you can do to help yourself keep the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression from ruining your life. They are all forms of self care.
Unfortunately, self care has gotten a bad rap. Self care, ironically, is essential to well being. Rather than self indulgent, self-care helps to keep the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression away.
Self care each day may just keep anxiety and depression away!
Even if it doesn’t, self care will help you manage the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression. There is no down side to self care!
In my private practice I teach teens and adults how to navigate anxiety and depression. Please contact me if you would like more information.
Acknowledging you have an eating disorder is hard. Even if you know the facts. So then how do you overcome an eating disorder when you are not even sure you have one?
Complicating this process even more is that a person with an eating disorder rarely recognizes the dangerousness of the symptoms.
Head’s up: Expect denial.
Denial is that common. Especially when you know the facts.
An example of denial is “that (fill-in-serious -medical-consequence, such as a heart attack) won’t happen to me. Maybe to other people, but not to me.”
Recovery is difficult, uncomfortable, and at times painful.
However, recovery is 100% possible. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. (And, I have never heard of anyone who regrets recovery.)
For sure, how to overcome an eating disorder when you are not even sure you have one is no easy task.
There is no script, set of instructions, or do-it-yourself manual. Self-help is rarely enough for overcoming an eating disorder.
Part of you at times may not want to say goodbye to the disorder. That is normal. After all, the eating disorder has played a role in helping you to cope with feelings, relationships, and events in your life.
If eating disorder behavior were not helpful, you would not have an eating disorder.
On a basic biological level, you know you need food to survive. And that your eating disordered relationship with food is neither natural nor friendly.
Even though it might make you feel virtuous, special, or safe.
Food is not for nourishment for a person with an eating disorder. Instead, it’s something to restrict, binge. or binge/purge. The relationship with food is used as a way to communicate feelings.
Food becomes the enemy. You versus Food. Sometimes it is also a best friend.
To overcome an eating disorder, your relationship with so many things has to change, not just your relationship with food.
For example, a common tendency in the relationship with food is to categorize food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Doing so is problematic and adds momentum to an already adversarial relationship with food. Another reason it’s problematic is the implication that if you eat “bad” food, you are “bad”, and if you eat “good” (or no) food, you are “good”.
(Unfortunately, our culture regards food in an all-or-none kind of way based on nutrition content. And, in Diet Culture, worth as a human being is based on food choices and body size/weight. Someone with an eating disorder has taken what is considered normal in Diet Culture to an extreme.)
The truth is that food has no moral quality. Actually, the only ‘bad’ food is food that has spoiled!
All food is just food.
Diet Culture infuses morality with food, as if an apple is ‘good’ and brownies are ‘bad’. Are rotten apples with a worm “good”? Are fudgey, warm brownies ‘bad’? Nope.
“Rotten”, “wormy”, “fudgey”, and “warm” are descriptions, not value judgements. “Good” and “bad” are value judgments. As if you are a “good” or “bad” human being depending on your food choices. Hardly!
Social media and other sources promote the belief that food, weight, and morality are linked. They are not.
Diet Culture is sneaky and wants you to be at its mercy so it can sell you stuff.
Overcoming an eating disorder is hard enough, especially because you don’t live in a vacuum. Triggering messages are everywhere. Some are obvious, and some are more subtle.
Any discussion of overcoming an eating disorder must at least reference Diet Culture. Why? Because it is the air you and most other people you know (and those you don’t) breathe. I like to say fish don’t know they’re wet.
Overcoming an eating disorder with Diet Culture as backdrop everywhere is extra challenging.
(Beware of Diet Culture in disguise, co-opted as “Healthy Lifestyle”, “Clean Eating”, or otherwise packaged as health.)
There are concrete ways to overcome an eating disorder, though, even if you are not sure you have one.
Or even if you are not totally sure that you want to overcome the disorder.
The specifics of treatment vary, depending on the nature of your symptoms and which eating disorder diagnosis you have.
Here are 11 general tips:
Create a treatment team.An example of a treatment team is: An eating disorder specialized psychologist, anti diet registered dietician, and eating disorder informed primary care physician. Maybe a family therapist too.
You are the center of the treatment team. The other experts are there to support, guide, and make recommendations.
They are on your side. The goal for everyone on the team is to help you take steps toward well-being.
Be patient with yourself.Overcoming an eating disorder does not occur overnight. Progress takes time. And the trajectory is not linear. It is more of a squiggle.
You are not a problem that needs to be solved.Eating disorders do not occur in a vacuum. There are socio-cultural, biological, metabolic, historical, and political forces at play. For true change to occur, Diet Culture has to be eradicated.
But You and only You are the only one who can ‘do’ your recovery. You have support (remember the first tip?) but YOU do the work.
Recovery is unlikely if other people work harder than you in your recovery.
Discover new ways to cope.Find other methods of managing feelings so there is less need (or no need at all) to rely on the eating disorder.
One of the ways an eating disorder serves as a coping method is by numbing your feelings.
Learn strategies to tolerate and express feelings. There are therapies designed for exactly that purpose. Dialectical Behavior Therapy is an example. Two of the four areas of focus are emotion regulation and distress tolerance.
A mnemonic that can be helpful in this pursuit is “NCFA”, or Name your feeling, Claim your feeling, Frame your feeling, and Aim your feeling.
In other words, learn the name of your emotions, validate your feeling, understand why you are feeling the emotion, and then do something with the feeling to express it in a way that is more aligned with well being.
- Find your tribe.
Connect with people who are further along in overcoming an eating disorder than you are. Be sure your relationship is not based on exchanging eating disorder tips! Follow Instagram accounts of inspiration for recovery. (Instagram can also be problematic, so curate carefully! See Tip #6!)
Another idea is to connect with an online recovery group, some of which are low cost or no cost.
- Curate social media.
Eliminate triggering images. They are all over the place. Lots of research confirms what you may already know, first hand: Social media, and Instagram and Snapchat in particular, set up unrealistic expectations and lower self esteem and worsen body image.
If you feel worse about yourself, your body, or your life after you are on social media, consider deleting those accounts – or at least be super selective with whose accounts you follow.
- Learn and practice self-compassion.
