Category Archives: Social Media

The Weight of Eating Disorders


American Psychological Association defines eating disorders as “abnormal eating habits that can threaten your health or even your life.” The 3 most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. Anorexia nervosa is an illness in which a person fears weight gain resulting in a restriction of eating to become thinner and thinner. Bulimia nervosa consists of eating an enormous amount of food and then purging almost right after. Binge eating is similar to bulimia nervosa, but without the act of purging.

Although eating disorders only became noteworthy back in the 1980s, the rate of the disorder is on a steady increase all over the world. Eating disorders can affect any race, age, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. As a matter of fact, researchers have noted that there may be a fourth type called “compulsive exercising,” more commonly in men than women, where an afflicted individual may be prone to exercising obsessively. It is crucial to take note of this upward trend, as eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all disorders. One in five afflicted individual’s commits suicide, and every hour approximately one person dies as a result of his or her eating disorder. It is often extremely comorbid as well, specifically with anxiety and depression.

The disorder commonly manifests as an intense fear of gaining weight, resulting in symptoms such as dieting, restricting food intake, pickiness, and preoccupation with body weight and food. Due to a person’s intense fear of gaining weight, a common sign that someone is experiencing an eating disorder is having an excessive amount of measuring tapes and scales around the house, including the bathroom, living room, bedroom, kitchen, and even in their own purses. A research study asked people with an eating disorder to point to the photo that best represented their current body shape (one photo was of their actual current selves and one photo was altered to make them look fatter). They found that people chose the altered fattened photo of themselves, suggesting that a person’s cognitive distortion of their body shape reinforces the classic belief of “I am never thin enough.” Interestingly, although the word anorexia means a loss of interest in food, person’s with this disorder often become more obsessed with food via gourmet cooking, taking photographs of fancy food etc. Their obsession with food acts as a way to regain control and cope with intense emotions.

Eating disorders can be caused by multiple factors including genetic, biochemical, psychological, cultural, and environmental. An example of a prominent cultural factor is the way society has come to view women’s

body as an object of admiration and beauty. In the media there is an overwhelming and consistent depiction of how a woman should look like in order to be considered beautiful. In 2013 a short one-minute video showed an attractive woman with hair and makeup fully done by a professional team getting airbrushed after a photo shoot to the point that she almost looked like two different individuals before and after the photos. The video explicitly revealed the unrealistic and impossible standard regular women strive to reach for. Despite the fact that this clip went viral, the dietary culture remains intact. These societal pressures can lead a young child, who may be going through puberty or getting bullied at school, to develop an eating disorder in order to fit in with their peers and what society portrays as “normal.”

Thinking about environmental factors, it’s important to note that eating disorders do not occur in isolation. According to “Family Systems Theory,” the disorder can be understood by looking at the symptoms embedded within a person’s dysfunctional family structure. Families of children afflicted with eating disorders frequently exhibit the following characteristics: overprotectiveness, a great deal of enmeshment, and lack of conflict resolution. As a result, children do not develop independence or control over their life, leading them to seek control in other areas. The simplest solution is often to control their body shape by controlling what they eat.

The disorder requires meticulous attention to a person’s physical and psychological state. In order to appropriately address the issue of eating disorders, there should be initiatives at both the micro and macro level. Family therapy is a good treatment option because eating disorders affect the whole family, so it’s important to involve everyone’s voices. There should also be more campaigns that work towards redefining the definition of “beauty” to counteract the affects of current media portrayals of beauty.

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

Stella is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently working on three projects that focus on maternal mental health at the Mothering Transitions Lab at the University of Toronto under Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis. She has various research experiences that range from postpartum depression to LGBTQ members with schizophrenia. She is dedicated to help those who are afflicted with mental disorders.

The Power of Taking a Break from our Phones


In late November, my iPhone broke. For a number of reasons, I had to wait indefinitely before I could fix or replace it. At first, this didn’t seem like a big deal to me; it was hardly a significant lifestyle change. But then, as I thought back, I realised that I had never really experienced my day-to-day life phone-less for an extended period of time. The only time I really went without a phone was on vacation with my family. For the first time in 12 years, I would be living life cellphone-free, indefinitely. Fast-forward 6 months: I still don’t have a cell phone, but this time by choice. I made this decision about 3 weeks into my “phone-free life,” when the opportunity arouse to replace my old phone. In just 3 short weeks, I had seen positive changes in myself, my habits, and my ability to connect with others. My interactions with the world around me were becoming more authentic and mindful. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies; this transition definitely had its challenges. But for me, the improvements far outweighed the challenges.

