mental health

These Dating Apps May Be Destroying Your Mental Health

By | dating, Food for thought, mental health, self

According to a recent study, dating apps may be as bad for emotional and mental wellbeing as they are good at helping people find a date. Per MDPI, people who make extensive use of dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, Bumble, OkCupid, and others are often prone to hypersexual behavior and to depression.

And both of those tendencies can not only be bad for one’s mental health, but can ironically make a person a less eligible romantic partner, as well. Let’s define our terms, and then talk about why heavy users of dating apps may be at greater risk for certain mental health issues.

What Is Hypersexuality?

close up of couple kissing with passion
(Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash)

It’s no laughing matter, that’s for sure. And it’s not a tendency to act a bit more promiscuous than the other members of your social circle. Hypersexuality is a disorder that, left unchecked, can have myriad serious consequences in a person’s life. According to the Mayo Clinic: “Compulsive sexual behavior is sometimes called hypersexuality, hypersexuality disorder or sexual addiction. It’s an excessive preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges or behaviors that is difficult to control, causes you distress, or negatively affects your health, job, relationships or other parts of your life.”

Note the three operative words in there: fantasies, urges, and behaviors. In other words, you don’t have to be actually engaging in sex acts with multiple partners – far and away the most risky and damaging type of hypersexual behavior – to be afflicted by compulsive sexual behavior. Spending hours looking at pornography is very well within the purview of the disorder, as is spending hours each week swiping through dating apps.

The danger is that the latter two can lead to the former, and that hypersexual behavior in all its forms can damage existing relationships (with friends and family as well as with romantic partners) as well as making it harder to form a new meaningful relationship with a potential significant other.

If you find yourself struggling as a result of persistent and pervasive sexual thoughts and urges or if you often engage in risky sexual behavior – especially behaviors enabled by connections you make via dating apps – then you should seek the help of a mental health professional. Remember, these professionals will keep what you share confidential; they are there to help, not to judge.

Common Signs of Depression

man covers face sitting on couch
(Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash)

Depression is much more familiar to most people than is hypersexuality, and while the immediate deleterious effects of depression may not be as tangible as, say, an un wanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease, it too can be a serious mental disorder that merits treatment. If you are concerned you may be dealing with depression, first do a self-check for the most common symptoms.

The common symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness without a specific cause and emptiness when, objectively, you have plenty for which to feel grateful. Depression often manifests itself in the form of chronic fatigue and lethargy, yet also with sleep disturbance. A drop in appetite and an inability to concentrate are also common symptoms of depression, per the National Institute of Mental Health.

In severe cases, depression manifests itself in the form of ideation of self-harm or even suicide, and can lead to that worst outcome in the worst cases. If you feel you are in danger of any sort of self-harm, you can now simply call 988 for immediate assistance. And even if you are not in imminent danger of self-harm, if you are worried you are dealing with depression, seek help – things can and will get better with treatment. Just be sure to tell your mental health support person or team about your dating app use.

An Issue of Correlation, Not Causation

woman looking at phone
(Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash)

To be clear, using dating apps is not going to suddenly bring a case of hypersexuality disorder down upon you nor is it going to render you suddenly depressed. Many people make perfectly responsible, productive use of these platforms – indeed, dating app are the seed of countless relationships that have blossomed into marriage, family, and years and years spent in shared happiness.

However, people already more prone to compulsive sexual behavior and/or to depression may see these issues exacerbated by their use of dating apps. Like anything – and especially when it comes to things like social media platforms, a form of which dating apps are – it’s dangerously easy to begin using these apps too much and in a compulsive manner, developing a sense of addiction to the platforms themselves as well as to the potential for sexual liaison they promise. (Or simply to the fantasy of it, at any rate.)

If you are someone who is already prone to over use of pornography, if you are often consumed by sexual thoughts, fantasies, and urges, and/or if you have a history of risky sexual behavior, then you need to approach the use of dating apps with extreme caution. They won’t cause you to tip into hypersexual behavior, of course, but if you are already near that line, they may provide you the gateway to trouble.

Alternatives to Dating Apps

young people meet at cooking class
(Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash)

Yes, it can be hard to find a date these days if you eschew online dating, but it can be done – and after all, it worked for centuries, right? The easiest way to meet people without using dating apps is to rely on your network of friends, family, and colleagues. If you make it known you are actively hoping to meet someone special, anyone eligible that every one of those people in your network knows becomes a potential date.

You can also try things the classic way of going to coffee shops or bars and looking for singles there. But a better way to meet a good match is to engage in activities you most enjoy yourself that also offer the chance to meet someone new. If you love cycling, join a group of bikers or a spin class, e.g. If you love cooking, take a cooking class. If you love poetry, go to an open mike. By putting yourself out there via an activity or in an environment you already know you like, you make it more likely you’ll find someone with whom you match, no swiping right required.


What Do Happy People Have That You Don’t? The Answer Might Surprise You

This TikTok and Twitter Move Can Actually Help Your Mind – But Not Everyone Can Do It

By | Food for thought, mental health, self

Almost all of us use social media these days. According to studies, well over 90% of people in some age groups are regular social media users, be their platform of choice TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or others – or multiple different platforms, of course. 

With that use of social media can come plenty of pleasure, but also a lot of pressure. When we are constantly bombarded with perfectly posed pictures, with posts getting thousands of likes and shares, and generally with images or videos of people (ostensibly) living their best lives, we feel compelled to match them.

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What’s the best way to engage with social media? To try to post even more and better content? To check your various feeds even more often to make sure you never miss anything?

Actually, the best thing you can do for yourself social media wise has nothing to do with how you frame your pictures, how many Likes your post gets, or how many followers you accrue – the best thing you can do is simply to stop using any of it for an entire week.

How can we say that with such certainty? Because a recent study found an undeniable cause-and-effect relationship between take a week-long break from social media and a better sense of mental and emotional well-being.

phone being held outdoors in times square new york
(Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash)

Social media is addictive. That has been demonstrated time and time again in study after study, and if you’re honest and clear-eyed with yourself, you probably don’t even need a clinical and peer-reviewed study to tell you that – just imagine going without a scroll of Insta or a few Likes here and there on FB or some TikTok rabbit holes and chances are your pulse will quicken.

It’s no surprise why so many people are, at least to some degree, dependent on social media: it can be fun, it can be a distraction, it can be scintillating, it can be heartwarming. And what’s more, social media platforms are designed to be addictive; the algorithms choosing what content to serve you are designed to keep you hooked for as long as possible and keep you coming back as often as possible.

