Despite Anxiety Disorders affecting 40 million American adults and Major Depressive Disorder affecting 16.1 million American adults in a given year, mental illness isn't often talked about or disclosed by people suffering, except maybe to a therapist or trusted loved one. The stigma surrounding mental illness often leads the sufferer to conceal their struggle from others. This concealment then furthers the cycle of stigma and shame around mental illness when a depressed individual doesn't know anyone around them that is struggling, they can easily feel alone and ashamed. It takes courageous people that open up about their personal experiences to help normalize mental illness and give permission to all of us to talk about our struggles with mental illness and seek help.
Kristen Bell is one of these people. In this article she opens up about her past and current struggles with anxiety and depression and her use of medication to help her feel better. Hearing from others about their struggles helps decrease stigma around these diseases and can decrease the unnecessary self-judgment that gets added on top of mental illness.
An Exercise in self compassion
This short video highlights the costs of self-criticism and strategies for engaging in self-compassion. Self-criticism leads to focusing on and magnifying the perceived negative aspects of oneself. Despite the very common myth that harsh self-criticism helps motivate one to better themselves, self-criticism actually leads people to feel awful about themselves so much so that they need to use unhealthy strategies (drugs, drinking, food, restricting, etc) to cope with the pain caused by the self-criticism. In contrast, when people use self-compassion (which often involves seeing yourself objectively and giving yourself the same compassion that you'd give to others in that circumstance), they experience less anxiety and depression, are able to let go of their unhealthy coping strategies and live a much happier and accepting life. Self-compassion is not about being blissfully ignorant of your shortcomings, it is about seeing yourself objectively and being more balanced with yourself.
Ashley Graham is a model and body activist. In this video she talks about her struggles with body insecurity and what she has done to accept and love her body. She does a great job at normalizing the pressures that most women face over how they think they should look, whether it is something they've been told or simply messages they've internalized. These feelings of inadequacy lead many women to hold themselves back from what they want because they think they aren't good enough and can lead to eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. We often try to change our appearance thinking it will ultimately deliver a feeling (whether it's happiness, self-acceptance, confidence), but what we often don't realize is that we can actually get that feeling despite our looks (and that, in reality, the body is just a pseudo and very fragile path to self-esteem). Ashley is a great example of someone going for what she actually wants (career goals, confidence, self-love and acceptance) despite what some people tell her.
Helpful Guidelines for eating
This short article, written by the Ellyn Satter Institute, is a great guide to eating in a way that nourishes oneself instead of depriving oneself. This is a practice that can be learned. It may seem scary and impossible at first, but with practice, and possibly the help of an eating disorder therapist and/or dietitian for extra support, eating in a way that feels peaceful and enjoyable is attainable. Viewing food with the attitude of abundance and permission can be game changers in lessening the compulsivity that comes with deprivation and scarcity (AKA dieting and food rules).
Anna Clark is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist that specializes in working with eating disorders, including bulimia, binge eating, chronic dieting, compulsive eating, emotional eating and anorexia.