Most surprising was the positive impact it had on my mental health. As someone who struggles with issues of social anxiety, introversion, and major depression, I was worried about not having my cell phone to use as a coping mechanism. Phones have become like a crutch when in new and/or uncomfortable social situations to avoid the discomfort. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how I managed challenging social situations without a phone. I realized that my old ways of escaping the discomfort only reinforced my belief that I was unable to manage the experience of any discomfort. I realised that my phone was holding me back far more than it was helping me. Without my phone to shield me, I found myself learning to be comfortable in the discomfort that came from new social situations. My instinct to avoid eye contact and small talk was replaced by attempts at connecting with those around me. I spent less time trying to craft an impression of myself as someone who didn’t care to interact with those around me, and more time growing the confidence to be authentic about the social connection I was craving.

The other area where I saw improvements was in my reliability. I was surprised to find that giving up my cell phone actually improved my punctuality. Without my phone to enable me, I found that I no longer had the option to send a series of last-minute texts alerting others that I would be 5, 10, 15 minutes late. For me, not having constant access to communication forced me to be where I was supposed to be and when I was supposed to be there. This growth extended into my overall reliability, as I was less likely to change original plans without the quick and easy convenience of a cell phone. Through this experience, I realized that the flexibility that came with technology and being able to communicate at every moment also impeded my ability to honour and stick to my original plans. I started to feel empowered by my ability to follow-through on plans.

Without things like daily texting, I found that I actually had the opportunity to appreciate and miss the people in my life in different ways than before. I no longer clung to the false sense of connection that sometimes comes from communicating without connecting. Rather than a quick text or phone call, I held onto the things that were important to me so that I could share them in person with the people closest to me. An added benefit of this was that I was really able to enjoy and celebrate life events and achievements, by taking the time to honour them. Most of all, without my phone acting as a filter through which I experienced the world, I felt more authentic and mindful in my overall day-to-day experiences of my life and the world around me.

* Disclaimer: This was my own experience of being phoneless and I understand that it may not hold true for others. I want to acknowledge that for many, a cell phone can be a very necessary and useful coping tool: one that keeps them safe and comfortable. This post is not intended to dismiss or alienate those individuals and their experiences. My privilege also comes into play, as I don’t have the responsibilities of a caretaker or someone in a similar role whose lifestyle requires they have constant access to a cell phone.

By: Meghan Thapar 

The Social Media Trap


Stuck in a long line, I whip out my phone to refresh Instagram, waiting for the all too staged “candids” to pop up on my feed that I know took half an hour to edit, filter, and craft. I am no innocent bystander to this societal norm. Every double-tap is a confirmation that my life is one worth living. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat: pick your poison. No one can escape this constant, almost impulsive desire to be seen or heard, the instant gratification of approval and acceptance captured in a little blue thumb. I don’t think this is what they meant when they said to “live your life out loud.”

I struggled enormously with different insecurities throughout my life. I have two sisters, and I am truly grateful that our relationships have only strengthened with time. But in middle school when I was chubby, had acne and braces, wore bifocal glasses, and had frizzy hair, compared to my gorgeous sister who was a cheerleader, it was difficult to look in the mirror and not wish I were someone else. Oh, and I was also in a marching band. I mean, come on! But in all seriousness, I had a tough time accepting how I looked, and much of my difficulty stemmed from my destructive tendency to compare myself to my sister, and to those around me. My self acceptance was linked to the approval of my sister. I can now look back and understand that I had an unhealthy relationship with myself throughout my adolescence because I was so consumed by what other people thought of me. I’m nowhere near perfect, and I still catch myself comparing myself to my sister sometimes, but when I find myself caught up in that, I remind myself of how different we are, that I cannot expect myself to be like her. Without those embarrassingly awkward years to figure myself out, much of who I am now would be lost. I probably wouldn’t be studying psychology, or living in a different country, or writing this.

