Depression and body image are bedfellows. Many people who get depressed dislike their bodies. Many people who dislike their bodies get depressed.
It can easily become a toxic cycle.
“Often, depression distorts the way a person thinks and feels – with self-critical statements tugging at an already fragile self-esteem,” according to Deborah Serani, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of the excellent book Living with Depression.
“Many [people who are depressed] point to specific flaws on their bodies, while others describe feeling more general unhappy with their appearance or body performance,” said Ashley Solomon, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who writes one of my favorite blogs Nourishing the Soul.
People with a negative body image can become depressed when they let their insecurities dictate their lives. When they let a bruised body image stand in the way of socializing and other activities they enjoy, Solomon said. “If bad body image is leading someone to isolate, depression is a frequent result.”
Depression narrows your world. “For someone who’s depressed, the world starts to get very, very small. Suddenly, the universe consists of just you and your depressive thoughts, everything else shut out,” Solomon said.
But the great news is that whether you struggle with a sinking mood or clinical depression, you can get better.
Solomon suggested the following key ways to overcome depression.
Identify and pursue your values. “To combat depression, the most significant thing someone can do is to identify the things that are important to him or her, and start figuring out how to cultivate more of those values in one’s life,” Solomon said.
Seek support. “For someone who’s depressed, [pursuing their values] can feel like rolling a boulder up a steep hill, which is why those struggling need to seek [the] support of others,” Solomon said.
She suggested reaching out to everyone from mental health professionals to clergy to loved ones to support groups. “These supports can help remind someone of the things that are most important.”
(If depression is disrupting your daily functioning, it’s especially important to make an appointment with a therapist.)
Engage with the world. After you identify what’s important to you, Solomon said, “look at how depressive symptoms and behaviors serve to push those things out, leaving a black hole.” “To get out of that despairing place, an individual needs to be engaging with the world again, even when it feels impossible and uncomfortable,” she said.
Move your body. Moving your body can help to boost your mood and body image, Solomon said. This doesn’t mean running marathons, she said. It can mean engaging in slow and gentle movement. For instance, she suggested practicing yoga, taking walks – “with a pet is even better!” – dancing at home or hula hooping.
Building a healthy body image is a process. But all it takes is making the decision to walk that first step. Serani provided these crucial suggestions for improving your body image.
Don’t buy into the media. “Put down the magazines, turn away from commercials and other visual media and just take a moment to look around,” Serani said. “The human race comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors.”
Challenge the harsh inner chatter. “If the inner soundtrack of your life is filled with harsh, critical or negative statements, you’ll never learn to love yourself,” Serani said. It’s not easy to undo negative self-talk, she said.
But you can break the insidious cycle by paying attention to your inner language, challenging it and finding realistic alternatives. The more you practice, the more natural it’ll become.
For instance, if you find yourself saying, “I’m not pretty enough,” reply with, “Says who? I have to stop this hurtful kind of talk. I am beautiful. Inside and out. There’s no one in the world like me,” suggested Serani.
Embrace and celebrate your body. “Love your lines and contours, the curves and angles, your virtues as well as your flaws because they make you singularly unique,” Serani said. “From the figure you cut in your clothes and to the shape you take in your birthday suit, pamper, praise and be passionate about your body.”
And remember this additional powerful point from Serani: “Your body is your oldest friend and your constant companion.”
If you’ve struggled with a negative body image, sinking mood or clinical depression, what challenges have you faced? What’s helped you get better?
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Last reviewed: 10 Oct 2012