Be on your own side, and try to support yourself as you would a dear friend or other loved one. Or your puppy!
Self-compassion is not laziness, self indulgence, pity party time, or woe is me.
It is the opposite. In fact, hundreds of peer reviewed research has been conducted demonstrating the benefits of self compassion.
Here are a bunch of self-compassion practices to try. Check them out! A formal self compassion practice is a great investment of time – it can take just 5 minutes.
Practicing self-compassion strengthens resilience.
- Explore ways to express yourself
So many other ways than through eating disorder symptoms are available for expression. Get creative and honor who you are.
Learn to play an instrument! Find a hobby! Learn a foreign language!
Random ideas include playing the ukulele, creating inspirational quotes for tee shirts, or learning Japanese.
- Learn about Health At EverySize (HAES) and Intuitive Eating (IE) approaches.
They are empowering alternatives to living in Diet Culture. (Ever notice ‘Diet Culture’ contains the words “die” and “cult”?)
HAES is based on celebrating diversity in body size and shape and honoring all human attributes. HAES is a social, cultural, political movement.
IE is another great resource in overcoming an eating disorder. Intuitive Eating’s 10 principles provide a philosophy for nourishing a healthy, happy relationship with food and your body. With exercise too!
- Practice new ways of thinking.
Notice when you hear yourself say/think mean things to and about yourself. If you would not speak that way to a friend, do not speak that way to or about yourself.
A form of therapy called Cognitive Behavior Therapy emphasizes identifying dysfunctional ways of thinking and teaches you how to reframe negative thoughts into accurate, neutral thinking.
- Keep your values in mind.
Mind-body-spirit well-being is most likely to occur when what we think, believe, say, and do are aligned. Eating disorder behaviors such as lying, avoiding, and hurting yourself are probably not congruent with your values. How do you reconcile this disconnect? One way is to identify your values, and work toward aligning them with the way you live your life. (The link is to a national survey. If you complete it, a copy of your results will be sent to you.)
The line between eating disorder behavior and what is culturally normal eating behavior is becoming harder to pinpoint.
This in and of itself is a problem and makes it harder to figure out how to overcome an eating disorder, especially when you are not even sure you have one.
Even for people who do not have an eating disorder, dieting is not a natural, helpful for weight, or attuned way to eat.
The only way the blurred line will become clear is by recognizing Diet Culture for what it is and intentionally turning your attention inward to your body’s signals. HAES and IE will support your efforts.
Sometimes you might wonder if treatment and recovery are better than life with the eating disorder. At times you might even miss the eating disorder.
This is all normal, rather than a sign that you’re not meant to recover.
If you get only one thing from this article, let it be this message, loud and clear:
Overcoming an eating disorder is absolutely possible.
In the words of Sarah Silverman,”Mother Teresa didn’t walk around complaining about the size of her thighs. She had shit to do!”
And so do you.
You and I know you can access more meaning in life than a number on the scale could ever provide.
I am Dr. Elayne Daniels, a Yale-trained clinical psychologist whose book smarts are augmented with firsthand experience. If you wonder if you have an eating disorder, or are concerned about a loved one, please reach out to me with any questions.
Ever wonder how to deal with a highly sensitive person? A great majority of suggestions out there work – if you’re not highly sensitive too.
If you’re highly sensitive, knowing how to deal with another highly sensitive person can be …. challenging.
It can be confusing when it comes to understanding what you’re bringing to the interaction and what they are.
Let’s unpack this.
As a Highly Sensitive Person, you are very aware of what is going on around you. You feel your own and others’ emotions deeply. Both of you have a knack for being able to identify subtleties and have been referred to as deep thinkers. You are used to being called “intense”. And maybe even ‘too sensitive’.
You know that your shared high sensitivity trait is based in biology, hard wired from birth.
Your experience of how to deal with a Highly Sensitive Person when you’re highly sensitive too will include ease and challenge. Be it in the workplace or a social gathering. Or with your child or parent. Or even in your relationship with your partner,
Taking time to reflect on how to deal with a highly sensitive person when you’re highly sensitive too makes sense.
The million dollar question is, does having this trait bode well for 2 HSPs in a relationship with each other?
In a dating or marital relationship, talking with your partner about how to deal with a highly sensitive person when you are one too is essential. Especially if your partner is not familiar with the trait despite having the trait.
Both of you appreciate intimate conversations, value intimacy, and detest small talk – so this is right up your alley.
Here are 5 ways dealing with a highly sensitive person when you’re highly sensitive too may be tricky.
- You are both prone to stress and overwhelm due to your high levels of awareness of nuance and deep processing of information. One overwhelmed person in a relationship can be taxing to both parties. Have a general plan for how to handle both of you feeling overwhelmed at the same time.
- You two are aware of subtleties that other people completely miss. Examples include tone of voice and facial expressions. Add to this the naturally high level of empathy you both have. The result? Emotional exhaustion. Feeling your own AND the other person’s emotions so intensely is very tiring! Just recognize and remind yourselves of this tendency.
- Deep processing of information is the hallmark of being an HSP. This means you both do a lot of reflecting on your experiences. It also means both of you are prone to overthinking. Negative overthinking in particular. You may both obsess over events and spiral into worry thoughts. Give each other space to process thoughts and feelings and permission to provide feedback if welcomed.
- Conflict avoidance is common among HSPs. Why? One reason is you feel your own and the other HSP’s emotions. As a result, you may end up doing or saying things to keep the other person happy – because conflict hurts and you both prefer to avoid it. However, swallowing your true feelings and thoughts will backfire. Your partner will likely sense it anyway, and a worse conflict could then ensue.
- In dating or marital relationships, knowing each other’s love language is a good idea. For HSPs, it is especially important so that each of you feels understood and validated by the other, especially if you two have different love languages.
Talking directly about potential areas of conflict with one another means your relationship is less likely to be derailed by any of them. Even if neither of you is a fan of confronting potential conflict.
Here are 5 ways dealing with a Highly Sensitive Person when you are highly sensitive too might just be natural.
- Intense emotions, including love, passion, and integrity go hand in hand with being highly sensitive. You will never have to worry about his loyalty because his love runs deep.
