I realized in January that I’ve spent a lot of time in the past year looking in the mirror. It’s not because I necessarily chose to, but as I spent months and months in quarantine, I seemed to pass by the mirror more often and linger for longer. 

I saw a Tweet the other day that echoed this thought, and I think it speaks to a larger issue some may be facing: developing a negative relationship with your body after the pandemic.

With the increase of “free time,” my friends and I have noted that we’ve asked ourselves the following questions: Shouldn’t I take this time to work out? Doesn’t this free time give me the chance to achieve the body I’ve always thought I wanted? 

And while the answer to the second question is theoretically yes, it can lead to a feeling of failure when you don’t live up to that ideal. That failure can grow into disliking your image — and at the extreme end — feeling disgust toward your own body.

Last spring, my friends and I got into a “groove” of working out. My roommate and I would follow online yoga routines together at home, and I went on (masked) walks with another friend. However, once fall courses began, I fell out of that routine.

Though I felt a building pressure to work out, it started feel like a chore that I neither wanted to complete nor had time to complete. And I’m not the only one.

A study by Anglia Ruskin University found that the anxiety and stress directly related to the pandemic caused body image issues among men and women. They found that women felt greater pressure to attain “thinness,” while men felt greater pressure to achieve “muscularity.”

They attribute this to a few reasons: increased time on social media, a lack of coping mechanisms and dealing with the variety of anxieties that come alongside the pandemic.

One of the coping mechanisms that people may have adopted in response to the pandemic or general anxiety is stress eating. 

A 2021 study notes that 47% of adults say they’re eating more as a result of the pandemic, with 59% of Gen Z participants echoing the same occurrence. 

Nicknamed the “Quarantine 19” in regard to pounds gained, 50% of women in a WebMD survey said they’ve gained weight due to COVID-19. And while people may think the name “Quarantine 19” is catchy, I think it adds to this building issue of the pressure to achieve the perfect body — and feeling failure when you don’t. There is seemingly an endless cycle of feelings of anxiety and judgement toward ourselves and our bodies. 

It’s important to note that these feelings of judgement and anxieties can turn into, or come from, something more.

Dr. Melissa Pereau, who works at the Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center Eating Disorders Partial Hospital Program, noted that their patient volume grew by nearly 50% in the first two months of the pandemic and maintained that volume as of late February.

Eating disorders are serious. They can have devastating effects on your health, relationships and perceptions of self-worth, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. 

If you believe you, or a loved one, are facing severe feelings of hopelessness or your perception of your body is majorly affecting your quality of life, don’t be afraid to seek help. You are not the only one, and you can find a place of happiness and healthiness. 

If you’re struggling with finding self-confidence right now, it’s important to know that you’re not the only one. Fashion brand Snag found that 34% of people say their body confidence has been affected by lockown.

In addition to knowing you’re not alone, routine can help. With gyms, yoga studios and fitness studios opening back up, you can look for something you find enjoyable. Routine can also help you find balance in your eating habits.

However, I don’t think this can solve everything. I think there may be long-lasting effects for people who have struggled with the “staring at the mirror for too long” or “seeing themselves on Zoom too much” issues. It goes beyond a 20 minute workout and deeper into your very self-worth.

Personally, I’m going to take time and be patient with myself. I’m going to start being more compassionate toward my body and appreciate it in the little ways. Nothing will change immediately, but actively choosing to value my body is a start.

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