How to handle Christmas with Body Dysmorphic Disorder


Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health disorder in which the sufferer spends an extensive amount of time worrying about flaws in their appearance which are not noticeable to other people. As a result, they might develop obsessive behaviours, constantly checking certain aspects of their body, or alter their actions in an attempt to change the way they look.

BDD is linked closely to eating disorders, but that doesn’t mean everyone with it has an eating disorder or vice versa. The thoughts associated with BDD are not always about body shape or weight, it could be general appearance, or a particular feature they feel is inadequate.

For those with BDD, constant exposure to 'gluttonous' food can cause a great amount of anxiety. If weight and body shape is a particular worry, a fear of losing control when surrounded by all these ‘treats’ can be overwhelming. Something that is one of the most anticipated aspects of the festivities for most of us can instil a deep peril in a BDD sufferer, and it’s important to consider this when at the dinner table.

Seeing friends and family over the holidays who you haven’t seen in a while can be another difficulty. Family and friends will bring with them a trolley full of well-meaning comments on appearance, from the scrutiny of your weight loss/gain to evaluations of any altered hairstyle, make-up choice or outfit decision. Bringing attention to something like this could prove incredibly difficult for someone who is affected. Even if the comment is complimentary, it can bring with it a multitude of doubts and worries as well as amplify those already present.

If the family members are unaware of the diagnosis or struggle, it can be even harder as it is easy to make comments without realising the possible impact. Furthermore, there’s an added pressure to maintain a pristine appearance in front of these people you don’t normally see because the thought of anyone seeing you naturally is unbearable given that you’re so unhappy with your appearance.

Receiving presents should be enjoyable, it’s a reminder of how much people love you. But if you have BDD it can provoke incredible anxiety. The overthinking mind can cause you to jump to untrue conclusions. For example, a gift of makeup must mean that you are ugly and so should try to improve your physical appearance. Clothes require you to get in front of the mirror and see how they look on you - and does the size chosen infer something about how you currently look or how you should look? It might seem silly to think so deeply into what is almost definitely an innocent gift, but it’s not that simple for these individuals.

The reciprocal actions which accompany these thoughts can be seriously debilitating. The time spent altering appearance and manipulation of situations can result in even more difficulties. Instead of enjoying Christmas, you miss out on precious time with family, experiences and the joy which surrounds the season.

If you’re suffering from BDD, try to be honest with your loved ones as they might be able to make small changes to help, even if that’s just being more aware of their comments. Make sure you find some time for self-care and compassion, take an opportunity to paint your nails, write in a diary, do some colouring in – anything you enjoy – because you do deserve it, no matter what that little voice inside you is whispering. You are beautiful, unique and worthy, don’t ever forget it.

And if you’re really worried, please reach out, there is professional help out there, you are not alone, and your GP should be able to refer you to specialists who can help.

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