- You two share common experiences and approaches to life and to problem solving as Highly Sensitive People. At the end of the day, humans tend to seek a long term partner who thinks and even acts like them. Having a partner with similar underlying personality can translate to greater relationship satisfaction.
- HSPs are used to being thought of as quirky, and maybe even weird. Being in a relationship with someone who totally gets you is one of the most refreshing gifts. You may feel a levity and sense of connection to yourself that is unprecedented as a result of the validation your partner provides.
- Strong couples share many similarities and nuanced differences. Even as HSPs, there are differences. One of you may be extraverted (as are 30 percent of HSPs) and the other introverted. Or you may be a high sensation seeker HSP (30 percent of HSPs are), and he is not. While you two may have slight differences, your overall wiring is similar and you naturally ‘get’ each other.
- Both of you benefit from downtime and self care activities after socializing. You know this about each other and are thus less likely to take the other’s need for ‘me time’ personally. Both of you recognize the other’s need to regroup and recalibrate because you have the same need. And your partner taking time to unwind on their own makes it easy for you to do so too, sans guilt or justification.
How to deal with a highly sensitive person when you are highly sensitive too is often easier once you have an understanding of how you are similar and what the differences are.
You more often than not intuitively ‘get’ each other, and you know when you don’t. At the same time, when in doubt, ask your partner.
For HSPs, authenticity and consistency are two predictors of long term satisfaction in a relationship. You share this understanding, which protects again feelings of rejection or doubt.
You two have a history of experiencing the world differently than non-HSPs. Now you can share the exquisite gift of High Sensitivity.
You both value understanding and appreciating your partner’s traits, the things that get in the way, and what you need to thrive.
An extraordinary, passionate, satisfying relationship. With humor, gratitude, and awe.
I am a clinical psychologist specializing in helping Highly Sensitive People flourish. If you would like to learn more about me, please visit me here.
In a perfect world, poor body image would not exist. An article about subtle signs you have poor body image would be silly. Or at least of little interest.
The world we live in is not perfect. (Newsflash, right?)
Historically, there have always been people (mostly women) dissatisfied with their body. And, cultural definitions of the ‘perfect’ body change every decade or so, keeping us on alert for the next body ideal du jour. The value of beauty ideals depends in part on the high costs of achieving them.
For the last 30 or so years, poor body image has become so common that it has been dubbed normative discontent.
And by the way, there is waaaaaaay more to poor body image than “I hate my body”.
Subtle signs you have poor body image involve more nuance than the outright declaration of body hatred.
There are sociological, racial, historical , cultural, ethnic, and political factors that contribute to body image. The origin of poor body image is complex.
What is body image?
Body image refers to the relationship you have with your body.
If you have a body, you have a body image.
Body image has more to do with cultural, political, racial, peer, social, and family values than it does about your actual size, weight, or shape.
Messages from family, friends, social media, advertisements, coaches, and lots of other sources contribute to the relationship you have with your body.
It doesn’t take long to internalize a negative image of your body. Especially if you are a frequent social media user.
As is true of relationships of any kind, body image can be complicated.
Your relationship with your body includes thoughts, feelings, sensations, perception of size and shape, and behaviors.
Dissatisfaction with your body can range from mild to severe.
Some signs of poor body image are obvious, such as avoiding the beach due to shame of body size.
Other behavior due to poor body image can be more subtle, such as frequent, casual glances at yourself in the mirror for reassurance that your body is ‘ok’.
Subtle signs of poor body image can be hard to identify, maybe even for you with your own body.
One of the reasons subtle signs can be hard to recognize is because poor body image IS considered ‘normal’, as if it is just how it is, of no concern. (The ‘normative discontent’ we talked about in the beginning of the article.)
Actually, subtle signs of poor body image are important to identify so that you can work on improving your relationship with your body.
After all, just because something is common does not mean it is ok. Nor does it mean that you have to comply with the normative discontent.
Body image and self esteem go hand in hand, so having subpar body image automatically means low self esteem.
(Children as young as three have poor body image. Scary.)
Here are five of the most common subtle signs you have poor body image.
- Self-critical thoughts about your body, even if you keep them to yourself. Just because you don’t say them aloud does not mean they are benign. The self criticism interferes with your ability to feel confident and worthy. Or to have any genuine fun.
For example, imagine you’re at the beach with friends or family. You are wearing a new bathing suit, and the sun is shining. All you can think of is the disgust you feel toward your body.
You continue to think about your body negatively and say mean and hurtful things to yourself that you would probably never say to a friend or loved one. (Or maybe not even to a stranger or to someone you dislike!)
When it is time for lunch, you say you are not hungry. (But you are.) When everyone else gets ice cream, you again decline. Or maybe you get a low calorie alternative. All because you think you are ‘too fat’ and deep down feel unworthy of partaking in the fun.
If your children are with you at the beach, they are likely aware of your stated or unstated body image related self criticism. Children pick up on messages and internalize negative body image for themselves.
Even looking at yourself in the mirror and frowning is a subtle sign of poor body image and something children pick up on.
- Ongoing comparison of your weight and shape to other people’s. This may be something you do in your head, or that you say out loud.
Let’s continue with the beach example. You are wearing that new bathing suit, and the sun is shining. Your main focus, though, is everyone else’s body, and comparing theirs to yours. You miss out on the fun your kids are having building sandcastles.
Or how about another example.
You walk into a room (at work, at your kids’ school, at the bank – anywhere really). You immediately scan the room to see if anyone’s body is bigger than yours. Or where you fit on the body size continuum among people in the room. The comparison is so automatic that you may not even realize you are doing it.
More often than not, social comparison worsens, rather than improves, body image.
- Jealousy due to the lower weight or ‘more attractive’ shape of a family member, friend, celebrity or even a stranger. Maybe you automatically dislike someone, even if you do not know anything about her, because her body more closely meets the cultural ideal. The resulting envy/jealousy of her body size may be a subtle sign of your poor body image.
If you notice wishing you could look like that person, be curious about why your body is automatically deemed inferior.
- Cancellation of social plans is another subtle sign of poor body image. A common example begins with getting ready to go out with college friends. Someone at the last minute decides not to go because ‘nothing looks good’ on her.
