Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Keeping Up Appearances: Social Media And Self-Perception

media-998990_1920Social media has been one of the world’s most amazing advancements in communication and social integration. In over two decades, social media has evolved to create an experience for users that allows them to stay in touch and share special moments on a unique platform. However, social media has developed a dangerous side, particularly in terms of users’ mental health.

I’ve often marvelled at how far we’ve come with technology, but at the same time, I’ve witnessed the toll that some social media apps can take on a person’s wellbeing. An increase in depression, anxiety, and body image issues has been attributed to prolonged or excessive social media use, including apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. But what are the exact risks that social media can pose to your mental health? And what can we do to give social media a more positive purpose?

A warped perception

 With the popularization of the “selfie,” some social media users can become enchanted by the idea of perfection. This has led to the development of several social media tools, such as filters, that enhance the overall appearance of a photo and decrease any perceivable “flaws” (e.g. blemishes, wrinkles, etc.) This creates a warped perception of a person’s self-image, leaving some people feeling out of touch with their own appearance, or with their life overall.

In extreme cases, some social media users have had their faces surgically altered to create the exact look that they can only achieve through filters and other photo editing tools.

The rise of photo editing

 The use of photo editing has occasionally been deemed controversial, especially in recent years. With many celebrities calling out publications for digitally retouching photos, there has been concern that many of these tools can further distort self-image, which may have a direct impact on mental health.

Social media apps have now integrated several user-friendly photo-editing tools, including Facetune, Snapseed, and Adobe Photoshop Express. These tools allow you to not just enhance your photos: they allow you to change facial features, skin texture and tone, and even skin colour.

Perception, reality, and addiction

 Aside from issues relating to body image and physical appearance, social media can be highly addictive. You may find yourself frequently checking Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook to see what other users are up to, but constant use or comparison can lead to a decreased sense of wellbeing.

Although some users may seem to have the perfect life on social media, the reality is often significantly different from what is portrayed online. The resulting comparisons, both from the user posting and from the users viewing the posts, can manifest in stress, anxiety, and obsession. The need to keep up appearances and comparisons may make some users ignore triggers, such as jealousy or shame, that inspire the necessary steps towards self-healing.

The good news

 We don’t always need to focus on the negative. Social media has facilitated a lot of positive changes in the way we stay in touch with our loved ones, communicate our unique ideas, and even market our personal brands. It helps us connect with people that we may not have had the opportunity to meet in the “real world”, and provides a wealth of information that can be shared with the touch of a button. If used for positive means, social media can enhance your life and expand your horizons.

For the most part (unless your job requires social media usage), it’s important to moderate your engagement. Limit the time that you spend per day on social apps, and work towards creating a positive attitude towards your own self-image. Remember that a lot of what’s happening in another person’s life is not necessarily posted on social. Working to maintain your own wellbeing, instead comparing yourself to others, will transform social media into a method of sharing your life in a more meaningful way.

Though it comes with its challenges, social media can be an incredibly powerful and positive tool. If you require guidance on how to better monitor your mental health and wellbeing while working with social media, don’t hesitate to contact your Employee or Student Assistance Program.

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Eating Disorders: What You Need To Know

As someobelly-2354_960_720ne who has worked in the mental health field for 30 years, I’m no stranger to working with clients who have suffered from eating disorders. This past week was Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a time dedicated to reducing the stigma associated with eating disorders and creating awareness about the mental health issue that affects approximately 1 million Canadians every year.

So what exactly is an eating disorder? In simple terms, an eating disorder is a mental health issue that leaves individuals completely pre-occupied with their weight. However, according to The Canadian Mental Health Association, eating disorders are not just about food. They are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. They are complicated disorders that affect a person’s sense of identity, worth and self-esteem.

Unsurprisingly, eating disorders are most common in females. A recent report found that 3% of Canadian women will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. This can happen for a number of reasons. Female body image is constantly critiqued in popular culture, and as a result, women are more likely to develop disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia in an effort to control their weight.

While eating disorders are more common in females, body image issues impact males as well. Men are exposed to a similar level of body critique, mainly that they need to be muscular and strong. This kind of societal pressure can result in men developing eating disorders or taking hormones like steroids to increase their muscle mass. Steroid use, like an eating disorder, also has a long-term negative impact on a person’s health.

Effects of eating disorders may not always be apparent. For example, anorexia sufferers generally have a very low body mass index (BMI), but people suffering from bulimia often maintain a relatively stable body weight. Here are some tips on how you can identify if a friend or employee is suffering from an eating-related mental health issue.

