We've all had those days. You wake up feeling off. You stare at the mirror, scrutinizing every perceived "flaw." Nothing you try on feels right. Critical thoughts about your body follow you through your day, making it hard to focus or engage with the world around you. No matter what you do, you just can't seem to shake the body image blues.
Feeling bad about the way you look is an all-too-common experience that can interfere with your mental health, your relationships, your energy, and your ability to enjoy life. And when it has you in its grasp, it can feel like there is nothing you can do to free yourself.
While there is no quick fix, it is possible to change the way you feel about your body. Here are five techniques to try next time you find yourself caught in a downward body image spiral.
Defuse From Critical Self-Thoughts
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) teaches us that we don't need to believe every thought that we have. When you catch your mind saying something judgmental, try this mental trick: repeat the thought with "I'm having the thought that..." at the beginning (so "I look unattractive" would become "I'm having the thought that I look unattractive").
This changes a shame-inducing statement of "fact" into a calm acknowledgement of an unhelpful thought. The key to this technique is what happens next: once you've defused from the thought in this way, you bring yourself back into the present moment by giving your full attention to whatever it is you were doing (or any meaningful or soothing activity).
We often have particular parts of the body that we focus on when we're feeling low. When viewing your reflection, a photo, or simply a mental picture of yourself, try "zooming out" on the image like you would with a camera.
So instead of being laser-focused on one body part, widen the perspective to take in the whole picture, the whole person. You can even play around with zooming in and out, noticing that you have control over what is in focus at any given moment.
Or try looking at the image with the eye of an artist: What is the story of this image? What's going on around the subject, both inside and outside of the frame? Which emotions are being captured, and which are being hidden? What makes this subject compelling?
Reframe Body Focused Thoughts
The way we think and talk about our bodies can reinforce the way we feel about them. Often when we are in a body image crisis, we focus our thoughts on our physical appearance. We may voice these thoughts as "I feel ugly" or "I hate my [insert body part here]," when what we really mean is "I feel unlovable," or "I'm scared people will reject me if they see my vulnerabilities."
Even though it can be uncomfortable to acknowledge these feelings, the more we open up to them and give them space, the more we will learn - and be able to give ourselves - what it is we truly are needing.
Try Compassionate Meditation
If you're struggling to identify the feelings beneath your thoughts, a guided meditation can be useful. The psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach offers a wonderful practice called RAIN for self-compassion.
This technique involves four steps: Recognizing what's going on inside of us, Allowing the thoughts and feelings to be there without trying to fix or get rid of them, Investigating your inner experience with curiosity and kindness, and Nurturing the part of you that is hurting with compassion. You can find the guided meditation here.
Fake It 'Till You Make It
There are moments when the mind and heart resist all our efforts to soothe, or we don't have time for a full meditation. In these cases, we can use a "bottom up" approach to access greater self-confidence: moving our bodies in ways that signal to the brain that we are cool, calm, and collected.
One way to do this is by adopting a self-assured posture: straighten your spine, roll your shoulders back, tilt your chin up slightly, and smile. This kind of "acting as if" may seem silly or even disingenuous at first, but it can provide a much-needed confidence boost for those difficult body image moments.
Struggling with body image and ready for some help? Negative body image is often rooted in deeply-held beliefs that can take time (and the help of a good therapist) to untangle. Contact us at Elevate Counseling and we will get you feeling confidant, happy and whole.