Social media makes it almost impossible to remove yourself from the toxic trap of comparison. The “mindless” scrolling we engage in silently reinforces the belief that we are not enough as we are. We aren’t tan enough, skinny enough, fit enough. Our lives aren’t exciting enough, or bright enough, or good enough. But for who? At the end of the day, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Are you happy with your body? Do you think you could be having more fun? Is this the life you want to live? Those same people we envy also struggle with insecurities, and their lives are probably not all beaches and sunshine, and candids in the sand. My gorgeous cheerleader sister also struggled with her own personal insecurities. The personas we present online are rarely ever the full picture of who we are. Social media wouldn’t be nearly as popular if people showed the true versions of themselves: the heartbreak and the pain, the insecurities and confusion.

So next time you’re standing in line, scrolling through Instagram, and you see that picture of your acquaintance from high school looking all cute at the beach, remind yourself: that person’s life extends way beyond that silly picture. They are human, and probably compare themselves to others, just like you. We won’t ever know the entirety of someone’s life history, their struggles and failures, from a post on social media. But we carry our own personal history with us, and this is the one that matters. Be your own benchmark. Compare yourself to yourself. Be better than you were yesterday. You are the only person on this planet that can make an accurate judgment of how “good” your life is. So make it the best you can, not for the likes, or the followers, not for the insecure middle school you who has something to prove. But for the you in the mirror today.

By: Talia Main

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

The Selfie Culture – An Invitation to Take a Break

“Authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It is a practice…a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real, the choice to be honest…the choice to let our true selves be seen.”
– Brene Brown

I meet many young people who answer the following questions in the following way. ‘Do you compare yourself much to others?’ ‘Yes, all the time.’ ‘Does it happen on social media?’ ‘Yes, constantly. On Instagram mostly.’ There is something going on in society today that is creating a lot of pressure for young people when it comes to their appearance, self-image, and emerging sense of self. While it would be wrong to make a direct link between social media use and rising anxiety levels, it would be even more foolish to believe that the growing use of social media, among young people, is not having an impact at all.

The selfie culture has become a normal part of life for teens and many pre-teens growing up in the 21st century. However, the constant posting and viewing of selfies can prevent a young person’s journey towards discovering who they really want to be in the world. When I speak to young people in therapy about selfies, a lot of what they are trying to achieve with their posts is approval from others and a sense of self-worth. But what if seeking approval from others was let go of for a while. What would fill that space? From asking young people, it is my understanding that a break from selfie taking and thus from Instagram, leads to lower levels of anxiety, which creates space for a more enriched relationship with the developing self.

There is freedom in switching off from the constant viewing of celebrity air-brushed pictures. It allows space for a more coherent view of what it means to be ‘you’, a person of value in your own right, a person who does not need the approval of others in order to know their worth. There is something very freeing about making the choice to be authentic. However, many young people are faced with the pressures of trying to fit in and needing to be like somebody else (i.e., the popular ones or the rich and famous ones). In idolizing these superficial features in others, young people can lose sight of their own value and never feel fulfilled with themselves.

Teenagers are at a sensitive stage of their psychological development. They are in the stage of identity development, which makes them extremely self-conscious and constantly in tuned with feedback from others, especially their peers. You can imagine then how difficult it must be for teens to take a break from the selfie culture, as it gives them so much feedback and information about themselves and others.

This Summer might be the perfect opportunity for you to take a break from this selfie culture and focus on yourself. Even coming off just one social media site for a while can have an impact on how you begin to feel about yourself. If you believe that Instagram boosts your self-esteem because of the positive feedback you receive, it is worth noting that it’s not healthy to become reliant on social media for self-confidence. Confidence should come from within and not be influenced by anyone or anything. Anyone who believes that their worth is dependent on the feedback they get on their selfies is at risk for negative psychological consequences. So be careful and take a break. Your self-esteem will thank you for it.

By: Anne McCormack

Anne McCormack is a Psychotherapist based in Dublin, Ireland. She is the author of ‘Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Media: Five Easy Steps’ available here http://www.easons.com/p-4740342-keeping-your-child-safe-on-social-media.aspx.