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If you’re spending a glut of time on social media – just like the platforms want you to – then chances are you are doing yourself a disservice, mental health-wise. Why? Because for many people, social media is more than just a time suck, it can literally damage your wellbeing.

depressed young man sits on couch holding face
(Photo by Nik Shuliahin 💛💙 on Unsplash)

An overuse of social media can cause depression and anxiety; that has been proven by rigorous scientific research and studies, and the effects are especially severe in younger social media users. And we’re not talking about just feeling a bit down for a bit of time, when we say depression, we mean the actual clinical term referring to a protracted state of low motivation, low energy, sadness, a lack of pleasure in life, and even thoughts of self-harm.

Anxiety, often paired with depression but distinct from it, refers to a state of worry and fear so elevated that it precludes many normal, meaningful engagements in life, preventing a person from doing things, going places, and seeing people that would otherwise bring them joy and satisfaction.

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In other words, depression and anxiety are real problems, and they can be caused or worsened by too much social media consumption.

Fortunately, a social media break of as little as one weeks’ time can reset the effects social media has on your well-being.

young person sits on the floor reading a book
(Photo by Blaz Photo on Unsplash)

If you’re worried that quitting social media for a week will be hard for you, you’re probably right – it will be. At least on day one, and maybe days two and three, too. But by day seven, it’s almost certain you’ll be glad you took the time. So plan ahead how to make this break happen.

The first thing to do is prepare yourself mentally. Try to get your thinking into a place of gaining more time, more peace, and more focus in your day instead of losing your social media time. Then try to go for longer than usual without checking any social media even before you forgo it fully for the week. 

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And don’t forget to tell a select group of people about your plans. If you interact with anyone on a daily (or very regular) basis, let them know you’re intentionally going dark for a week; that way, they won’t worry about your sudden absence, and furthermore they won’t try to contact you about your social media silence, a contact that could well draw you back into the very orbits from which you’re trying to break away.

During your week away from all social media, make sure you’re not dwelling on its absence and waiting to get it back. You can do this by trying something comforting, like a favorite hobby or reading or exercise. Or you can try something new, also, to get your mind off the absence. Or get out there and have some actual social experiences with friends or family or even meeting new people. 

If you’re having struggles with the process, indulge in some self-care, be it in the form of meditation, a massage, a floating session, or just a quiet night relaxing at home. And don’t be too hard on yourself if this is a surprisingly hard process for you. Remember, you are effectively breaking a cycle of addiction, so it’s no shame in it being a challenge to take a week off from social media.

laughing couple looks at entertainment on phone
(Photo by Karthik Balakrishnan on Unsplash)

There are a lot of great things about social media. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram make it easier than ever to keep up with friends and family. Twitter lets you follow celebrities and politicians and authors and more with a sense of familiarity never before imagined. TikTok can introduce you to some hilarious content from some hilarious people. In short, your daily time on social media can be like a daily dose of happiness – and literally so, when social media engagement releases some dopamine into your brain.

You just have to make sure that when you do get back to social media use after your week off, you reengage with some new boundaries for yourself. Don’t start scrolling and tapping when you’re angry or said, as social media use an amplify these negative emotions. And don’t go on Instagram or TikTok or any of it when you have things that should take higher priority in your non-virtual life. 

Used like a spice, social media will enhance your happiness, bringing interesting people, places, and things right to your phone or computer screen; overused, and social media can sour your every day. And week. And month, and on it goes.


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What Is BeReal – And Is the ‘Authenticity-Focused’ Social Media App Really Healthier Than Instagram?

By | Food for thought, mental health, self

If there’s one thing social media doesn’t have a lot of these days it’s authenticity. Even the accounts that promote keeping it real are usually peppered with filtered, carefully chosen and often sponsored posts. Our feeds used to be filled with friends. Now they’re crowded with influencers, celebrities and brands. 

Many people are over the idea of scrolling through other people’s most outstanding moments and just want to see something genuine. But can a social media app really be authentic? 

That’s what the app BeReal hopes to accomplish by providing a platform for users to show their true selves, not curated content. Here’s the lowdown on this app and why it might be a healthier alternative to Instagram. 

What is BeReal?

BeReal is a relatively new social media app that’s grounded in the idea of authenticity. It was founded in January 2020 by former GoPro employee Alexis Barreyat and now has around three million users. (Since April of this year, BeReal has been ranked in the top 10 of free iPhone social networking apps almost every day.) Its reviews are overwhelmingly positive so far.

The app is simple: Each day, users can take a photo that shows both their front-facing and back-facing cameras—like what a FaceTime screenshot looks like—which then gets posted to their feeds. There are no filters, no photo editing and no ads. The amount of retakes you can snap are also limited. 

The idea behind all of this? To create a social media experience that’s more authentic and less curated. 

How Does BeReal Work?

So, we know that you can use the app to post an unfiltered photo that shows your point of view from your front-facing and back-facing camera simultaneously. But there’s a little more to BeReal than that.

First, the app limits when you can post. Here’s how it works: Once a day, users receive a notification that they now have two minutes to take a picture and post it. The time of day is random. If you miss your two minute window, or opt to post later when you’re doing something more interesting, your friends will know that you didn’t snap your picture at the so-called “right time.” But, after all, the theme of the app is transparency and authenticity so disclosing this information is very on brand. 

If you don’t upload your photo, then you can’t see what your friends have taken and posted. This limits lurkers on the app—everyone has to participate to see the content, unlike apps like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. 

Is BeReal Better for You Than Instagram?

(Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash)

The big question of course is if BeReal is better for your psyche—and your soul—than the big social media platforms, particularly Instagram since that one has a similar format of posting images into a feed. Because of the constraints on how and when you can use the app, it does seem like BeReal could be a better option for people’s mental health. Here are some key reasons why:

It’s designed to be more authentic

The sentiment behind this app is to focus on realty, while Instagram is all about aspiration. BeReal isn’t a way to show others your highlight reel. It’s not presenting a curated selection of photos that only presents a slice of your real life. Instead, it encourages users to post about the mundane: You might see your friends sitting at their work desks, eating breakfast, lounging on the couch watching Netflix or waiting for a dentist appointment. 

On BeReal, there are likely to be fewer images of people partying on boats, enjoying a bespoke brunch or wandering idyllic, quaint towns in their best boho chic outfits since most people don’t spend the majority of their time doing these things. The format of the picture—having to see your face and what you’re taking a photo of—also adds to the realness. 

It doesn’t allow filters

BeReal’s authenticity mission extends to how you look in your photos, not just how and when you post photos.You may be unshowered, face free of makeup, hair messy or have food in your teeth. Plus, you can’t smooth out your wrinkles or blur your face to make yourself appear quote-unquote “better” looking. While Instagram gives users the option to pretty much recreate their entire face and environment (since you can edit your pictures within the app or by using other tools before uploading) BeReal doesn’t. 

