Many holiday-makers are desperate to slip on their swimwear, slather on the sun cream and soak up the rays this summer.
For others the thought of revealing their bodies in a bikini on the beach will bring a wave of worry.
But there are ways to cope with these body image anxieties, says our member Caz Binstead.
It’s better to think with the long-term in mind, rather than choosing short-term solutions or setting yourself unrealistic goals, she adds.
“Be kinder and more compassionate to yourself," says Caz.
“People need to reconnect with their bodies. They need to recognise that just because they think something about their body, doesn’t mean it’s true. They need to look at the facts more.”
Social media and Love Island
Sometimes these body image anxieties can stem from the ‘perfect’ bikini bodies and lifestyles people see on social media.
“People compare themselves to others and that can be a real trigger,” says Caz, who is on the executive of our Private Practice division.
“They see these Instagram images or Facebook posts. They get into comparing mode. To them, it looks like everyone else has a great life on Facebook and that they all have a great body on the beach.
“Often, I have to say that people aren’t going to put pictures of them having a bad day, or slobbing around, on social media. What people put up on social media are images of them looking their best.
“It’s the same with Love Island. The people we watch on that show are not really every day, typical people in how they look. It’s important to remember that.”
Sometimes these body image anxieties can be sparked by something that was said in the past that played on a person’s mind. This is especially the case for young people.
Caz adds: “It can often come down to worries about body image growing up, a bad experience with a boyfriend, or parents saying their child has put on a bit of weight.
“Young people are very subjective. If somebody said I was fat I would be able to look at that objectively and know that was just opinion. But young people hear that message and they really internalise it and believe it.”
For some people low self-confidence can manifest itself into anxiety about how they look.
Reflect on feelings
“There are things people feel when growing up, such as feeling different, like they don’t fit in or feeling social anxiety. They may think they can control these by controlling how they look. For instance, some people wear lots of make up for this reason. It’s a coping strategy.”
Caz warns against short term solutions for the holiday season.
“People develop coping strategies around going to the beach or on summer holiday that make them feel better. Perhaps they don’t go to the beach, or maybe they wear a big sarong. But these are short term coping strategies.
“There’s often a problem as the summer holidays are approaching, that people set unrealistic targets for how they want to look, and then feel like a failure. They’re putting too much pressure on themselves.”
She adds: “As therapists we’re trying to get people to think about the long term. The solutions need to be more sustainable.”
“It’s important to reflect on feelings and this is what we do in the therapy space.
“Generally, there’s a correlation between anxiety and self-esteem. When anxiety is up, self-esteem is down. If self-esteem is up, anxiety goes down. Helping get this balance right is a really important part of the work therapists do,” says Caz, who has a private practice in Clapham, south London.
“Feelings about their body can be a projection of other issues, such as self-esteem. People can get really caught up with the idea of feeling fat, but they are disconnected from why they are feeling this way. They’re not aware of their other feelings, such as low self-esteem or low confidence.
“As a CBT therapist, sometimes, I will say 'let’s work on those feelings'. Let’s have an understanding that it’s not just about body image.”
She also says it’s important to try to accept change.
“This is the same for life in general. People don’t deal with change well. It’s important to remember that bodies do change. A woman her 30s will look different to a woman in her 20s. These are natural changes in life. But people find that change really difficult.”
One thing Caz recommends is ‘graded exposure’.
“Create a pyramid,” she says. “Start with what is the least feared thing. That could be looking in the mirror for five minutes a day. The most feared, for instance going to the beach in a bikini is at the top.
“You don’t jump from the least feared to the most feared. You just go on to the next rung of that ladder, maybe sitting in a garden in a bikini. Then move up to another step, when you’re more comfortable with your body. It’s about setting realistic targets.”
And hopefully these realistic targets will result in a relaxing seaside summer holiday, with minimum worry or stress.
If you want to talk to a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist visit our Therapist directory.
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