  • Food obsession
    It’s important to note when someone begins to obsess about food, for example, constantly counting calories or eliminating large groups of “bad” foods from their diet, especially if this was never a topic of conversation before.
  • Excessive exercise
    Physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle, but when you begin to notice someone is taking his or her gym routine to the next level it can be cause for concern. People with eating disorders often attempt to “work-off” the bad calories they have consumed after a binge, to the point where they are putting their bodies through physical discomfort.
  • Body image issues.
    While losing weight can be a side effect of an eating disorder, it can also increase the level of anxiety a person may have towards their body. Even though they may be losing weight, someone suffering from an eating disorder might wear baggy clothes to cover up their body. Take notice if someone in your life begins expressing dissatisfaction with his or her body more frequently.
  • Depression.
    Symptoms of eating disorders often mimic the symptoms of depression due to the lack of energy, low morale and lack of sufficient sleep the disease causes. People suffering from eating disorders tend to isolate themselves from groups, especially if food is involved. If you notice someone exhibiting symptoms of depression while showing signs of negative body image or food obsession, it could be cause for concern.

The impact of any eating disorder can be devastating. From restricting the body of food to choosing to binge eat and then purge, eating disorders can wreak havoc on a person’s physical and mental health. Short-term effects include poor digestion, kidney issues, anxiety and depression while long-term issues include infertility in women or death as a result of malnutrition.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, employer or friend, it’s important to know how to spot the signs of an eating disorder so if someone you know is impacted, you can help. Confronting someone about an eating-related mental health issue is difficult, but it’s important to get your loved one the help they need before they cause irreparable damage.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to get help. Contact your EAP or SAP provider for assistance, or speak to a medical professional.

For more advice on this issue, visit The National Eating Disorder Information Centre or CAMH.

 


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Spring: The Season to Discuss Healthy Body Image

stock-footage-woman-running-and-jumping-on-the-beach-slow-motionIt seems as though the warmer weather is finally here to stay, and as the temperature rises, the winter clothing layers are coming off to make way for summer clothes. As the layers come off, however, there is perhaps a slightly uncomfortable yet familiar self-consciousness that comes along with showing more skin in the summer months. Body image issues are prevalent among all demographics and genders, and summer weather is often when advertisements and other images in the media bring to light our body insecurities.

We know that media and print advertising does not leave very much room for imperfection, with photoshop and body enhancement surgeries widely available. We are being sold an idea of beauty and handsomeness based on impossible standards that we compare our own bodies to. Many of us, perhaps unconsciously, spend money in an attempt to meet these unrealistic and unnatural standards – why else would we spend millions of dollars on things like teeth whitening products, hair dye, diet foods, body-building supplements, plastic surgery, and gym memberships?

So, what is a healthy body image? The topic was trending in social media recently when young video blogger and musician, Meghan Tonjes, posted a photo to Instagram that aimed to celebrate her weight loss journey and the photo-sharing app removed the photo, claiming it violated its community standards surrounding nudity. Disappointed and confused, Tonjes believed her photo and account  were targeted because her plus-sized figure did not fall into the very narrow standards of beauty set by society.  Tonjes’ eloquently argued video response garnered praise from folks all over North America, where she said she would not be apologizing for her body and if her photo violated Instagram’s community guidelines, then so did many others, regardless of their body size.

Instead of focusing on what we need to do or buy to make our bodies more perfect, how can we improve our body image?

  1. Separating body image from self-esteem: Body image is the mental picture you have of your body and how you see your body, while self-esteem is how you value and respect yourself as a person. Regardless of your body size or how you perceive your body, people with high self-esteem understand that they are good and valuable people regardless of their body size.
  1. Appreciating your body for what  it  can do: We are often so focused on what our body cannot do – lose weight, gain muscle, firm up – that we forget all the glorious things it can do: walk, run, jump, lift things, dance, hug our loved ones etc. Remembering all that our body allows us to do will help us on the road to being more appreciative and less critical of it.
  1. Treat our body to healthy foods: No – I’m not necessarily talking about a diet, because we will always turn to the  negative when we feel deprived of something, like our favourite foods. Try instead, to look at food as fuel and that you are doing your body a service by eating healthy and nutrient-rich foods.
  1. Avoid body shaming: Because the media tells us to strive towards an ideal of attractiveness that is nearly impossible to attain, we are prone to speak to our bodies negatively and be critical of other people’s bodies too. Try to stop yourself from this train of thought and instead of looking for imperfections in bodies, search for things you appreciate, like a beautiful smile.

 

The human body is a miracle:  it is created in a way that allows us to carry out all of life’s activities.  Of course we want our bodies to look their best, but ultimately, what matters is how you feel about your body outside of the unrealistic standards that have been set for us by the beauty industry, Hollywood, and, the media.

How have you seen unrealistic expectations of body image portrayed in the media? How else can you appreciate your body and work towards a healthy body image? I look forward to your thoughts below.