It’s less pressure — and more fun

There’s no expectation for your photos (or your face) to look a certain way on BeReal. Everyone else is posting the actual reality of their lives—not just the highlights—so there’s little pressure to show off the best version of yourself or your environment. To try to would defeat the whole purpose of the app. This makes the app more fun since you actually get to see what your friends are up to each day without feeling jealous or less than if your life doesn’t seem to measure up to theirs. 

It limits mindless scrolling

(Photo by Plann on Unsplash)

Because BeReal limits when and how you can post, there is less content in your feed than on other social media apps. You can only see what your friends post (and only if you post a photo yourself) so there’s less of an opportunity to go down a rabbit hole of mindless scrolling on your phone. This prevents the app from being just another time suck and encourages you to get off your phone and live your life. 

It doesn’t have an advertising platform

As of now, BeReal doesn’t show ads, only your friends’ content. There are no sponsored posts or interstitials getting you to buy things or showcasing supposedly more ideal existences. (Remember when Instagram and Facebook were like this?) There’s no pressure to click and no annoying sales pitches. Just you and your friends and your daily lives. 

Only time will tell if BeReal will indeed be successful and overtake more traditional social media apps. But as younger generations get more vocal about wanting authentic social media experiences, this app (and others like it) will likely gain popularity. 

After all, most of us came to social media to connect with friends, not to be influenced or to be sold products and lifestyles. Many of us are tired of seeing curated feeds of filtered faces that don’t show true authenticity. A lot of people just want to keep it real these days—and expect others to do the same.

A Goal Setting Guide For Depression

By | Food for thought, mental health, self

Goal setting is a blessing and a curse for people with depression. One of the main symptoms of depression is low mood and motivation, making the attainment of goals seem difficult, or at times impossible. The more goals that go unachieved, the more a feeling of incapability or helplessness might sink in, reinforcing a depression cycle. Equally, the ability to achieve meaningful goals offers a sense of purpose that can cause the veil of depression to lift.

Part of the difficulty with this process is that the landscape of accomplishment is changed for someone who is experiencing depression. Collectively, we’re moving on from responses such as “just get over it,” to a more nuanced understanding. But the finer details of setting and achieving goals whilst in the midst of depression is still a work in progress.

In this article, I’ll share some tips and wisdom, from personal experience and fields of psychology, regarding the different goal-setting approaches required for depression. I’m a big believer that people can remain empowered and resourceful, even when their mental health is at a low. But that requires a few shifts in perspective, combined with a few bespoke tools.

Start From Ground Zero

One of my personal mottos is: “the only man I try to beat, is the man I was last week.” It serves many areas of life and self-improvement, including physical exercise, spiritual development, and goal setting. It keeps me focused on my journey, rather than comparing myself to others. But above all else, it scales up as I grow and evolve, supporting me in the midst of depression, and supporting me as I continue to achieve goals I never dreamed were possible all those years ago.

(Photo by Norbert Tóth on Unsplash)

This motto points to what I call the ground zero approach. The ground zero approach is the very beginning of the goal-setting process. It begins with an honest assessment of your current circumstances, allowing you to develop goals that are achievable. There’s a balance of compassion with this process — push yourself too hard, and you might overextend. Don’t push yourself at all, and you might become trapped in a cycle of learned helplessness and low self-esteem.

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A huge part of accomplishing goals is setting the right goals, something often overlooked. When it comes to depression, there has to be even more care and consideration when setting goals. That includes the awareness that the standard context is often entangled with hustle culture, work-hard-play-hard mentality, or hyper-productivity. 

Many standardized goals that emerge in this field, from waking at 5 am to high levels of output or facing your fears, aren’t tailored for people who have depression. If you overlook your personal ground zero and use this as a template, you could end up choosing goals that are out of reach. The attempt to achieve those goals could cause more damage than good.

Adjusting the Context of Goal Setting

Finding the right context for your goals is an inward process. There’s a need to reject the standards of the wider culture and work on goals that stretch you, just enough, into a state of improvement or development. That improvement comes from ground zero, not an idea of where you’d like to start from. Many psychological models point to this. Even Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s model of flow shows how the flow state emerges when skill and challenge level is adequately balanced.

taking a walk
(Photo by Balkouras Nicos on Unsplash)

When it comes to depression specifically, psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg highlights a paradox of depression and goal setting in his book The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic. He writes that “depressed people don’t end up lying in bed because they are undercommitted to goals. They end up lying in bed because they are overcommitted to goals that are failing.

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By external standards, the ground zero approach might not appear remarkable or groundbreaking. But is will be remarkable or groundbreaking when you take in full consideration of your ground zero. If you are struggling to get out of bed due to low mood, an unrealistic goal is to attempt to meditate for half an hour, journal, and write 1,000 words before the sun rises. Being committed to that vision neglects your ground zero, and makes you more likely to fail, or at least perceive yourself as failing.

Perfectionism and Progressive Overload

Building upon Rottenberg’s quote above, many people with depression demonstrate perfectionist tendencies. Perfectionism is also a big cause of procrastination. This isn’t surprising when you consider the nature of perfectionism. The authors of a 2018 study in Personality and Individual Differences note that: “the typical perfectionist is stuck in an endless loop of self-defeating and over-striving in which each new task is seen as an opportunity for failure, disappointment and harsh self-rebuke.” With depression, many normal goals are out of reach, and perfectionism can cause someone to strive to find the achievement of these goals easy when in reality, they aren’t.

frustrated young woman
(Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash)

This is challenging because this goes against the grain of societal expectations, and that’s the point — goal setting for depression has to respect the depression, without being a victim of it. That makes setting goals that incorporate ground zero a humbling process. It might mean having the goal to sleep in for only 30 minutes, not an hour, a few times per week.

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In weight training, there’s a technique known as progressive overload. Every time you train, attempt to lift a little more, progressively, whether that’s more weight, a few extra reps, or slightly better form. One more rep, or an extra kilo, is progress. When it comes to physical strength it’s tough to be dishonest — you can’t tell yourself you can bench 100kg if you struggle to lift 50kg. The same approach has to be taken to mental strength. Discover your current strength level, and aim for progress over time.

A Guide to Goal Setting for Depression

I’m a big believer that depression acts as a springboard to more fulfillment and greater well-being in the long run. Rottenberg agrees. His research has shown the need to reevaluate depression due to the number of people who thrive post-depression, which conflicts with the concept of depression being an incurable life sentence. One way depression can be a springboard is by learning a healthy, balanced approach to progress.

When you apply the progressive overload technique to life, you’ll find a sweet spot of pushing yourself, one that always keeps in mind where you’re at, whilst setting realistic but ambitious goals of where you’d like to be. With that in mind, below are practical steps to begin to incorporate goal setting for depression, to start at ground zero, without sacrificing ambition:

1. Accept your personal ground zero

young woman
(Photo by Eunice Lituañas on Unsplash)

It can be incredibly frustrating to feel restricted in comparison to others, especially if you’re ambitious. Feelings that surface around this are valid and have to be fully seen and understood. You might feel resentment or envy if you feel your mental health is holding you back. You might wish things were different. Give space for this, without falling into self-pity, or giving up completely.