Mental Illness Portrayed in the Media

thumbnail_24715Chances are the majority of knowledge of mental health comes from the media. Researchers have suggested that most portrayals in the media are stereotypical, negative and incorrect. Stigma towards mental health has been in the media as far back as the 1800’s, with a prime example of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” depicting Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which was formerly called split personality disorder or multiple personality disorder. An inaccurate portrayal of people with mental illness has created negative stereotypes in all types of media (internet, television, and print material such as magazines and newspapers).

In most cases, the psycho killers, crazy girlfriends/boyfriends, stalkers and criminals all have some kind of mental illness, according to Hollywood. All too often, this results in a culture of fear and ignorance towards mental illness resulting in stigma. Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that the majority of people living with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, rather than being the perpetrators of the violence. However, popular TV shows like “Criminal Minds” that depict crimes being committed by people with mental illness only help reinforce this stereotype and continues to create a universal fear. Sometimes the stigma attached to mental illness is so strong that people are unwilling to seek help out of fear of what others may think.

The current movie “Split,” which came out in theatres on January 20, 2017, has a lot of controversy within the mental health community. I have read comments on Facebook from people who live with mental illness and still want to watch the movie because it’s just that – a movie. There are others who live with mental illness and are disgusted at how the movie presents DID, formerly known as split or multiple personality disorder, and is also frequently mislabeled as Schizophrenia. My boyfriend and I went to see “Split” and we didn’t find the movie as bad as it was made out to be. I felt that it did portray how someone with DID functions and what can happen. I liked how the psychiatrist in the movie defined DID by explaining how the brain works and how the personalities co-exist. Overall, I thought the movie was well done and that the trailers made it look worse than what it actually was.

It’s important to keep in mind that portrayals of mental illness in the media are only an issue when they falsely portray the illness by using negative stereotypes that affect those living with a mental illness. Here is a partial list of movies that honestly depict mental illness in their true form:

1. Rain Man (1988)-Autism
2.What About Bob (1991)-Anxiety
3. As Good As it Gets (1997)-OCD
4. A Beautiful Mind (2001)-Schizophrenia
5. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)-Bipolar
6. Inside Out (2015)-General mental health
7. Benny & Joon (1993)-Schizophrenia

What can we do to help end this stigma in the media?

1. We can call or write to the publisher or editor of the newspaper, magazine, book, or radio and TV station and help them realize how their publication has affected those people with a mental illness.

2. Start a discussion about that movie, TV show, or article that you read. Explain to people what it’s really like living with a particular mental illness and highlight the discrepancies found in the media.

3. KEEP TALKING & KEEP LISTENING

By: Anita Levesque

Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

Screen Shot 2016-10-02 at 9.54.13 PM

 

Combating low self-esteem in relationships

imagesLow self-esteem is common in today’s era. Comparing ourselves to others happens every day, and realistically, whose self-esteem wouldn’t be hurt by this? With social media being a huge part of our lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the success of our friends, family, distant friends, and even people we don’t know — leading to harsh judgments on ourselves. However, what we don’t realize is how this can lower our self-esteem and inadvertently affect out relationships. So how can you tell if low-self esteem is affecting your relationship? Here are some key consequences:

  • When there is a negative relationship event, you (or your partner) take it personally (even when it may be a completely external force creating tension)
  • When there is a positive relationship event, you (or your partner) DON’T take it personally (credit should be given, where credit is due—feeling proud isn’t always a bad thing!!)
  • You (or your partner) doubts their value to others
  • You (or your partner) don’t have trust in your/their love and caring
  • You (or your partner) anticipate rejection and try to self-protect

So how can these affects be mitigated? Reassurance. Giving reassurance can boost feelings of security and lead to more confidence. The best way to do this is to reframe compliments in a more abstract way, making compliments more meaningful and more likely to be remembered. It is not uncommon for strangers to give you a quick compliment that can sometimes be hard to believe. But, when a compliment can be put into a sentence with background information, it shows that someone really put thought into it. When we know someone, like our partner, has thought about us, we feel flattered and reassured, giving us a boost of self-esteem!!