Because she can’t find something she feels comfortable wearing, she would rather stay home. She becomes self-critical, caught in a thought loop of how ugly she is. Then feels irritable, jealous, and definitely not in the mood to go out. So she misses out on fun with friends because she is dissatisfied with her body. Those feelings spill over into other areas of her life.
- Perpetuating body shame, racism, sizism, and weight discrimination are often indicators of poor body image. None of the “isms” is benign. Participating in these behaviors affect us all, regardless of our weight or size.
Fat stigma has been referred to as the last acceptable form of prejudice.
When you laugh at jokes about weight or you snicker at people in larger bodies, you are perpetuating weight stigma.
And, doing so may indicate you have poor body image yourself.
I offer this explanation with compassion. After all, we live in Diet Culture, where normative discontent is…..the norm.
Let’s say you feel judgey about the character of larger bodied people. (Despite the fact that not all people in a particular body size are the same. Just as people of a certain descent or height are not the same.)
You create an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ dynamic.
Maybe the belief is something like you will never “let yourself go” like ‘those people’. As if body weight is under complete voluntary control. (It isn’t). Or that we are all obligated to be in a certain weight range. (We aren’t) Or that health and size are causally linked (nope).
But what may perpetuate the stigma and discrimination is fear of your own body becoming ‘fat’.
And living in fear of becoming ‘fat’ suggests a conditional relationship with your own body.
That just one wrong move and bang! You will ‘get fat’ and then really be dissatisfied with your body.
One of the many reasons recognizing even subtle signs of a poor body image is important is that body dissatisfaction can lead to restrictive eating, over-exercising, purging, and other eating disorder behaviors.
Plus, feeling bad about the one and only body you will ever have detracts from quality of life.
So what to do?
Moving somewhere off the grid isn’t realistic for most of us. Nor is permanently unplugging our electronic devices or eliminating all social contact.
1. First, recognize that body ideals are always changing. Standards changing as often as they do suggests that the standards are really just temporary.
Someone will always be more beautiful, regardless of the amount of dieting, self starvation, exercising, applying makeup, or expensive plastic surgery
2. Remain empowered. YOU have control over the social media you consume. Curate carefully. Appearance oriented social media platforms such as Instagram cause more body dissatisfaction than social media that contains more informational content. Limit your consumption of social media that makes you feel bad about your body.
3. Beware of spending time scrolling on accounts of people who may trigger your body dissatisfaction thoughts or behaviors. Instead, check out other types of accounts. Or, even better, take a break from Instagram and/or other social media platforms.
Your body is not a billboard. It does not represent success/failure, goodness/badness, morality/immorality.
Your body IS where you live, and at its foundation are roots from your family tree and the accumulation of lived experiences. Everyone has a different combination of a family tree and lived experiences. So of course there will be body diversity! And thank goodness for that.
If you notice subtle signs of poor body image, please have self compassion.
You are not alone. There are definite ways to improve body image. For many, feeling neutral about their body is ultimately the goal. And that is a wonderful place to start.
I am a clinical psychologist specializing in body image, eating disorders, and Highly Sensitive People. I am dedicated to helping people live comfortably and happily in the body they have. Click here to contact me.
How can something as easy as breathing exercises for anxiety and depression be helpful? Almost sounds too good to be true, right?
Well, first, keep in mind the utterly amazing fact that your body automatically knows how to inhale and exhale. Even when you are asleep. Breathing is one of many cool things your body automatically does to keep you alive.
You don’t need to think about it. Breathe in. Breathe out. Voila. Breath just naturally happens.
But, breathing in a helpful way when you are anxious or depressed feels neither easy nor automatic.
In fact, you may inadvertently worsen the anxiety or depression symptoms depending on how you are breathing.
Modern day scientists discovered and fine tuned what Eastern masters knew long ago: Breathing affects health.
That is, breathing well goes hand in hand with feeling well. And with even feeling better than just ‘well’.
So, it is safe to say that breathing exercises for anxiety and depression have been used effectively for thousands of years. As such, they have stood the test of time.
Further, a ‘fun fact’ about breath is that it is under both voluntary and involuntary control. In other words, breath is automatic, yet you can also intervene to intentionally change your breath in order to change your mood and physiology.
Thank you, autonomic nervous system!
Over the last decade or so, breathing exercises for anxiety and depression have become more widespread. And the techniques go far beyond the classic “just breath into a paper bag”. (Which is controversial at best.)
Breathing exercises designed for anxiety and depression actually work. And can be done anywhere, anytime, without any tools or pills.
If you have ever had anxiety or depression, you know how awful every moment of existence can feel. Often, the two conditions occur at the same time. Talk about a double whammy.
The most highly recommended breathing exercises for anxiety and depression share some overlap. But, they are also different in many ways.
Breathing exercises to decrease anxiety and depression work because of how they affect heart rate and the mind. And whatever affects the mind affects the body. And vice versa.
Let’s break this down a bit.
First up: Anxiety
Most everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. The intensity varies from mild to moderate to severe.
When you feel anxious, you experience changes in your body. For example, you may panic, hyperventilate, and/or breathe shallowly and quickly. Or your mind may start to race, and you suddenly feel woozy, nauseous, or as if you are going crazy.
Anxiety is generally associated with breathing more shallowly and more quickly. This happens even if you are trying to do the exact opposite. Hyperventilation can result, so less oxygenated blood flows to your brain.
The most straightforward technique is simply to lengthen your exhale.
Let’s call this technique the Exhalation Emphasis breath.
Here is how to do the Exhalation Emphasis breath, either standing, sitting, or laying down:
- Before taking a breath in, breath out. Push as much air out of your lungs as possible through that one exahalion.
- Let your lungs naturally take in breath to fill the lungs. Do not force it.
- On your next inhales/exhales, spend more time on breathing out than on breathing in. Some people count to do this. They may breathe in to the count of 3 and out to the count of 5.
- Continue with the inhalation and the longer exhalation for at least a minute or so.
My favorite breathing technique to help with anxiety is called Alternate Nostril Breathing.
The Sanskrit term is Nadi Shodhana.
Practicing this breath will help you calm your nervous system. Just one minute of alternate nostril breathing can decrease stress and clear your mind!