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The process of acceptance can take time. It’s humbling because the ego will resist the nature of things. But acceptance means taking an honest assessment of where you’re at. How is depression affecting your life? Where are you wishing things to be different, or forcing yourself to reach standards that don’t incorporate depression? 

2. Cultivate self-compassion

Compassion is the desire to act to alleviate suffering. That makes it dynamic, as not all causes of suffering are the same, or require the same approach. Sometimes taking action alleviates suffering. Sometimes self-soothing or comfort alleviates suffering. Sometimes it’s a mixture of both. Either way, accepting your personal ground zero, and your needs at any given moment, involves self-compassion.

You might notice that you judge where you’re at as being weak. You might notice thoughts about never being good enough, or never being able to achieve big life goals when day-to-day activities are a struggle. In these situations, remind yourself that depression isn’t your fault, but it is your responsibility, and you can grow beyond its boundaries. Push yourself with consideration, not with resentment.

3. Work on self-validation

Recently I was talking to a friend who suffers from extreme anxiety. She was feeling upset that most people don’t see the amount of effort that goes into small accomplishments, such as going to the shops alone, meeting a friend for coffee, or walking through the center of town when it’s busy. It remains the case that people who haven’t experienced mental illness themselves might struggle to relate to accomplishments that others take for granted.

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That’s okay. Rather than looking for validation externally, learn to validate yourself from the inside, as you take into consideration what your personal ground zero was. If you manage to get up 30 minutes earlier after weeks or months of sleeping in, celebrate! This is the other side of the coin; if you’re able to honestly see where you’re at when you set goals, you’re able to earnestly celebrate when you achieve goals that are big wins from that starting point.

4. Become your own marker of success

(Photo by Francisco T Santos on Unsplash)

I don’t believe in setting low standards or seeing depression as irrecoverable, or a life sentence. Part of the process of “beating the man (or woman) you were last week,” is accepting that your journey is your journey, and no one else’s. Only you can truly know where you’re starting from, what you’re up against, and what parts of yourself threaten to hold you back. Only you know the inner voice telling you what you can or can’t do, and on the flipside, only you know how great it feels when you prove that inner voice wrong.

Goal setting, like all forms of development, is deeply personal. Yes, these tips apply to depression, because of the need to find a healthier context. But they apply just as much to anyone on the path of self-development. Dream big, as big as you can, and never allow any restrictions to dilute those dreams. Balance those dreams with practicality, honesty, and the ability to grow from where you’re at.

Allow your goals to evolve as you do. Keep improving, be patient when progress stalls, and remember that one day the person you were trying to beat is so many weeks away, that they’re unrecognizable. That’s the biggest victory you can achieve. So keep fighting. Be honest about your ground zero. And remember even the tallest trees in the world were once seeds below the soil.


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Britney Spears, Amanda Bynes and Why Breaking Conservatorship Is Such a Powerful Victory

By | Celebrities, emotional health, Food for thought, Inspiring Celebrities, mental health, self-development

Perhaps no single word in recent times has been thrown around the pop culture lexicon with as much controversy and magnitude as “conservatorship.” 

The institution of conservatorship has existed in some form or another since the formalization of law and order. In essence, it grants authoritative powers to a guardian over another person or organization’s personal and professional affairs. Mostly, this is due to that person being too old, too young or too sick to make their own decisions , and is generally meant to protect them.

However, as we’ve seen in very public cases, like, most notably, the one faced by Britney Spears, there’s something particularly visceral about the full extent of what a conservatorship could entail, especially when grown people — in particular women — have to fight tooth and nail to escape them.

As a result, there has been a collective examination of the entire concept of conservatorship and how its ostensibly protective merit is often manipulated and distorted to control women and suppress their mental health struggles. The most recent example of a conservatorship in the public eye coming to a cathartic close, after Britney, is the case of Amanda Bynes.

Why Did Amanda Bynes Have a Conservatorship – And Was It Really Necessary?

On March 22, 2021, a Ventura County judge officially terminated the conservatorship for Amanda Bynes, who had been placed under her mother’s “protection” over nine years ago. As mentioned, this comes directly on the heels of Britney Spears’ conservatorship ruling in November, which finally put an end to the legal arrangement that had been controlling Britney’s personal care and wealth for well over 14 years. 

In Amanda’s case, many members of the public didn’t even know she was under conservatorship until it was announced she was filing to terminate the setup. Unlike Spears, Amanda didn’t have to go through a tedious, drawn-out struggle in the public eye to get the motion passed in her favor. Her demand was granted only a month later, with the actress finally granted the ability to decide her own state of affairs. 

Amanda’s decline from A-list teen sensation to a person publicly dealing with many issues surrounding mental health and addiction has been well-documented in the media. Since 2010, she has quit acting, been arrested multiple times for offenses like driving while intoxicated, and been admitted to psychiatric facilities to get the help she needs and deserves.

In August 2013, Amanda’s mother Lynn was ordered by a court to take over her daughter’s personal and financial affairs, with the judge citing that Amanda “poses a substantial risk to herself, to others, and to property.” Though Lynn did seek consultation from legal professionals over how she could best oversee Amanda’s estate and guardianship, she remained the primary conservator. 

Despite losing decision-making power over her own life, Amanda tried her best to improve her condition. She went to rehab, focused on her sobriety, pursued fashion as a professional pathway, and even found love. When it was reported she was trying to end her conservatorship, her loved ones and supporters couldn’t be more ecstatic. Even her mom and dad, who were said to have maintained a positive dynamic with Amanda throughout the ordeal, were on board with the termination.

The family lawyer, David A. Esquibias, told TMZthat the petition to end the conservatorship had been “years in the making” and that both Amanda’s mom and dad had “realized the significant progress [Amanda] made in coping with bipolar disorder.”

When the judge officially decided to discontinue the arrangement, Amanda, via a statement from her lawyer, said, “I would like to thank my fans for their love and well wishes during this time.” She also thanked her parents for their support over the last nine years. She concluded by saying she’d like to continue prioritizing her well-being and is excited about the new chapter in her journey. 

In the last several years, I have been working hard to improve my health so that I can live and work independently, and I will continue to prioritize my well-being in this next chapter.

Amanda Bynes via PEOPLE

Britney Spears and Free Britney sign

Britney Spears’ conservatorship, unlike Bynes’, had been so controversial and protracted, it effectively shattered the relationship between herself and her father, Jamie Spears, for good.

