Body Dissatisfaction Is On the Rise Amid the Pandemic, Finds New Study

The mental health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic are extremely serious and far-reaching. A recent study has highlighted how the stress and anxiety of the health crisis has manifested for many people.

New research, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, found stress caused by the health crisis may be linked to increased body dissatisfaction in both men and women.

The study looked at 506 adults in the United Kingdom with the average age of participants 34-years-old. According to mbg, researchers found that those experiencing greater anxiety during the pandemic also saw an increase in body image issues.

The stress of the pandemic combined with lockdown conditions may have created an environment that allowed this body dissatisfaction to flourish, says social psychologist and lead study author,  Viren Swami, Ph.D.

“Our screen time increased, meaning that we were more likely to be exposed to thin or athletic ideals through the media, while decreased physical activity may have heightened negative thoughts about weight or shape,” Swami said in a press release.

“At the same time, it is possible that the additional anxiety and stress caused by COVID-19 may have diminished the coping mechanisms we typically use to help manage negative thoughts.”

The researchers found that when people feel stressed or anxious, their pre-occupations tends to follow gender-typical lines. During lockdown, women may have felt more pressure to adhere to traditional feminine norms as messages around self-improvement were intensified.

“Women may have felt under greater pressure to conform to traditionally feminine roles and norms, and messaging about self-improvement may have led to women feeling dissatisfied with their bodies and having a greater desire for thinness,” Swami said.

“Similarly, our findings reflect the way in which stress and anxiety impact men’s relationships with their bodies, particularly in terms of masculine body ideals. Given that masculinity typically emphasises the value of toughness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of status, COVID-19-related stress and anxiety may be leading men to place greater value on the importance of being muscular.”

Social isolation coupled with increased stress and anxiety and a change in routines has triggered a number of mental health issues for many people. Many health services, including the Butterfly Foundation, have experienced an increase in the number of people reaching out since the beginning of the pandemic. If you’re struggling, don’t be scared to ask for help.

If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can call the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here.

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