June 16, 2020

Self-Image in the Age of COVID

Alisha Donnelly

It’s hard to stay away from your own reflection these days. Video calling has become a daily occurrence for many, and we all have ample time at home to stare into the mirror and fixate on the person staring back.


In Ontario, we are approaching our fourth month of government mandated self-isolation. We are all feeling the impact of being cooped up indoors, especially with the summer weather tempting us outside. With no tangible end in sight, this freeze on our lives can start to take its toll on the way we think (or overthink) about our physical and mental selves.


I can honestly say that, during self-isolation, I rarely put in the effort to look my best; I haven’t touched my makeup in months and more often than not am rocking a pandemic mullet (blazer on top, sweatpants on the bottom). The camera or mirror can be a harsh reminder that not everyone looks like the Instagram models we see online everyday. These times are challenging for everyone’s self-image. And for anyone who may struggle with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, a mental illness, or discrimination based on appearance, you may feel that it is impossible right now to not to obsess over the state of your body and mind.


I wanted to share a few tips that have helped me remain positive (and sane) during self-isolation:


Tip #1: Put That Smartphone Down

If you are isolating alone, your cellphone and social media, may be your only connection to the world beyond your home. Even if you are not alone, social media is a way to mentally escape your isolation bubble. It is important to stay connected but, in this case, too much of a good thing can lead to worsening mental health.


Set a structure for yourself that reduces your time spent mindlessly scrolling through your social feeds. This can be as simple as setting a daily time limit on social media apps or limiting each online session to a certain amount of minutes (there are tons of tools on the app store for managing this). Additionally, try not to open social media apps first thing in the morning; allow yourself to start your day in your own thoughts. Get up, grab a coffee or a glass of water, brush your teeth, get dressed, and then take a look at your phone. This small action will allow you to center yourself before jumping into your work or the often chaotic world of social media.  


Another great strategy is to temporarily mute any accounts that spark negative reactions. As you scroll your Instagram feed, notice the posts that cause you to feel self-conscious or jealous. Mute that account; you can always decide later to unmute (or unfollow) later.



Tip #2: Make Your Meals Mindful

Have you ever ‘accidentally’ munched through an entire bag of chips or box of cookies because you were mindlessness eating while watching TV? Overeating is super easy to fall into during self-isolation. With days blending into each other and little to do to fill the time, I know I often turn to snacking.Try to be more mindful about your eating habits.

Now, I am not saying to stop cooking or baking (that 10th batch of cookies are good for the soul). I would actually recommend not drastically changing your diet at all. Instead, ensure that when you sit down for a meal, eating is the main activity so that you can truly appreciate the food and your experience with it.


A great strategy is inviting friends to virtually grab a bite with you (just make sure that you are muted when chewing)! Not only does this allow your meal to feel purposeful but it can help to bring back a sense of normalcy to your routine. For meals you are eating solo, make sure your focus is on the meal itself, turn off the show and close the social media apps (see tip #1) to ensure that your meal feels purposeful. This small act actually makes you feel fuller and more satisfied. Your body and mind will thank you.


Tip #3: Break a Sweat Every Day

With gyms and many parks closed, it is tempting to go into 'hibernation mode’ during self-isolation. But staying active is a crucial element of maintaining positivity and staying healthy, both mentally and physically. If you live in a city-center and don’t have the luxury of socially distant outdoor activities right now, it doesn’t mean you should stop moving! There are tons of ways to stay active from your living room. From following online workouts that don’t require any equipment to moving in other task-oriented ways, you can give your body an excuse to get off the couch or out of your desk chair. If you aren’t ready for Alexis Ren’s 10-minute Ab Blaster just yet, try giving you apartment or home a deep clean. Not only will you likely break a sweat, but your brain will get the satisfaction of accomplishing a task (which means double endorphins for you!). Try to make sure that you are up and active for at least an hour a day; it may seem like a lot, but I know you don’t have any other plans.


Most importantly, this activity is not about losing weight or inches off your waist, so don’t make that your focus. Instead, enjoy the natural high and the rejuvenation to your pores from all that sweating.


Tip #4: Take Advantage of a New Perspective

Throughout your work and personal time, it is important to remember that we are in a global crisis. Every single person you know (and everyone you don’t know) has had their life disrupted by this pandemic and social distancing measures. A loss in productivity and progress is expected.


It is likely that both your personal and professional life are on hold at the moment, and that stall can be super painful. Our society has cultivated the competitive mindset that ‘failure to grow or move forward is as good as shrinking or stepping back’. In normal circumstances, that is true. But these are not normal circumstances, progress is frozen for everyone at the moment, it is okay to not be 100% productive right now. Remember this and be kind to yourself and the people you interact with.


With this freeze to our lives, we all have an incredibly unique opportunity to take a few steps back and observes how we live from a new perspective. Use this time to focus and reflect on the things and people that really matter to you.


We will get back to normal soon enough, and when we do, you will emerge from self-isolation centered on yourself, your confidence, your goals, and your path forward.


Stay healthy, body, mind, and soul. <3


If you have any thoughts of suicide or self-harm, help is always available. Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) byCrisis Services Canada, enables callers anywhere in Canada to access crisis support by phone, in French or English: toll-free 1-833-456-4566Available 24/7.