Spears’ conservatorship order was established in 2008 in the wake of her public breakdown, which included psychiatric restrictions and orders around her children’s safety. Much has been written about this period in Britney’s life — who was to blame, who should have provided support, to what extent should the public have weighed in, the responsibility carried by her loved ones — but the fact remains that Britney wasn’t given the resources she needed to heal. She was left to fend for herself, and therefore submitted to the legal protocol purported to heal her. 

Not only did my family not do a goddamn thing, my dad was all for it […] I’ve lied and told the whole world, ‘I’m OK, and I’m happy.’ I’m not happy. I’m so angry. It’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day.

Britney Spears via Variety

As mentioned above, a temporary conservatorship can be beneficial in a few ways to help someone slow down and restore their mental faculties, but if a stipulation runs too long, it may endanger stripping those under protection of not just their autonomy but any semblance of inner peace they might achieve.

In Britney’s case, her family and legal team should have realized and recognized Britney’s progress as she was starting to demonstrate sound capabilities. Instead, they forced her to work in endeavors she had no passion for, prevented her from participating in rehabilitation, kept away her children, and governed her reproductive health. This took place for nearly 14 years, and it took a documentary and a global movement to reverse the damage. 

Why Breaking Away from Conservatorship Is So Important 

Not all conservatorships are equal — everyone will have a different experience, and for many, it is a necessary course of action. What more of us need to acknowledge, however, is how there’s a broader distaste for women going through mental health illnesses, and how, if they cross a supposed limit, they are punished, imprisoned, and in many ways, infantilized.

There is a way to help these women without trapping them in devastating circumstances that steal their lives for far too much time. On many occasions, as we’ve seen especially with Britney Spears, long-term conservatorship is just a convenient way to control women, their day-to-day lives, their long-term visions, their key relationships, and everything in between. The focus should be on nurturing these women, empowering them to fight their mental health struggles and helping them reclaim their right to freedom — not to keep them locked in the same situation, devoid of any agency or ownership.

High Functioning Depression: What Is It & What Are The Symptoms?

By | depression, Food for thought, mental health, Motivation, self, self-development

A common stereotype with depression is how it looks from the outside. 

Often these stereotypes are perpetuated by the media. For example, images of head in hands despair have long been linked with stories on depression or suicide, inspiring a campaign, Time to Change, to challenge these portrayals in the media.

Their campaign’s mission highlighted an important truth: “People with mental health problems don’t look depressed all the time.” So while yes, depression often is debilitating and stops people from functioning at a day-to-day level, it doesn’t always look this way. 

In fact, there’s a term for it: high-functioning depression.

What is high functioning depression?

Firstly, high functioning depression isn’t an official diagnosis. It’s a term given to people who are experiencing symptoms of depression while performing at a certain level of functionality. The difficulty with this type of depression is that it often goes undetected by friends and family, or even the person experiencing it themselves.

The closest diagnosis in the DSM-5 (the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental illnesses and mental disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association) is persistent depressive disorder. This is also known as dysthymia or chronic depression. Rather than acute and severe, this way this type of depression affects people is long-lasting.

According to Mayo Clinic, “though persistent depressive disorder is not as severe as major depression, your current depressed mood may be mild, moderate or severe.” Those with high functioning depression might maintain relationships, careers, pay the bills, build a family. But subtle feelings of disinterest, low mood, anxiety, apathy, or meaninglessness follow them around like a dark cloud.

Symptoms of high functioning depression

Because many people have internalized the misconception that depression has to look a certain way, those who experience high functioning depression might not be aware of it. 

A mental health professional might tell you that it could be that something simply “feels off,” or that happy moments in life, from big celebrations to simple joys, aren’t fully enjoyed or appreciated. 

Persistent Depressive Disorder

In the U.S., it’s estimated that around 1.5 percent of the population, close to 3 million people, feel depressed and experience persistent depressive disorder. When it comes to this type of disorder, a sign of depression is low mood that has persisted for over two years. 

Other symptoms of high functioning depression include:

  • Chronic sadness or feeling down, without an obvious cause
  • Self-esteem difficulty
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Low energy or motivation
  • Irritability and anger
  • Reduced social activity
  • Lack of or decreased appetite.
  • Poor sleep or insomnia

It’s common for people to think “I’ve got no reason to be depressed,” and to ignore chronic low mood when there’s no apparent cause. Because high functioning depression is present over a long period of time, many people even get used to, or adjust to, the symptoms, without knowing exactly when it started. 

Some people may feel that it’s just the way they are, and that they don’t need to seek treatment for a clinical diagnosis or emotional support.

How do I manage high functioning depression and boost my mental health?

I want to offer an unconventional view, one I stand by with every cell of my being. I believe depression is a great teacher, and if approached with curiosity and humility, it contains its own solutions. 

In the words of M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Travelled:

“Rather than being the illness, the symptoms are the beginning of its cure. The fact that they are unwanted makes them all the more a phenomenon of grace—a gift of God, a message from the unconscious, if you will, to initiate self-examination and repair.”

I grappled with depression for the majority of my life. At times it was more intense than others. In some peculiar way, the times when it was more intense, and really got in the way of life, were the most important, because they made me fully aware that I had to self-examine and repair. This is a catch with high functioning depression — it might not reach that tipping point, or it might take years of struggle to really begin to explore.

With that in mind, I’d like you to approach these steps with an open mind, and be willing to consider that high functioning depression has its own form of intelligence. In other words, to have faith that actually, you can learn to understand it, to grow, and heal through it. 

1. Accept its presence

Something called you to read this article. Maybe it was because you are concerned about a loved one. Or maybe there’s a part of you that suspects you’re experiencing functional depression and would like to dig a little deeper. 

That’s an incredible first step, as it shows a willingness to acknowledge where you’re at, a powerful first step in all change. By accepting that you are experiencing high functioning depression, you might feel grief, anxiety, or even relief. Start by being totally self-honest. 

The “persistent” in this version of depressive disorder is often due to the symptoms not being intrusive enough to seek immediate action. If you can acknowledge where you’re at, right now, you can take action before the symptoms increase.

2. Be honest about how high functioning depression impacts your life

The more subtle the symptoms, the more subtle the impact. Once you’ve accepted the reality of depression, the next step is to explore all the ways your life adjusts around it. Do you socialize less than you’d like to? Is your creative expression stifled? Are you unable to find joy in life’s simple pleasures? Do you lean on substance abuse to get through the days? Do you experience overeating, insomnia? 

signs of high functioning depression
(tommaso79 / Getty)

This process won’t be easy. But it will give you a clear idea of the way your life is affected and, on the flip side, the way your life will be improved once the healing process takes place. This can be used as motivation by the person struggling to get support or to place more attention and focus on doing the necessary work.

3. Consider your steps for support

The next step is to start to piece together a plan of action. 

It can be difficult to know where to begin, or what steps to take, once you acknowledge that high functioning depression is a problem. Consider getting professional support, whether through treatment programs, through talking therapy, or getting in touch with someone that can provide medical advice. Consider talking to a close friend about your experience. As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.