You can also try this technique when you’re feeling especially stressed or on edge.
The instructions sound complicated, but the practice is actually straight-forward.
To do this, you will be breathing in and out through your nose only.
- Sit in a comfy position, perhaps with legs crossed.
- Place your left hand on your left knee.
- Bring your right hand to the area between your eyebrows.Place your index finger there.
- Exhale fully.
- With your right thumb, close your right nostril.
- Inhale through the left nostril
- Close the left nostril with your ring finger.
- Open the right nostril and exhale through it.
- Inhale through the right nostril
- Close the right nostril and exhale left.
- Inhale through the left nostril.
- Close left nostril with your ring finger.
- Open the right nostril and exhale.
- Repeat for 1 or more minutes.
- Finishing with an exhale on the left is recommended.
Feeling anxious is not fun. Knowing that you can regulate your breath in deliberate ways to help you manage anxiety is empowering.
Depression is another psychological state that involves a lot of suffering. Breathing in particular ways can help to diminish depression. Skeptics are especially welcome to give it a try!
Cardiovascular exercise helps improve depression. Exercise creates hormonal changes associated with feeling better. However, when depressed, exercise is a big ask. It is probably one of the last things most depressed people want to do or feel capable of doing.
Researchers have discovered that deep breathing that happens in cardiovascular exercise can be simulated through deliberate deep breathing.
This is not your yoga teacher’s breathing. It is not chill, Zen, or about ohming. Nor is it the same as the types of breathing recommended to manage anxiety.
Breathe in super deeply, as if you were about to go underwater. Start with your belly. Expand your lungs. Imagine you have gills, and you are widening at your ribcage. Exhale. By doing this 20 times, you will derive similar benefits as with cardiovascular exercise.
Research has also demonstrated that breathing in equal duration helps to alleviate depression symptoms.
Simply inhale through your nose for a count of 4 and exhale through your nose for a count of 4.
Breathing is not a panacea for anxiety or depression. However, the way you breath can contribute to these conditions, and the use of breathing exercises for anxiety and depression can help you to feel better.
As with most things, the more you practice, the more natural what you are practicing feels. Over time, with practice, you may notice that breathing exercises for anxiety and depression occur naturally, often to the point they do not require deliberate effort.
And that certainly can bring you a sigh of relief! (Long exhale please.)
Dr Elayne Daniels is a psychologist in private practice specializing in the interfacing of mind-body techniques to improve psychological well being.
What images come to mind when you think of all eating disorders? How about when you think about what they have in common?
Perhaps you think of a skinny white teenager? Or a young, rich woman purging? And/or a middle aged woman in a large body eating from ice cream cartons and potato chip bags?
Oversimplified and misrepresentative images of people with an eating disorder are typical in the media.
One teeny kernel of truth is that all eating disorders aren’t the same. Yet, they share some overlap and in ways that may be surprising.
The most well-known eating disorders are Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder. There are others, but let’s focus on the main three for now.
Anorexia is when a person has an intense fear of weight gain and a distorted view of their own body weight and size. In addition, people with this condition go to extreme efforts, such as semi-starvation, to lose weight. The disorder can easily take over a person’s life and have severe medical complications.
Bulimia is diagnosed when someone regularly binges and purges. More specifically, binges are defined as a large amount of food, eaten secretively, and usually quickly. A core feature of a binge is feeling out of control. Loss of control can also occur when eating small amounts of food.
What makes a binge a binge is not necessarily the amount of food but more so the loss-of-control feelings of the person who is bingeing.
After the binge, unbearable guilt and disgust flood in. The sufferer then gets rid of the food by purging, which may include over-exercising, restriction, or laxative use.
Binge Eating Disorder is the most common of the three disorders. The primary symptom is recurrent binge eating without any method to compensate for what is eaten. Feeling out of control and a lot of shame are part of the suffering from BED.
These three eating disorders are the most commonly known. Though they each have distinct symptoms, the disorders have overlapping causes and treatment implications.
What all eating disorders have in common:
1. There is no ONE cause.
Years ago, kids’ problems were blamed on the mother. Schizophrenia? Mother’s fault. Depression? Mother’s fault. The same was true with eating disorders. Yep, Mother’s fault. The blame then shifted to genes, and then onto societal pressure for thinness.
It is not that simple.
Fortunately, science has advanced!
Researchers and treatment providers know that all eating disorders occur due to a complex interplay of five fundamental factors – biological, emotional, interpersonal, social, and psychological.
Take home message: The particular interaction of the contributing factors differs, but all five factors are implicated in all eating disorders.
2. Appearances can be deceiving.
You can’t tell by appearance if someone has an eating disorder. That is right — there is no way to know if someone suffers from an eating disorder just by looking!
The size of a person’s body is NOT an indicator, nor is gender, sexual orientation, or race, of an eating disorder.
A perfect example: Anorexia used to be thought of as a rich white girl’s disease. We now know that Anorexia affects people of all economic means.
Boys and men, LGBTQs, and BIPOCs are not eating-disorder-immune, either. In fact, rates of eating disorders are higher among the transgender community than in the nontransgender community.
One of my pet peeves is the stereotyping by size of all eating disorders. You can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder by judging their body.
Please do not assume a person in a large body has Binge Eating Disorder, or any disorder for that matter. Someone with Binge Eating Disorder may be in an average size body. A thin body doesn’t equal Anorexia.
You can not tell by looking at a body what is going on inside the person’s head — or their body.
3. Reaction to diet culture
We live in diet culture, a belief system that equates weight and food with morality and virtue. Thinness is the end all be all.
Furthermore, You and I and everyone are influenced by it, even if not on a diet. Sneaky ways diet culture disguises itself are as “clean eating,” “healthy lifestyle,” or “wellness.” (If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….)
“Fish don’t know they are wet” applies here. Not to fish but to you and me. We are so surrounded by diet culture that we may not even realize it. Despite the fact that it is a $70 billion/year industry.
More often than not, all eating disorders innocently begin with a diet.
Intentional weight loss efforts conflict with the body’s natural set point range of weight. The diet then gets out of control and spirals into an eating disorder.
If there were no diet culture, eating disorders would be very rare.
