Anxiety is a bully. I mean, there are so many ways anxiety wrecks body positivity that it makes my head spin. Well, it was already spinning from anxiety, but some of those thoughts were totally about my body being wrong. Because anxiety gives zero f*cks about how I'm feeling, especially when I'm feeling beautiful. Instead, it lurks in the background like a creepy predator, waiting for a positive thought to emerge so it can crush it.
OK, that's a little dramatic, but it totally feels like that sometimes. According to research published in Clinical Psychology Review, social anxiety disorder almost always overlaps with some other type of anxiety, such as body dysmorphic disorder, which is a severely negative body image. In other words, science has basically proven that anxiety and body positivity are frenemies. So if you suffer from anxiety and also struggle with poor self image or anti-body pos thoughts, you're not alone. One often leads to the other. So what can you do?
As an anxiety sufferer myself, and as a person who helped couples overcome their issues as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Responsible Sexuality Educator, I've got some tips. First you have to identify the ways your brain is bullying you. Once you do that, you can work on deconstructing and reversing those messages, whether in your journal or in your therapist's office.
1. It Doesn't Accept Compliments Well
The anxiety bully is never more ready to pounce then when someone is digging your look. In fact, anxiety is so stealthy, you probably just automatically say dismissive or negative things about yourself whenever someone compliments you, like it's a reflex. This inability to accept compliment is like a wall that keeps body positivity out.
What To Do: When someone pays you a compliment, just say "thank you" according to etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, in an article for the Huffington Post. This takes some practice, and you'll want to play off the compliment, but don't let yourself. Just own it.
2. It Doubts Your Taste In Everything
As if making you feel bad about the way you look wasn't bad enough, anxiety can make you worry about your taste. It can make you worry that your clothes are all wrong. Your lipstick is the wrong shade. Your boots are not trendy enough. Sometimes it stops you from buying things you really like. Sometimes it doesn't let you buy anything because it doesn't let you like anything.
What To Do: Go shopping with a friend who has really good taste. If you can't trust yourself, you can trust your friend. Do this enough, and you might even start to trust yourself to buy things that make you look and feel good.
3. It Makes You Worry What Others Think
This is really the heart of it all. It's weird because sometimes you can love your body, and really be feeling yourself, but you're still wreck with anxiety over whether other people will feel the same. This worry can be so strong it's overwhelming.These are called self-esteem attacks, similar to panic attacks, according to the Self-Esteem Institute, but they could also be panic attack related, depending on your particular anxiety. They've been known to have people running to the bathroom to take off a red lipstick or change clothes because they just couldn't handle the worry.
What To Do: Remember that people aren't usually thinking about you, and if they do, it's usually for just a few seconds. Also remind yourself that if someone doesn't like the way you look, they're not likely to tell you to your face, and their opinion is just one of many. Reassure yourself that you have an amazing bod, and that you are also so much more than your appearance.
4. It Makes You Believe Your Body Is Wrong
Believing your body is wrong is no joke. Negative body image can be so serious that, in addition to anxiety, it's also linked to depression and suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents, according to Science Daily. Those thoughts can keep you from doing things you want to do, meeting people, applying for jobs, and spending time with those you care about. It can make you think horrific thoughts, like wishing you could take scissors to your stomach, or unzip your skin and step out of it.
What To Do: Tell yourself that there's no such thing as a "wrong" or even a "right" body. Those are all constructs human invented. Also, remind yourself that it's insulting to judge you based on one aspect of your being, as if the size of your thighs is the whole of your worth. Get feisty if you have to!
5. It Tells You You're Too Fat
When you get dressed in the morning, anxiety can tell you that you're too fat to wear leggings (as if that's even possible). It can tell you you need to lose weight, you need to work out, you need to eat less, you look like a bloated manatee. And while "bloated manatee" may sound like a comical exaggeration, it's really not. These types of thoughts, rooted in anxiety, often lead to deadly eating and exercise disorders.
What To Do: Pick out some outfit combinations when you're feeling good. Take pics of them or write them down. When you're feeling bad, go to one of these looks and remind yourself that you know it's a winner, and that your anxiety brain is trying to bully you.
6. It Tells You You're Not Good Enough
This is a tricky one, because anxiety tells you both that you're not good enough and that you don't deserve to be good enough. It tells you that you don't deserve to treat yourself to a fancy designer bag, both because you're not stylish enough to carry it off, and because it would be like putting a ribbon on a toilet. It stops you from going to parties because you don't want to be the worst-dressed person there. When you have that great outfit, it tells you not to go because everyone will see through you.
What To Do: This one's tough and involves some real, deep self-esteem work. In the meantime, what you can do is to try minimize those feelings by telling yourself that it's just your anxiety, then walking yourself through the worst-case scenario. Odds are, the worst thing that could happen is probably not that bad, and totally something you could deal with.
7. It Makes You Judge Others
Sometimes we do some terrible things to make ourselves feel good. We're human. Often, those things include judging others. As our body anxiety drives us into an image-obsessed place, we may pick apart every single person we see. We do it on social media, too. Thoughts like "omg, those eyebrows, seriously?" and "what is that horrific dress?" may be satisfying or even funny in passing, but all you're doing is contributing to a culture that makes you feel bad, too.
What To Do: Practice finding only things to compliment in people you see. Whenever you catch yourself judging or snarking, call yourself out and stop.
It might take the help of a professional therapist or counselor to quiet the anxiety bully, and it's work you have to do all day, every day, but it's totally worth it to get to the truth of how beautiful and amazing you truly all. We all are.