Photo credit: CC0 Public Domain

At the beginning of 2020, Afrah Howlader set himself the personal goal of exercising regularly. Howlader, a 21-year-old senior who studied public health at Drexel University, went to the gym frequently in January and February. The results were encouraging – her stamina increased, and she could feel herself getting stronger. Then, in March, COVID-19 closed her gym.

“This was the only time in my life that I went to the gym regularly,” Howlader said. “I spent all of the time building a good habit so it was definitely daunting to lose it.”

Determined to hold on to her destination, Howlader started running at the start of the quarantine. She was proud of the progress she continued to make. But on days when she missed a run, she found that her mood worsened. She was increasingly concerned about the “quarantine”.

“I was very ashamed because I couldn’t keep up with training, especially in the summer,” said Howlader. “I had a lot of fluctuating weight, which was very heavy. It definitely had an impact on my sanity. I felt like I wasn’t having a productive day if I didn’t go out and exercise.”

When the pandemic hit the US and the country closed, jokes about “Quarantine 15” popped up almost immediately on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Overeating as a means of coping with stress has become more common. This also applies to the use of virtual communication on platforms where users stare at themselves for hours, investigating both real and imaginary errors.

These factors have led to increasing body image problems, especially among young people, according to experts. A poll of 8,000 UK residents published by the UK Parliament in October found that 58% of respondents under the age of 18 said they felt worse during the lockdown.

“Young adults have a hard time thinking about weight gain and their bodies, especially during the pandemic,” said Charlotte Markey, professor of psychology at Rutgers University. “Social media doesn’t necessarily have a negative impact on body image, but the way most young people use it seems negative. There is a lot of research that suggests that misinformation like Photoshopping images or posts On diets without evidence is detrimental to young people’s body image. “

Critical messages about appearance during this stressful time are harmful, said Janell Mensinger, biostatistician and professor at the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing at Villanova University.

“The message we need to hear at this point is that we need to be kind to ourselves,” she said. “Concerns about exercise and eating can only be an overwhelming addition to an already traumatic time for people.”

Melissa Harrison, a therapist who co-founded the Center for Hope and Health in Ardmore, said that during times of stress, some people will focus on their bodies while others eat more because their vices get worse.

“We have seen an increase in what we call body checking. This is behavior that people use to track how they look,” Harrison said. “People are much more at home now and can look in the mirror or jump on the scales more often, which is one of the things that actually causes body image issues.”

Bad body image doesn’t always come from weight gain. Kenzie Myer, a 21-year-old senior at Arcadia University, lost 20 pounds living at home during the spring and summer when her university closed. But she dropped pounds because she couldn’t find any food back home in Berks County that didn’t inflame her irritable bowel syndrome, so she was afraid to eat.

“I felt like trash,” said Myer. “I’m a swimmer at Arcadia. You burn so many calories during the bathing season. The power is so high that you can eat what you want. Living at home now really forced me to restrict myself and be more anxious.” from eating.”

At the end of Myers second swimming season, she was proud of how strong she was.

“I could squat my own body weight,” she said. “Now I’m like this year and it’s like, ‘Oh god, it’s a little tough.’ “”

Young people also have problems with how they look from the neck up. Harrison pointed out that some of her young adult clients are struggling with how their faces look on camera because they have replaced everyday face-to-face interactions at work or school with video conferencing.

“Students are staring at each other on camera all the time, so they have facial problems,” she said. “I hear teenagers say, ‘I can’t stand my face right now, but my teacher says I have to keep my camera on.’ Most of their lives are lived on a screen, and having teens comparing their face to everyone else’s at Zoom can compound the problem of feeling critical of mistakes. “

The added pressure of being on Zoom for school and work made Priscilla Segnini, a 30-year-old PhD student at Georgetown University, eat more as a coping mechanism. Segnini, who currently lives in Radnor and works in social media strategy, said she attends up to eight virtual meetings a day for her job.

“I gained a lot of weight during COVID, so I started to feel these feelings of self-awareness,” she said. “I felt the pressure of making sure my hair looked good, my face looked good, the angle of my camera was good. I felt burned out and sat in front of the computer. I felt like it scared me.” “

In July, Segnini no longer had to attend Zoom meetings in order to work. She said her mental health improved noticeably afterwards.

“I ended up checking my picture for zoom so many times,” Segnini said. “It felt unnatural why I was paying so much attention to it? It wasn’t anything I had done before. I felt like having the camera on during zoom calls eventually became a distraction because I was like that focused on how I look. “

For those struggling with body image, Villanova professor Mensinger recommends using mindfulness techniques to stay in the present moment rather than worrying about the uncertain future. She also said that remembering the positive things that bring you to the table can be “quite powerful” and that being online can be empowering and helpful, although it can be difficult to be with friends and family to see in person. When problems with body image lead to anxiety that interferes with everyday life and work, experts suggested contacting a therapist.

“The message that our weight must be monitored is, in my opinion, a really sad indication of the values ​​of our culture,” said Mensinger. “If your weight adds a few pounds during the pandemic, the world won’t end.”

Howlader has taken this advice to heart. She stopped running so often in the summer because of the heat and Philly’s overcrowded jogging trails. But she recently resumed her habit.

“I’ve been trying to train more specifically lately,” Howlader said. “But I also make a concerted effort not to be guilty of it.”

COVID-19 Anxiety Related to Body Image Problems

© 2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Quote: ‘I felt like trash’: How COVID-19 has affected body image in young people (2020, November 3), accessed on November 3, 2020 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-11-felt -trash-covid- affected-body.html

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