This process really depends on how much you feel you’re able to work through the symptoms. Often people with severe depression need support because they’re at such a low point, daily functioning is impossible. If you feel able to do the work, then a good starting point is to look at your life from a wide perspective, to identify what could be causing it.

4. Deconstruct the experience

An issue with stigma is that it can make a diagnosis feel overwhelming, or like a life sentence. I’d encourage you to view this kind of  depression as one part of a greater whole. Don’t worry about having to pinpoint exactly why persistent low mood is there, but instead, look at different life areas, such as:


Do you have a healthy diet and avoid overconsumption of alcohol? Are you getting regular exercise? Do you monitor your screen and social media use?


Are your relationships nourishing and mutually supportive? Do you have healthy boundaries, or are you overextending due to people-pleasing? Are you expressing your needs?


Are you spending time connecting to yourself, and to nature? Are you aware of your values and guiding principles? Do you know what’s most meaningful to you in life?


Is your work fulfilling? Do you have a healthy work and life balance, or are you overworked? Do you feel supported by your team?

Emotional intelligence

Are you able to identify and process your emotions? Do you fully feel your emotions? Have you resolved grief or trauma?

This process is worthwhile for anyone. But if you’re experiencing high functioning depression, it can highlight where you need extra support from others, either through people you know, or through a professional.

In conclusion

The awareness levels around mental illness and mental health awareness is improving all the time. But there’s a long way to go, especially when it comes to misconceptions and stereotypes. 

And as important as it is for people to be aware of symptoms to understand and support others who are suffering, it’s just as important for people to be fully informed in order to make sense of their own experience.

I’m a big believer that there are always, always positive steps forward, no matter where you’re at. The basis from this “Ground Zero” is one of acceptance and compassion. But in acknowledging your experience of high functioning depression, there’s an opportunity for deeper understanding and exploration of all the factors in your life that could be contributing to this mental health condition.

Even if there’s a one percent boost by making one change, that’s a success. Even if you learn a small lesson about yourself by looking into your inner world, that’s a success. Acknowledging that you could be experiencing high functioning depression validates years of struggle, and is also a success.

Start from ground zero

Start from Ground Zero. Know that change is always possible.

what is high functioning depression
(arvitalya / Getty)

And, most importantly, know that YOU deserve happiness and fulfillment in this life. It is possible to learn how to beat depression. Acknowledgment is the first step in moving towards that.

Depressed Teen Begs Hairstylist to Shave Her Matted Hair Off – What Happens Next Is A Lesson For Everyone

By | Food for thought, mental health, stories, uplifting news

Hairstylist Kayley Olsson was working when a 16-year-old girl came in with a horrifying story.

She said she had depression and “felt so down and so worthless, she couldn’t even brush her hair.”

As a result, her hair became unbelievably matted, so ahead of her high school pictures she wanted Olsson to “just cut it all off.”

Hairstylist wanted to help the struggling girl

In a Facebook post that went viral in 2017, Olsson wrote that meeting the teen, who she wished to keep anonymous, was “one of the hardest experiences.”

“I had a 16-year-old girl come in who has been dealing with severe depression for a few years now. She got to the point where she felt so down and so worthless she couldn’t even brush her hair, she told me she only got up to use the restroom. She starts back at school in a few weeks but she has her school pictures today.”

“When she walked in she told us just cut it all off I can’t deal with the pain of combing it out, she called herself worthless for it,” the post continued.

It honestly broke my heart and we tried everything we could to keep this child’s hair for her!

Kayley Olsson

A heartwarming makeover

Olsson wanted to share her client’s story as a reminder for all, especially parents, to be kind to those struggling with mental health issues.

At the end of the day, I want this to be a lesson to people. MENTAL HEALTH is a thing, it affects people all around the world and of all ages! PARENTS take it seriously; don’t just push your kids off and tell them to get over something they legitimately can’t. A CHILD should NEVER feel so worthless to not even want to brush their hair.

Kaley Olsson

Olsson put painstaking effort into making the teen feel like herself again.

“After being here 8 hours yesterday and 5 hours today we finally made this beautiful girl smile and feel like she IS worth something!”

Her last words to me were: ‘I will actually smile for my school’s pictures today, you made me feel like me again.’

Kayley Olsson

Ask for help

Telling someone struggling with depression to ‘get up and feel better’ definitely won’t work. Depression is an illness and we all need to be more mindful of the horrors of the mind that others around us are going through.

That’s why this story is so important to share. It shows the tremendous transformation that’s possible when someone struggling asks for help. It’s also a great reminder of the kindness of strangers.

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Be mindful of people’s Hidden Struggles

Mental health issues are real; extending a hand to people who are suffering can make a huge difference.

“The Bullies Did Me a Favour” – Woman Cruelly Bullied for Her Appearance Gets the Last Laugh

By | Food for thought, inspiring, mental health, Motivation, purpose, self-development, stories, uplifting news

At age 12, Jade Colcombe, a girl from Tonypandy, Wales, was cruelly bullied by her classmates who teased her – and sometimes threatened her – every single day.

As her peers spent their time in class, making friends and hitting the books, Jade’s life was a living hell. Little did she know that the tables would turn.

Torment 101

She was taunted and harassed by her fellow classmates and would be told she looked like a man and was made fun of for her ‘tomboy’ fashion. She recalled to the Daily Mail that it would start right from the opening bell.

”I’d walk into the room and the ‘popular’ gang would sit and snigger just because I didn’t have expensive clothes or wear make-up,” she said.

I was called ‘buck-tooth’, because of my teeth, ‘Dalmatian’, because of my beauty spots and ‘man’ because the hair on my arm was dark and noticeable.

– Jade Colcombe

“There have been times where I just felt like breaking down and crying.”

Desperate, she’d skip school and fake illness to avoid the torment. However, when it was clear it wouldn’t stop, the straight-A student quit school for a different one.

Sadly, the torment continued at her new school, with kids teasing her clothes and calling her ugly. For Colcombe, that was rock bottom.

“At my lowest point, I refused to talk to anyone because I feared that they would just laugh at me,” she admitted.

She found a new stage

Ironically, her family and friends urged Colcombe to enter the ‘Miss Radiant Photogenic UK’ pageant to help her build up her confidence and prove her haters wrong. With nothing to lose, she entered and, amazingly, won. Just like that, a switch was flipped and a queen was born.

Shortly after, Colcombe won the Miss Supermodel Great Britain title at Dream Street’s Miss United Kingdom pageant.

With that, the quiet girl had found her voice.

“For the first time at Miss UK, I actually spoke in front of an audience without getting upset or really nervous about it.”

Colcombe says that she has one special thank you for her success.

“To be honest, the bullies did me a favor.”