4. Interoceptive awareness derailed
Interoceptive awareness is your ability to perceive sensations from your body, in the present moment.
So if you notice you have a full bladder and have to use the bathroom, interoceptive awareness is to thank. When you notice hunger and fullness cues, you’re having a felt sense in the moment of your direct experience of hunger or fullness. Thank you, interoceptive awareness.
Another aspect of interoceptive awareness is emotions. How cool is it that every emotion has its own unique physical sensation or ‘autograph’ in the body? Anger, for example, may show up in your body as tension. Happiness as levity. Sadness, for instance, as a heaviness.
The wiring of the mind and body is designed so they can communicate with each other.
To reiterate, noticing bodily sensations provides key info to assist with meeting biological and psychological needs. There is a definite evolutionary advantage to this default mechanism.
Diet culture, unfortunately, messes with the innate, attuned interoceptive awareness mechanisms we are born with.
In other words, diets are all about rules, not about attunement with your body’s exquisite signaling system.
When on a diet, making decisions about what and when to eat are based on external methods (e.g. counting calories, following rules) rather than on trusting and valuing body sensations.
So, what happens is a disconnect from your body’s perfect system of communicating hunger/fullness to you.
Keep in mind that diets emphasize the external — weight, appearance, and rules, often determined and designed by someone you don’t even know. And created by someone who doesn’t know you or what you need nutritionally for optimal well being.
Unfortunately, external persuasion occurs at the expense of interoceptive awareness.
Your body’s capacity to communicate with you is a glorious built-in system. Dieting trashes it.
Fortunately, interoceptive awareness can return online and is an important ingredient of treatment and recovery.
5. Walking heads – “I would rather not have a body”
With all eating disorders, there is a disturbance in how you experience your own body.
More specifically, you have lots of negative thoughts, feelings, and sensations about your body and yourself.
The eating disorder solution is to sever ties with your body, and to end the mind/body relationship. In other words, to function as if your body weren’t there.
The idea is that it would be better not to have a body than to live in a body that feels like a nuisance, hindrance, or source of all things negative.
When your body feels like a receptacle of yuckiness, it’s no wonder being body-less seems like a better alternative.
Another factor in the walking head phenomenon is low interoceptive awareness. All eating disorders are associated with a huge disconnect from the body as if the body were nonexistent. Further, semistarvation, bingeing/purging, and other eating disorder behaviors can cause dissociative states, whereby you might not even feel like you are in a body.
6. All or none thinking, aka stinkin’ thinking
Also known as black/white thinking, good/bad, or dichotomous thinking. This is the tendency to think in extremes as if there are no shades of gray.
Words that may indicate all/none thinking include: always/never; good/bad; all/none.
For all eating disorders, good/bad thinking is the hallmark. Here are examples :
- I ruined my diet today by eating 5 m&ms, so I may as well eat the whole bag and start my diet tomorrow. Or purge after I’ve eaten the rest of the m&m’s. Or not eat until tomorrow night.
- Bread is bad. Fruit is good. I can’t eat carbs.
- I will never find a romantic partner until I am thin. Being thin is my #1 goal.
- Being thinnest among my friends is all that matters.
- If I eat a sandwich, I will get fat.
Cognitive behavior therapy teaches you how to identify distortions by evaluating their validity and offering reframes. You also learn about your underlying belief systems.
Reframing distortions and addressing underlying belief systems is key to healing.
We tend to believe what we think, even if what we think is not true.
Thoughts are super powerful; they determine feelings and behaviors. Often, thoughts are so automatic we may not even know we are having them. Therapy provides a method for identifying distortions and restructuring them to be accurate.
In the examples above, the thoughts are deemed fact by the person thinking them. Consider the impact on the person’s feelings and behaviors. Distortions are fuel for and characteristic of all eating disorders.
7. It is all about food
Eating disorders are called eating disorders because of a disturbance in eating behavior. The eating disturbances differ, depending on the disorder. Food may be withheld, restricted, eaten in large quantities, or purged.
Interoceptive awareness goes offline, and people’s well being overall suffers.
An anti-diet Registered Dietician can offer humongous help with nutrition restoration.
The anti-diet training and philosophy are key; otherwise, nutrition support is likely to make matters worse.
8. It is not about food
Recovering requires more than nutrition restoration because all eating disorders have a mental health aspect.
Addressing and resolving mental health problems is essential to full recovery.
Granted, as a psychologist I am biased. But I can tell you I’ve never heard of anyone fully recovering without psychological guidance and support.
Common treatment issues in all eating disorders include: body image, shame, self-esteem, anxiety, perfectionism, relationships, and value systems. None of the key psychological causes are about food.
9. Social Forces
We live in a culture of rampant weight bias, patriarchy, racism, classism, homophobia, and other social problems. The inequities are vast. All eating disorders occur in a socio-political context.
White privilege translates to the fact that Caucasians typically have greater access to resources than do people whose skin is not white.
Another form of privilege is thin privilege. Just because of their (highly desirable and socially sanctioned) thin body size, some people have greater access to resources and less discrimination than people deemed to be in a body that isn’t thin or that doesn’t meet the cultural ideal.
All eating disorders are affected by culture and the associated stereotypes, biases, and discrimination.
10. Myth city
Common ones are that all eating disorders are:
just a phase
a way to get attention
a lifestyle choice
forever; once you have one, you have one for life
One thing I’ve learned from 25 years of working in the field of eating disorders is that recovery is ABSOLUTELY possible and a worthy investment of time, energy, and other resources.
I know in my heart that full recovery is possible.
I also know that not everyone recovers.
(Access to and participation in effective treatment is more challenging depending on location. Telehealth has helped to level the playing field a bit.)
One of the things I remind people of is that recovery is one of THE hardest things. Blood, sweat, and tears don’t even come close to describing the physical and emotional pain of recovery.
Recovery is also one of THE most rewarding things in life.
I have yet to hear anyone say they wish they still had an eating disorder.
I do hear the opposite. Something like “I had no idea how much happier life could be without an eating disorder.”
Suffering from an eating disorder is like living in prison. There is no freedom, but a lot of darkness. It sucks.
