Body image, self-esteem and mental health

7 May 2019 | beando_admin

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 takes place 13th-19th May and this year is focusing on body image. In this article, Occupational Therapist and beanddo assistant meditation teacher Emily Edwins shares her thoughts on the links between body image and self-esteem.

When we talk about ‘body image’, we often relate it to a person’s self-perception of their body, and it can be positive or negative. Poor body image does not discriminate; it is an issue that affects people of all ages, genders and backgrounds — a recent study showed children as young as six are now exhibiting body image concerns.

But why is body image such a worry? It’s clear that our perception of body image is very closely linked to our self-esteem and both of these things start in our minds and not what you see in the mirror. Body image is both the mental picture that you have of your body and the emotions you feel about it day-to-day. A healthy body image is not simply tolerating what you look like or ‘not hating’ the way you look. Having a healthy body image means that you truly accept and like the way you look in the present moment and are able to recognise the individual qualities and strengths that make you feel good about yourself.

Value your whole self

Self-esteem is how you value and respect yourself as a person — it is the opinion that you have of yourself inside and out. Self-esteem can impact how we take care of ourselves, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Self-esteem is about our whole self, not just our bodies. When you have good self-esteem, you value yourself and you know that you deserve care and respect. You can appreciate and celebrate your strengths and your abilities and you don’t put yourself down if you make a mistake. Good self-esteem means that you still feel like you’re good enough, even when you’re dealing with difficult feelings or situations.

Body image and self-esteem directly influence our mental health, shaping our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. If you feel bad about your body, or part of it, it’s difficult to feel good about yourself as a whole. Equally, if you don’t value yourself, it’ll be challenging for you to notice the good qualities you possess and give your body the respect it deserves.

Building a healthy body image

So how can we foster a healthy body image? Well that begins with us — our bodies require respect in the same way our minds do.

Eating healthily and exercising regularly has positive outcomes not only for our physical health and appearance, but for our mental health too.

Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Having family and friends who accept us regardless of our flaws helps us to feel secure and provides us with a support system for the moments in which we do struggle.

Be mindful of what you hear and see in the media and how this affects your perception of your body or worth. Recognising the unhealthy stereotypes we are subjected to will enable you to take a more accepting view of yourself and your value as an individual.

The next time you notice that you’re thinking negatively about your body or appearance, pause and take a moment to question what is going on in your life. Are you stressed, anxious, or feeling low? Or facing challenges in other parts of your life? When a negative thought arises, acknowledge it but try not to become attached to it. Perhaps think about what you would tell a friend if they voiced a similar thought about themselves; be kind and then take your own advice.

Take part in activities that help you develop healthy coping mechanisms, so that you can respond appropriately when you begin to experience negative thoughts or emotions. Meditation has been proven to increase self-awareness and decrease symptoms of anxiety and low-mood. As meditation requires you to practice being in the present moment, it can have a cleansing effect on our subconscious minds which, for most of us, is where our insecurities lie.

Finally, remember that everyone has challenges with their body image at times. Talking to others can help to normalise these feelings and help you to feel supported and accepted.

If you are struggling with your mental health, remember you are not alone. If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know, you should seek the advice and support of your GP as a matter of priority. If you are in distress and need immediate help and are unable to see a GP, you should visit your local A&E or call 999.

During Mental Health Awareness Week we are hosting a free meditation taster session. Book your place now.

Other articles you might be interested in…

Meditation to help you tackle stressful and negative thinking

You need a self-care plan — here’s why (and how to create one)