By: Rachael McAllister

The Benefits of Nature

Nature-BrainWhen was the last time you had the chance to go for a hike, a bike ride, or a picnic? Nowadays we are so caught up with technology, that people prefer to stay inside than go out and be active. Nature is beautiful, calming, and has amazing health benefits such as providing us with warm sunlight and fresh clean air. According to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, when living closer to nature your body and mind will be healthier.

One way of living closer to nature is to allow yourself a minimum exposure to natural sunlight, which provides our body with natural vitamin D. Some reasons as to why Vitamin D is so important is that it helps prevent cancer, hormonal problems, obesity, inflammation, and it contributes to the human body having a strong immune system. Sunlight also contributes in helping set the body’s internal clock. The internal clock is something that everyone has which indicate to us when to eat, sleep, as well as regulates and controls hormonal functions that occur at specific times of the day.

Nature also provides us with fresh air which is a major benefit to one’s health. A health benefit would be that it helps your digestive system work more effectively. It also improves your blood pressure and heart rate. According to scientific research, when living in an environment that has dirty or polluted air, your body has to work twice as hard to receive the same amount of oxygen it requires than in a clean air environment. Fresh air helps clean the airway of your lungs so that they can dilate more fully, which in return cleans your lungs and makes them work more effectively. Just like sunlight, fresh air also strengthens your immune system. Our bodies operate by using our white blood cells to fight and kill bad bacterium. However for these white blood cells to work at their maximum capacity, they need clean oxygen.

Fresh air also increases serotonin levels in your body, a natural chemical which is known to be directly linked to the elevation of emotion such as the feeling of happiness. Serotonin is a chemical that is linked to constricting smooth muscles, regulating cyclic body processes and contributes to wellbeing and happiness.  The more oxygen inhaled the more your body produces serotonin Finally, fresh air results in a boost in energy and can enhance your mental performance and abilities. Your brain needs approximately twenty percent of your body’s oxygen. Inhaling cleaner oxygen will enhance clarity and improve concentration.

So next you time you have the weekend free, Toronto provides many amazing places for you to get back in touch with nature. You can visit some of the following places: Ashbridge’s Bay Park, Bluffer’s Park, Centre Island (which is very popular), Rouge Park, Evergreen Brick Works, High Park, Downsview Park, Riverdale Park, Riverdale Farm, Toronto Music Garden, Crothers Woods and Kortight Centre for Conservation.

By: Bruno Ngjeliu

Bruno

Young People and Social Media Use – How Parent’s can support them Mind to their Mental Health

socialmediatree-540x440For young people today, social media is an integral part of their world. Parents accept this to be the reality but because parents of today have only ever experienced social media as an adult, it can be difficult for parents to know how best to support their child to mind their mental health while online. Parents can find it hard to relate to what it is to experience social media use as a young person, as they never had the chance to experience social media during their adolescent years. Supervising their child’s interactions online may work at the start for parents but eventually, young people will seek greater independence from parents and that is normal for them to do. Therefore, it is good to think in terms of equipping young people with tools and strategies to mind themselves mentally as well as physically online. There will be times when parent’s are not there by their side so it is good to see the value of preparing young minds for what they may encounter going forward.

One tool or strategy that works well for young people is having knowledge about how their mind is working. For young people about to start into adolescence, the task they are beginning to face in their mind is the task known as identity formation. That means that young people are beginning to look outside of their own small world of family and close friends more. They are beginning, on an unconscious level, to ask themselves who they are in the world and what their place within the world is. Because this task is faced in the unconscious part of their mind, it is therefore not within young people’s awareness. Because of his task, young people can become very fixated on feedback from others online as a way to garner information about what others think of them and therefore, what they are like as a person in the world. This can be a difficult process in many ways for young people as social media is a very narrow filter through which to work out your worth. If young people are given information about their stage of mind development and if this task that they are facing in their mind is explained to them, they at least have the knowledge in their conscious mind and have awareness. They will have awareness about the fact that they are trying to work out their identity. They also will have the knowledge that other people their age are busy working out identities too and that gives them a context within which to understand the behaviour of their peers. Knowing themselves on the inside is a vital tool when it comes to young people minding their mental health. Giving them information about their own mind is one step parents can take; mental health matters so much.

By: Anne McCormack

Anne