You are worthy of nourishment — physically, emotionally, relationally, and beyond. Reclaim eating as a source of pleasure and your body as the wonderland it is.
Dr Elayne Daniels is a Yale-trained clinical psychologist in private practice. She specializes in the treatment of people with eating disorders using innovative and empirically based methods. Humor and connection are central to her treatment approach. You can contact her here.
Highly Sensitive People (aka HSPs) feel the world deeply. They are born with a nervous system wired to be super attuned and responsive.
If you are a highly sensitive person, self-care is critical because everyday life can be draining. You need self-care to refuel so you can make best use of the unique gifts of being an HSP.
The trait isn’t super common, but it’s not an anomaly either. About 15 to 20 percent of the population is born with High Sensitivity, with an equal male to female ratio.
High sensitivity comes with advantages and disadvantages, benefits and bummers.
Feeling, thinking, and living with intensity adds depth and meaning. Kind of like living in a world of bright colors and beautiful sounds, delicious flavors and appealing textures.The natural capacity for affinity and soulful connection is interwoven into the trait.
Intensity can also lead to a sense of ‘too much-ness.’ And generate angst that something’s wrong with you. That you are ‘too much’ . But you’re not.
If there were such a thing as a ‘muchness continuum’, you would be just right. Because you are just right.
You’re uniquely you, and your perception of the world is what makes you so extraordinary.
Productivity, swift decision making, and a fast pace are highly valued and praised in modern-day. These aren’t the innate traits of highly sensitive people like you.
And thriving in an environment that isn’t necessarily nurturing doesn’t just automatically happen. But it can be learned, which is great because highly sensitive person self-care is critical to overall health and wellbeing.
Thriving as an HSP takes effort and psychological strength. And you’re up for the challenge, once you educate yourself on the trait.
You can create the kind of environment for yourself that is conducive to growth, as long as you understand the highly sensitive trait. Discovering how to accept, embrace, and enjoy the kind of person you are translates to having a rich, meaningful life.
Let’s use a flower analogy. Consider orchids. They require a supportive environment to grow and blossom. Air temperature, amount of sunlight and water, location, and other features of the environment have to be within a particular range for the flowers to blossom.
Orchids are sensitive to the care they receive and have an exceptional capacity to grow and blossom under favorable conditions. They wither in an environment that does not support their needs. Orchids are not the everyday kind of flower or plant sold in flower shops.
In the world of flowers, highly sensitive people would be orchids.
In contrast, consider dandelions. They grow in nearly any kind of environment. They proliferate regardless of the amount of water, sun, shade, or care they receive. Their roots are deep in the ground, so deep that even yanking at them has little effect.
Dandelions are hardy and easily endure variations in weather, soil, and temperature. They even grow through rocks and concrete! Dandelions are common and symbolically represent the 80 percent of people who are not HSPs.
Btw, the high sensitivity trait has been documented in over 100 species of animals including chimpanzees, deer, horses, birds, cats and dogs.
For humans, expression of the high sensitivity gene shows up in four areas. Within the four domains are features that can be enriching or overwhelming.
Knowing about the four categories can help you embrace being a highly sensitive person and understand why self-care is so necessary.
For a highly sensitive person, self-care takes more effort than it does for everyone else. Here is why:
- Depth of Processing. HSPs process things deeply. You reflect more often and intensely on the ways of the world, including your own internal workings, relationships, and decision making. You make connections in your mind that other people respond to by saying they never thought
- Overstimulation. HSPs’ senses respond intensely and easily. Certain smells, sounds, or textures are overwhelming to you – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in yucky ones.
Crowds, bright lights, and loud noises can also be overwhelming – usually in the negative sense of the word. They can activate your ‘fight or flight’ response. As a result, you’re likely among the first in certain environments to feel overstimulated. Excessive stimulation can be one of the hardest aspects of high sensitivity to manage. As long as you can access a calm or just calmer environment to recalibrate, you will regain your equilibrium.
- Empathy/Emotional responsiveness. HSPs feel deeply. So, you probably tend to worry, be sentimental, and may even be known as ‘intense.’ HSPs can easily worry about the health and welfare of those they believe to be less fortunate. We can become sentimental when we see a flower that reminds us of a loved one. And our emotions can exude from us, causing others to think we are intense.
- Sensory sensitivity. HSPs notice details and nuance. The moment-to-moment changes of a setting sun, a subtle shift in facial expression, or the sound of the wind as it picks up speed are all things you naturally notice. Your senses are highly attuned, and your experience of life is much richer than it is for many others.
For the highly sensitive person, self-care is absolutely essential.
The kind of self-care I am talking about goes beyond bubble baths and pedicures. Immersing yourself or your feet in warm, sudsy water may be lovely, but not what the doctor ordered. (Maybe it depends on if the doctor has the high sensitivity trait lol.)
The particular form of self-care is individual to you.
Here are some refreshing ideas for a highly sensitive person to consider:
Make time in your day to spend a few moments in solitude, in a quiet, calm space. This can be especially helpful on days you have experienced a loud event, conflict, or busy-ness that has left you feeling exhausted. Give yourself time and space to reset.
Getting enough restful sleep is critical for an HSP to recalibrate, replenish, and renew. If you have a difficult time getting the sleep you know you need, here is a helpful guide you may want to check out.
Let your natural creativity guide you toward other ways to practice self care. Make your own special go-to “coping container” or box. Decorate it in a way that makes you smile. Maybe incorporate decoupage, stickers, sparkles, or doodles.
To take it a step further, fill the container with sensory faves. Invite your favorite senses to the party! Hello cinnamon (smell), velvet (touch) swatch, Tibetan bells (sound), mint (taste), and favorite photo (sight). Awwww! If you are highly sensitive, reading the suggestions may automatically cause a smile and warm feeling inside.
Have fun creating your container and choosing the contents. Allow for whimsy and nostalgia. The collection provides relief when you are looking for a quick (or not) dose of comfort.
You can always change the contents of the collection at any time to keep it extra interesting. Or keep it the same if you prefer consistency and knowing what to expect.
Making sure you are well hydrated is another self-care must. The same goes for nourishment. Eating enough, including foods you enjoy, keeps your body satisfied and energized.