And now that I am entering national pageants all over the UK, I really feel like I’ve beat those bullies and proved them wrong.

– Jade Colcombe

Lean into your greatness

Next up for Colcombe: climbing 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for Noah’s Ark – a children’s hospital in Wales. The cause holds a special place in her heart: Her little sister Lexi, who has an incurable form of epilepsy, was saved by doctors at the hospital after suffering several seizures.

While climbing the world’s highest free-standing mountain is a tall task, Colcombe says that she’s already conquered the worst.

I beat my bullies, so with the support of my family, beating Kilimanjaro should be no problem.

– Jade Colcombe

No one should go through what Colcombe did. Sometimes children can be really cruel. However, past that struggle is the giant inside you. With help from family and friends, one timid girl tapped into a force stronger than any taunts or teases, and now she’s unstoppable.

Whether it’s your skin color, weight, or age, don’t let anyone make you feel less than the force of nature you are.

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Look beyond appearances

Physical beauty is nothing compared to a good heart.

The Truth Behind Lil Kim’s “New Face” Will Change The Way You Think About Her

By | dating, emotional health, family, Food for thought, Inspiring Celebrities, lil kim, mental health, Motivation, stories

Lil’ Kim is undoubtedly one of the brightest, most influential women in hip-hop, yet her legacy remains controversial for one reason or the other.

For the past twenty-five years, she’s been pushing the boundaries as a female rapper and breaking records in the process. She’s considered to have pioneered mainstream sex-positive feminism in hip-hop and has carved a path for many contemporary artists, including Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Kash Doll. In addition to her unique sound and lyrical matter, she’s known for her breathtaking, flamboyant fashion style and advocacy work for various causes. 

While she’s been an inspiring figure in more than many ways, she’s also let her fans down in others. The rapper, also known as Kimberly Jones, was convicted of three counts of conspiracy and one count of perjury on Marcy 17, 2005. She’d been caught lying to a federal grand jury about not having seen her friends at a scene of a 2001 gun shooting — a testimony that was subsequently proven wrong via video surveillance footage. Kim served twelve months in prison as a result. 

But lately, the criticism leveled at her isn’t about her past as a convict — it’s about her face. Here’s what we can learn from Lil’ Kim’s struggles with beauty and expectations:

Kim wanted to cover the injuries from an “abusive relationship”

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Lil’ Kim has been fielding criticisms and judgment about her face since the beginning of her career. In 2005, she went on a radio show and explained that she had had her nose broken during a physically abusive confrontation with an ex-boyfriend. Kim told the listeners that she, like many other women, had been part of a violent relationship that left her with a “broken nose, black eyes, all that stuff.”

The New York native revealed that she had to “fix her nose” not once but multiple times — every time she’d go through a procedure and come back to her boyfriend, he’d hit her again and send her reeling into a tangle of insecurities and self-loathing. It’s not just her face that was damaged as a result of these brutal attacks. Kim had to undergo multiple MRIs because “he beat me up so bad I couldn’t even move.” She also suffered from blood clots in her back. 

Kim was so tired of lying about her injuries, pretending they were “an allergic reaction,” and burying her bruises in makeup that she thought it would be better to get professional work done and wipe out those physical markings for once and for all. 

I kinda prayed the whole time. I didn’t know what to do. And it has a lot to do with my maturity too. It’s been times I was in the car with my ex-boyfriend and he punched me in my face and [I was] bleeding all over the car […] The doctor had to fix my nose [because] it was almost shattered. 

Lil’ Kim to The Source

The trauma led her to start her charitable organization, Lil’ Kim Cares, which does extraordinary work in raising awareness and funds for issues such as homelessness, child neglect, and violence against women. She’s also keen on showing that just because she’s a celebrity doesn’t mean that she doesn’t go through the same trials and tribulations as anyone else suffering from abuse. Like any other survivor, she has to muster up tons of courage to leave a toxic environment and learn to love herself again. 

Kim admitted she “cheated” with plastic surgery and didn’t think she was “good enough”

(Photo by Thaddaeus McAdams /FilmMagic)

It’s truly been an uphill battle for Kim to love herself, but she’s finally at a stage where she can do so to her heart’s content. It’s also crucial to note that Kim hasn’t always set a good example for her fans — she’s said and done things that have caused a tremendous amount of distrust and pain among her friends, family, and fans. 

Whereas the initial plastic surgery resulted from a violent altercation, Kim has admitted that she’s gotten more surgeries over the years by her own choice. She said she “cheated” and got several facial features “fixed up” as she pleased. In a 2000 interview, Lil’ Kim shared that she’s faced insecurities for as long as she could remember; her boyfriends kept cheating on her with “European-looking” women, the “long-hair type.” 

The mother-of-one said she felt like she couldn’t compete as a “regular black girl” and thought she wouldn’t ever be “good enough.” It’s not just former lovers that triggered feelings of doubt and shame in her; she also endured verbal humiliation at the hands of her father. She claimed, “It’s always been men putting me down, just like my dad.” 

To this day, when someone says I’m cute, I can’t see it. I don’t see it no matter what anybody says.

Lil’ Kim to Newsweek 

The continuous barrage of disapproval made its way to her head, and she felt like she had no choice but to turn to cosmetic surgery. Kim said, “It was like I could do nothing right, everything about me was wrong — my hair, my clothes, just me.” The fact that she’s getting condemned for conforming to the same expectations that were imposed on her in the first place is hypocrisy at its cruelest. Lil’ Kim likely didn’t ask to be saddled with the weight of these debilitating insecurities — they were drilled into her from a young age and were continually reinforced by the men in her life. 

Plastic surgery is a contentious issue that has neither wrong nor a right side. We have to trust women that they’re aware of the health implications and that they understand the full extent of what they’re choosing to undergo. It’s a massive, irreversible decision, and so it should be treated as such. As long as the person comes out on the other side feeling confident and beautiful, we don’t have the right to chide the person. 

At the same time, no one should feel so pressured to look a certain way that they perceive plastic surgery as a necessity, not a choice. Lil’ Kim couldn’t overcome her anxieties and had been fixated on her so-called imperfections for so long that the only way to get peace of mind was to go under the knife. It’s perhaps even more frustrating to see that her career is dominated by rumors of skin bleaching, lip injections, boob jobs, so on and forth when there are far more substantive points to discuss — including her run-is with law enforcement and her illustrious body of work. 

I’m a person who may get bored with my look sometimes. I love what God gave me, but sometimes I want to dress it up.

Lil’ Kim on One World Music Beat

Don’t let assumptions guide your judgment 

Sometimes it’s just best to see something and move on without asserting your opinion about it. People have been berating Kim for a long time — both before and after her plastic surgeries. If they had kept their assumptions at bay from the get-go, Kim wouldn’t have felt forced to go under the knife. 

