“In the past I have been on the tube or sitting in the park and received scared looks, I think they fear I have some sort of contagious disease,” says Emma, 27, from London, who says the arrival of summer heightens her body anxiety. “This weather makes everyone want to get their skin out, but for me it means putting my eczema scarring and blotchy marks on show.”
For many, warmer weather might be cause for celebration but the mercury rising also means summer clothes: items that tend to show more skin and generally give less room to hide.
For those suffering with body anxiety, the overnight change in the weather can mean there is no transitional period to get accustomed to your new wardrobe.
Emma says she has never been able to find summer clothing - short sleeves, shorts, skirts - that she can “willingly partake in”. This is because revealing her limbs make her feel uncomfortable and instead she reverts to her winter wardrobe.
She says: “But covering up doesn’t help either, cause you end up being a sweaty mess. And being in a hot office, having colleagues ask why you are wrapped up for skiing is just as nerve-wracking.”
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Emma isn’t the only one worried about how her skin will be perceived by other people. Hannah, 27, from Kent, says her “incredibly pale” skin tone makes her feel self-conscious in the summer months. “Embracing your pale skin is still looked down upon. And the amount of comments I get about how pale I am drives me to go and get a spray tan.”
But when she doesn’t have time to get a spray tan, she will also wear winter clothes. “Wearing less clothing also results in more chance of my body being judged. I wish we could all go about our everyday lives without the fear of being judged.”
And the season isn’t just daunting for people suffering with skin conditions and concerns, it can also resurface weight worries. Lauren, 35, from Oxford, says: “At the start of every year I tell myself I’ll go to the gym and lose weight in time for summer. And now here we are, the sun is out, and I still am not comfortable in my skin.”
“I end up missing out on days enjoying the sunshine because I’m paranoid about exposing my body in public,” she adds.
I end up missing out on days enjoying the sunshine because I’m paranoid about exposing my body in public.'Lauren
A spokesperson from Anxiety UK says: ”Someone with body anxiety may spend a large amount of emotional and physical energy on their appearance; whether it be excessive exercise or grooming routines. Others will avoid interaction with others, for fear of being judged for their looks.”
It is not yet known why some people suffer with body anxiety, and others don’t but being bullied for a particular physical trait as a child can be a common reason. “The cause will depend on the individual. For many, the pressures society places on a person to look a certain way can absolutely have an effect on our anxiety.”
So how can you deal with body anxiety?
In order to try and deal with the anxiety and not let it ruin your summer, Sarah Floyd from No Panic, a charity helping people deal with anxiety, advises people to do the following things.
Talk about what you’re feeling. “Talking is very important, whether it be with friends and family, therapists and doctors. Keeping things bottled up always makes them worse, so get your worries and thoughts off your chest.”
Learn what anxiety is. “Knowledge is power, so understanding why you feel and react the way you do is essential. Breathe and Relax. Everyone tends to think that breathing comes naturally and that there can’t be a wrong way of doing it. Unfortunately that’s not true.”
Go for a walk or a run. “Exercise releases endorphins which are hormones that makes us naturally feel good. Exercise also increases our body temperature which can have a calming effect as well as burning off excess energy that can lead to anxiety. You are not expected to do a marathon or a gym class five times a week but a little something every day.”
Practice positive thinking. “Thought control has an extremely strong influence on our lives. Letting your mind run away with itself is not good for anxiety. Look at the facts. Each time you feel negative thoughts creeping in, take control and replace them with positive ones. This can take time to achieve, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes.”
Write a body diary. “Keep notes of your thoughts and feelings. Also add anything that you did to overcome the challenging times. Jot down anything positive that you can think of, or new steps made.”
Get perspective. “Try to keep a healthy perspective. Too embarrassed to wear shorts when the weather gets warm? Denying yourself comfort because you feel embarrassed of how you might be perceived will ultimately only have a negative impact on you. The hours you spend scrutinising yourself in the mirror aren’t comparable to the few seconds people spend passing you in the street.”