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Written by Jessica Yu, Ph.D.
The holiday season is meant to be a festive time—a time to gather with family, friends and neighbors; a time to exchange gifts that delight others; a time to indulge in delectable treats. But for many, the opportunities to gather and indulge are wrought with anxiety, worry, guilt and shame about their bodies, their weight, and their overall appearance.
As a psychologist who has spent countless hours with individuals with eating disorders and those who struggle with body image, I’m here to offer some advice on how to show yourself kindness around this time of year and keep up a positive body image.
1. Be mindful. Mindfulness is the art of living in the present moment. It means focusing on and fully participating in what’s happening in front of you, and letting go of the past worries, future anxieties or other pesky thoughts.
Research has consistently shown that mindfulness is associated with improved psychological health. This holiday season, challenge yourself to practice mindfulness and allow yourself to truly experience special moments with loved ones.
For example, if you find yourself distracted by negative thoughts about your appearance at your family’s holiday dinner, throw yourself into conversation, hum along to the carols in the background or marvel at the festive decor all around the room. You might find that doing so helps you appreciate the present moment, bringing you more joy and less body-related stress.
2. Show yourself some kindness. We tend to treat our closest friends better than we treat ourselves. Think about it, what would you say if your best friend started to berate their body? You’d probably discourage their negative self-talk and encourage their self-compassion.
And you’d be justified in doing so, as studies have shown that self-compassion can be effective in improving body image. So the next time you find yourself telling your body that it’s no good, imagine your best friend whispering in your ear to tell you that you are nothing but beautiful.
3. Arm yourself with affirmations. According to self-affirmation theory, affirmations are a tool to defend oneself against threatening information and events and restore a sense of self-worth. When you are plagued by thoughts of how your body isn’t good enough, affirmations can help you remember that your body is exactly what you need it to be.
This season, come up with a handful of affirmations that you can recite to yourself when body negativity rears its ugly head. Consider statements that feel authentic and true to you. For example: “My body deserves love and respect” or “I am so much more than what I eat or what I weigh.”
4. Practice gratitude. Sometimes, one negative thought can lead to another negative thought, which can lead to another negative thought and so on. Purposefully practicing gratitude can be a way to stop this spiral and remember that there are likely things about your body that you appreciate, and—even more likely—things outside of your appearance, body and weight that you appreciate.
When you start to think negatively about your eating habits or weight this year, take a moment to consider all that your body does for you. If this is too challenging, consider the other things in life that you’re grateful for. If the research is right, practicing gratitude will increase your overall satisfaction with life.
5. Know your limits. The holiday season can mean a lot of face time, a lot of conversation, a lot of feeling the need to keep up appearances. If you find yourself overwhelmed or distressed by all the activity, remember that it’s OK to take a break. This can come in the form of excusing yourself from a conversation, scouting a hiding spot during a gathering or saying “no, thank you” to an invitation.
Keep in mind that these tips can be helpful beyond the holiday season, whenever you experience body negativity.
But if you get to a point where you’re feeling really down about your body, such that it’s affecting your overall health or ability to do the things you need to do each day, remember one of the most important tips of all—seek support. Find a trusted family member, friend, or therapist to confide in and help you maintain your mental, emotional and physical health.
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