Conventional beauty doesn’t determine the value of a person; what matters is the person behind the face and the work they’re doing to improve their lives and their collective society around them. Lil Kim has all but transformed the world of her hip-hop through her intuitive, thoughtful, and powerful music. Why must we let our presumptions drive our opinion of the artist? Especially since the artist herself had deeply personal and medical reasons to get many of these surgeries in the first place. Lil’ Kim has her own flaws, but choosing to love herself despite the criticisms shows endurance. And that’s something we can take away from her journey. 

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How To Combat Body Image Issues Without Actually Changing Your Body

By | challenging, emotional health, Food for thought, goalcast originals, mental health, purpose, stories

When coronavirus lockdown and social restrictions were announced in Germany, my first reaction was that it wouldn’t cause a huge change to my lifestyle. I have a fairly simple life, I work as a freelancer in my home office and cafes, I spend lots of time in solitude and my social calendar is fairly low-profile.

Yes, I’d miss the small things that are part of my routine, but this was a good excuse to deepen my meditation practice and step-up for those in need of emotional support. Then it dawned on me: the gym’s closed. My sacred space between the dumbbells and the squat racks, out of bounds, for months.

There may appear to be a conflict for a meditation teacher and coach who emphasizes our identity is not linked to the body. Whilst I’d love to profess I knew I’d miss the gym exclusively for the mental health benefits (of which there are many) I also knew it was going to challenge my relationship with my body, a familiar foe from the past.

Bigorexia, body image, and self-worth

I’ve been a regular gym-goer for over 10 years. The longest I’ve spent without going to the gym in this time was just under two months, when I first moved to Berlin. I’ve grappled with various issues in my relationship to exercise; from unintentionally punishing my body, to obsessively trying to get as muscular and defined as (super)humanly possible.

It’s a risk that comes with a hobby linked to the way you look. Combined with Hollywood images of the hyper-jacked, from Chris Evans to Hugh Jackman, and links between physical appearance and self-worth, it’s no surprise body image issues are a huge cause of emotional distress.

Women are most commonly associated with bodily insecurity, though eating disorders in men have risen 70 percent, and 45 percent of men said they’ve experienced “bigorexia,” the term given to an obsession with muscle-building. With the lack of gym access, high levels of stress, change to routine, and comfort eating, lockdown has created what Mayo Clinic psychologist Leslie Sim refers to as a “perfect storm” for body image issues.

Gyms are open again in Berlin, and it’s good to be back. However, towards the end of the three months’ with no access, the return of familiar thinking-patterns and feelings towards my body (not to mention the genuinely noticeable change in how my body felt and looked) led me to return to a familiar issue with a fresh perspective.

So what’s the link with body image and identity, and how do we develop a skillful approach that will benefit, not hinder, spiritual growth?

Judgment and the root of body image

This body, too: Such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.” — Kāyagatāsati Sutta

To identify with the body means mistaking our physical structure as who we are. The process of mindfulness, meditation, and spiritual growth is to understand that who we are is much wider and more extensive than the confines of the body itself. From this perspective, the body can be compared to a vessel which provides a “home” for your individual, unique expression of consciousness.

When we identify with the physical body, we might become attached to its sensations, emotions, and sense of separation. Body image issues arise when we place our inherent value on our physical appearance. Suddenly, self-worth is linked to the way the body looks.

Such a hierarchy of values is largely dictated by a culture that pervades the collective psyche with images of bodily perfection and unattainable beauty standards. From Hollywood to the advertising and beauty industries, the message is clear: here’s the way you should look, and good looks are the recipe to happiness and success.

This creates a vicious cycle of judgment. We judge the value of our appearance and, perhaps unconsciously, do the same to others. The body becomes objectified, a malleable object to sculpt, censor, change, to fit the standards that exist outside of ourselves.

In doing so, it’s possible to lose all appreciation for the gifts the body bestows — legs that move us from one place to the other, a heart that beats for a lifetime, a stomach that extracts nourishment from the food we eat, lungs that inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, eyes that see the beauty of the world… these are overlooked and obscured by one determining factor: physical appearance.

Developing a healthy relationship with the body

The body is a beautiful thing: it’s incredibly intelligent, wise, and adaptable. Having undergone a lot of work to improve my relationship with my body, I can tell you meditation is a powerful tool. I can also tell you that saying “you are not your body” as a seeming antidote offers very little value. It’s one thing knowing this, but it doesn’t offer a practical solution to what can be a very invasive and life-altering challenge.

I believe in making spiritual practice practical and accessible. So here are 5 steps I find helpful in improving your relationship with your body:

  1. Challenge judgmental thoughts: Mindfulness allows you to gain greater clarity on your thoughts. Notice how often judgemental thoughts arise: remember, they aren’t truths, but inherited thoughts from cultural values. When these thoughts arise, as well as observing them, challenge them gently. I challenge thoughts by reframing my self-talk in the same manner I would talk to a close friend.
  2. Meditate on the feeling of the body: Use meditation to simply sit and notice the rich universe of sensations that ebb and flow throughout the body. See if you can notice without labeling “good” or “bad” or “pleasant” or “unpleasant.” See how the body communicates and sense its aliveness. You can sample this now: close your eyes, breathe deeply, and spend a few moments paying attention to the sensations in your hands.
  3. Communicate with the body: You might feel a bit silly, but this works. One of my big breakthroughs came during meditation. I instinctively started an inner-dialogue with my body, and apologies for the way I’d been treating it. I was taking it for granted, exercising excessively, and taking little time to send appreciation. When I said the words “I’m sorry, thank you for all you do for me,” I burst into tears — my body responded to my apology and expression of gratitude with a chorus of chills.
  4. Develop a mindset of fascination: When viewed through the perspective of physical appearance, we look at the body with a judgemental eye, scanning its contours and curves looking for imperfection. Instead, see if you can shift your mindset to one of fascination. Explore the magic of the body: how it heals, how it provides you with the nutrients you need to stay alive. If you sense a change in your appearance, try and apply the same mindset. For example, “ah, look at how my body has adapted to less exercise.”
  5. Send loving-kindness towards your body: The loving-kindness meditation is a powerful, heart-opening practice. In meditation, I found a shift in the way I connected to my body when I visualized a bright, white light (representing unconditional love) throughout my body, whilst extending gratitude for all it offers.

Learning to change your relationship is a slow process, which involves exploring the body from the perspective of gratitude and fascination. Though it may seem irrational to be concerned about physical appearance during a global pandemic, body image issues are one of the most prevalent and pervasive causes of emotional distress – so be easy on yourself.

Rather than aiming to sculpt your body to perfection or learn to love your physical appearance, aim to gradually improve your relationship over time. Listen to your body’s form of communication. Be inquisitive. Sooner or later, this leads to greater harmony, connection, and gratitude, as you become receptive to the body’s inherent wisdom.

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