7 Mental Health Tips for Coping with Body Image Distress


A majority of Americans believe today’s beauty standards are causing an increase in body image distress. Between social media the beauty and fashion industries, relentless pressure is causing more people to seek out ways to cope with negative body image.

It is important to know the effects of body image issues and why they are vital to your mental and physical health.

What Is Body Image Distress?

Body image is how you think and feel about your body. Body image distress occurs when we perceive our bodies to be different than they are.  Body image distress is also when how you believe your body looks, or is perceived by others, dictates how you feel and how you feel about yourself. The most extreme form of this is body dysmorphic disorder. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is characterized by a preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in appearance, which are unnoticeable to others. This perceived flaw is sometimes noticeable but is usually a normal variation or is not as prominent as you believe.

Knowing the signs of body image distress can help you better identify useful ways to cope and seek professional help if needed. Signs of a negative body image can range from an obsession with weight, diet, and comparison of your body to others’ to anxiety or depression over your physical appearance. Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Do you spend much of your time thinking about your appearance?
  • Do you obsessively think about or imagine what others think of your body or appearance?
  • Do you check your appearance constantly to see how bad your flaws are?
  • Do you avoid social situations or going out in public because of how you look?
  • Do you believe that if your body was different everything else in your life would work out?
  • Do you have repetitive behaviors including comparing, touching, picking at your perceived flaws?

Any of these signs can be serious and further compounded by dangerous behaviors like restricting food or over exercising.  If you are struggling with body image distress, this guide will give you tangible ideas to deal with these feelings in a healthy, productive way.

  1. Know What Triggers You

Knowing your triggers is an essential part of having a healthy relationship with your body.

What makes you feel bad about yourself? How do you spend time that makes you engage in self-criticism? You can be empowered by choices that make you feel good. You can avoid purchasing magazines or books that hyper-focus on weight, diets, and refrain from television shows or movies that portray negative or unrealistic body images. Sometimes, triggers cannot be entirely avoided. You may be in a setting where a topic comes up that leads to anxious feelings. In these situations, you could remove yourself from the conversation or change the topic.

  1. Keep a Network of Supportive Friends

Not everyone understands the crippling feelings that body image distress can cause. Surrounding yourself with like-minded friends and those who have been through similar phases of life can be incredibly therapeutic. Supportive friends create a safe space in social situations where triggers might be uncomfortable or inescapable. If you have friends that obsess about their appearance as well and want to talk to you about it, let them know where you’re at and ask them to talk about other things. If you are having a moment of emotional distress, reach out to one of your trusted friends. Be willing to have an open and honest conversation with them about how you are feeling. Sometimes processing your feelings with a friend can give you clarity and refocus your mind.

  1. Place Boundaries Around Social Media

Social media is believed to be one of the primary causes of body image distress. In one study, 87% of women and 65% of men compare their bodies with those on social media. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok bombard the senses with heavily retouched models, filtered faces, and obsessions over physical appearance. Set hard boundaries with social media. These boundaries might mean deleting entire apps from your phone, or at least stopping notifications. Unfollowing or muting accounts that create negative feelings are a way to keep your social status and limit potential triggers.

Remind yourself that social media is a highlight reel. Many photos and videos are heavily edited and filtered to showcase an unrealistic portrayal of appearances, especially if put out by the beauty industry.

  1. Write About Your Feelings

Writing is a great way to understand how you are feeling and to think through it. Keep a small journal in your car or by your bed to jot down your thoughts and feelings. Feelings are not facts, but they can feel that way when they try to take over our minds. Separating facts from feelings is an essential skill for dismantling faulty beliefs about yourself and your body.

Your writing doesn’t have to be poetry or an essay. Writing down one to two words about how you feel can be beneficial. Let yourself be brutally honest in your journal and resist the temptation to edit yourself. Write without editing if you could express anything and no one would ever know-write that way. Use the “brain-dumping” method of writing down whatever is going on in your mind now.  It can free you from heavy, negative thoughts. Don’t use your journal only for hard days, also to remind yourself you are doing a good job. Write down empowering quotes, phrases, or mantras to read throughout your day or week. Use your journal as a reminder of the progress you have made and continue to make.

  1. Move Your Body in Joyful Ways

Being active might be overwhelming when you are dealing with body image distress. You may be scared to work out, unsure of how it will affect your mental well-being. Fitness is not a one-size-fits-all approach and finding joyful ways to be active can be healing.

Like setting boundaries with social media, set boundaries in fitness circles by avoiding group classes that cater to only certain sized individuals. Find communities and studios that welcome every person regardless of their size or where they are on their wellness journey.

Activities like walking, stretching, cycling and strength training can be great places to start. Concentrate on how your mind and body feel working in tandem during the movements. Experiment with a few modalities until you find one you truly enjoy and do not dread participating in.

  1. Practice Self-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion can help you manage how you feel towards yourself. What is self-compassion? Self-compassion is practicing being as kind to yourself as you would to someone you love and care about. Starting the path to accepting your body as it is and not continuing to berate yourself is bolstered by practicing self-compassion. Progress is never linear. You will have moments of great success and you will have moments that feel like you are going in reverse. Focus on your long-term well-being and goals. It is normal to have days that feel hard, but you will not be there forever.

Learning to accept yourself inside and out is a never-ending, messy, and beautiful journey. Body image distress does not have to define who you are or what you are capable of. Compassion and grace towards yourself are part of healthy, personal growth habits.

  1. Schedule Regular Check-Ins

We are not meant to walk this journey of life alone. Entrusting your thoughts and feelings to an experienced therapist can help you develop coping skills and strategies for many of life’s stressors.

If you find yourself dealing with body image distress, a professional counselor can give you additional resources you may not find on your own. At Center of Balance Counseling, we specialize in holistic, integrative, and evidence-based practices to guide you on your journey.

If you are dealing with negative body image issues, general anxiety or depression, grief, loss, or want to achieve improvement in your overall life, we are here for you. To get started with our healing and therapeutic services, visit our website to schedule an appointment today.

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