Stable blood sugar and hydration help HSPs put their best foot forward. Eat a snack in between meals to fend away irritability, brain fog, and feeling out of it. Have a snack with you so that fuel is there when you need it. Keep a water bottle handy for easy go-to sips of water.
Compassion toward living things comes naturally for HSPs. Self compassion is not as automatic. A tender relationship with yourself softens how you speak with and care for yourself.
Treat yourself as you would a friend or a beloved. Maybe even refer to yourself with a pet name, such as “Sweetheart” or an empowering image like “Rockstar”. Or even a silly or superhero name to add light heartedness.
In any given situation you may need ‘extra’. Extra time, space, or comfort, for example. Trust that what you need is valid. Because it is.
If you are a highly sensitive person, self-care is critical to thriving.
Familiarize yourself with the four areas that comprise the gift of being a highly sensitive person. Honor and appreciate what you know to be true about yourself. Be open to and curious about what helps you be you- with all your splendor, wonderful quirks, and ways of being in the world.
Doing so will help you to discover, affirm, and prioritize whatever your orchid needs to thrive.
I’m Dr. Elayne Daniels, a psychotherapist, and I specialize in working with highly sensitive people. To learn more about my work, visit HSP page. If you’re in the Canton, MA area and are interested in working with me, you can contact me here.
Experts suggest you “embrace your Inner Sex Goddess” as if it were an easy thing to do. Even if you are well aware your negative body image is hurting your sex life, there is no on or off switch to change how you feel.
Especially if all you can think about is how “disgusting” your stomach looks and how “fat” your thighs are. And even more so if you are focusing on how to camouflage your body so your partner doesn’t see what you see.
For sure, negative thoughts running through your head provide a lousy set- up for foreplay or any kind of sexually satisfying experience – for you both.
Here are the ways your negative body image woes is hurting your sex life.
How you perceive and see your body affects desire and arousal.
The more negatively you think about your body, the more sexually inhibited you will be. All phases of the sexual response cycle are affected by disliking your body. That includes desire/interest, arousal, and orgasm.
Remember, the mind and body are connected, so thinking negatively about your body inevitably hurts your sex life.
Being critical toward your own body means you are less in tune with pleasurable sexual sensations.
You are less likely to want to have sex, to feel sexy, or to be present enough in the moment to experience the oohs and aaahs.
Feeling bad about your body limits your sexual expression.
Worrying about how you look means you are less likely to get naked with your partner. If you are disgusted by cellulite on your thighs, for example, you are unlikely to be comfortable with your partner looking at or touching your thighs. (Cellulite is normal, folks! It occurs in 80-90% of women.)
If you feel badly about your body, you may not be okay with your partner freely touching or exploring your body. Also, you may be so caught up in your own negative body image thoughts that you are not present to touch or explore his body.
Shame is associated with negative body image and with less satisfying sex.
Sooo many factors contribute to poor body image. A common one is a history of being teased. Let’s say you remember other kids in sixth grade calling you “Thunder Thighs”. Forget the fact it was fifteen plus years ago, and your body looks completely different now that you are beyond puberty.
Another common cause of negative body image and shame is the memory of how your mom talked about her own body and maybe yours too. Nonetheless, you still carry the beliefs, memories, and associated shame with you from that time. Shame and enjoyment cannot mutually coexist.
Due to boy dislike, the repertoire of sex positions is limited.
Self critical thoughts and feelings of disgust toward your body mean you are less likely to be playful and curious about different sex positions. Missionary style, perhaps under the covers and in the dark, may be the extent of what feels tolerable.
You may be unwilling to try a certain sex position because you think it makes your stomach look fat. At least give innovative sex positions a chance!
Dissociation from the moment is more likely with body dissatisfaction.
Critiquing your body size or shape takes up space in your mind and takes away from the present moment.
Being distracted with negative body thoughts means you are less able to access and experience the pleasure and intimacy of the moment with your partner.
Another reason for dissociation is a history of a sexual assault or other boundary violation. A negative sexual experience from the past can be triggered, causing a sense of being somewhere else other than in the here and now.
The most powerful ‘sex organ’ is your brain.
Your own thoughts and feelings about your body and your relationship with your body are what determine sexual satisfaction.
The key is not what you look or weigh. More moans of pleasure are available by addressing negative beliefs and thoughts your own brain generates. The only person who can do that for yourself is YOU.
Is Wabi-sabi the same as Wasabi, the horseradishy condiment?
Wabi-sabi is an ancient Asian philosophy centered on simplicity. It focuses on acceptance of life as is. It celebrates the beauty of things that are imperfect, temporary, and incomplete. It finds beauty in things that are modest and humble and unconventional. It is present-oriented. It is the embrace and reverence for imperfection. It is the joy of flaws. It is nature and humanity, connected and real.
Its principles are:
- Nothing lasts.
- Nothing is finished.
- Nothing is perfect.
These ideas are contrary to the ones that govern life in the 21st century. We tend to focus on the end goal. We fear, and we resist. We build defenses. We are drawn toward the shiny, the glitter, and the gold. McBigger = McBetter is the motto.
Of course, McBigger = McBetter does not apply to girls’/women’s bodies. (Yes, this is sarcasm)
We tend to define beauty in narrow terms. Beauty is a commodity that is sold to us, products or services promising us a perfect this or perfect that. Air brushed and Instagram filtered images are the standard to which we compare ourselves. Any blemish or scar must be eradicated, pronto!
Goddess forbid a body has any cellulite on it. Photoshop that sh*t immediately!
Why is there such disdain for what is real? What shows age? What nonconforms?
Ragan Chastain, a Fat Activist, talks about recognizing worth in all body sizes as a skill. To see beauty and worth in what may not be culturally sanctioned as worthy. THAT is wabi-sabi! Advertisers and other industries would lose tons of money, though, so they prefer to sell us what they lead us to believe we need in order to be of worth.
Who decides the standards for whatever we are evaluating?
Imagine the ease with which water flows in a river. Imagine the freedom of birds in the sky. Imagine the warmth of the sun.
Imagine the exhale that accompanies body acceptance. FEEL it, even more importantly. LIVE it, most importantly.
THAT is freedom.