Body Dysmorphia and the Psychological Impact of Lockdowns

Body dysmorphia can make simple activities and daily interactions difficult to bear. Sufferers tend to be extremely self-conscious and obsessively analyze perceived defects or flaws in their appearance. Body dysmorphia is already tough to handle. But multiple lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and quarantines have magnified the condition and had a massive psychological impact on people with body dysmorphia.

What is Body Dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) affects about one in fifty people. So, that equates to between five and ten million people living with BDD in the United States. It’s a disabling condition that affects both men and women. Sufferers are excessively self-conscious. They tend to check their appearance and cover up defects they see constantly.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) | Causes, Signs, and Symptoms

It’s a unique mental disorder where an individual is preoccupied with imagined flaws or physical defects which no one else can see. Because of this, people with body dysmorphia tend to see themselves as “ugly”. This means that they often avoid social situations and even seek out plastic surgery to improve their appearance.

Young beautiful woman visiting doctor in plastic surgery concept
People With Body Dysmorphia Tend to See Themselves As “Ugly” (Image Source: Shutterstock)

BDD is categorized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as an Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorder. Meaning the condition has similar, but not the same, symptoms as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Someone with BDD usually obsesses over the way they look. You can develop manifestations and compulsions, and people tend to practice these behaviors repeatedly. Many BDD patients find it hard to cope with fears, and develop rituals and patterns like mirror checking, mirror avoidance, and covering up the perceived defect. Other symptoms of BDD include:

  • Worrying a lot about a specific part of your body.
  • Comparing yourself to others.
  • Frequently looking at yourself in the mirror, or avoiding mirrors altogether.
  • Going to great lengths to conceal your flaws. 
  • Picking at your skin.

Body dysmorphic disorder can have a massive impact on your social, work, and daily life. It can lead to depression, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Mental Health, and the Impact of COVID-19

When you add COVID-19 restrictions, lockdowns, and quarantine into the mix, your mental health can struggle at the best of times. Many people are facing financial uncertainty, loneliness, and isolation. Mental health first aid is in the spotlight right now as many people are having a tough time. With so many people staying at home, stress and anxiety tend to worsen, especially with BDD. The stress of not knowing what will happen in the future and not going to work is mounting.

Girl unhappy with their appearance looks in the mirror
During This Pandemic, There’s Little Chance of Escaping Mirrors (Image Source: Shutterstock)

People with BDD face a constant struggle to fight obsessive thoughts about parts of their bodies. With more people not working or working from home, they have more time on their hands to do just that. There’s little chance of escaping mirrors. So, you can easily get stuck in front of the mirror for hours at home and pick your skin obsessively to achieve a smoother appearance.

The Effects of Social Distancing

On top of the restrictions, you also have social distancing guidelines. This could have detrimental consequences for BDD sufferers. When you manage to go outside for a walk, and someone dramatically moves away from you, it’s easy to think it’s because of the way you look. Even though the other person is following social distancing and trying to stay safe, your brain tells you something else.

corona covid-19 social distancing concept picture with three people wearing face masks - stay away
Social Distancing May Be Taken Differently by People with BDD (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Often, socializing is a way to step outside of your thoughts and have a temporary break. The problem is that many people rely on digital tools like Facetime and Zoom to stay in touch throughout lockdown. While it’s essential to keep in contact with your friends and family, it’s unhelpful to see your own face constantly. Although you can switch off your camera, the temptation to look at yourself or compare yourself to the other person on the call is often too hard to resist for a person with BDD.

What are the Challenges of Treatment During Lockdown?

Even in the best of times, it can feel difficult to seek help for body dysmorphia. Getting help is so crucial as it’s unlikely your symptoms will go away on their own.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered one of the most effective ways to manage BDD. The problem with this is that most BDD treatments are either on hold or are operating in a restricted way. While some treatments have gone online with virtual sessions only, others are not going ahead at all.

Managing Body Dysmorphic Disorder in the Time of COVID-19

A specialized approach to CBT called exposure and response prevention (ERP) is often used in BDD treatment. During ERP, an individual confronts fears and engages in a situation that may trigger their condition. All of this is done in a very controlled way. But, when you have to stay indoors and avoid seeing other people, this presents another big challenge during lockdown.

As restrictions ease throughout the country, the nation takes tentative steps to the future. It’s important to reward yourself for overcoming the immense challenge of lockdown and seeking the help you need.

How Can You Help Manage BDD?

One of the greatest challenges with treating BDD is learning self-acceptance. It’s the journey to resist those compelling urges that tell you otherwise. Treatment of body dysmorphia often combines multiple strategies, including self-help.

Some people find it beneficial to speak to others who are going through the same thing. Support groups create an opportunity to talk to like-minded individuals in a safe space.

The International OCD Foundation is a fantastic source of information. It has a useful search tool to connect you with BDD therapists, clinics, treatment programs, and support groups in your area.

young woman having Zoom video conference call via computer.
Whether You Join a Support Group or Talk to a Friend, Any Step is Positive (Image Source: Shutterstock)

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge psychological impact on many people. But the effects of the restrictions and social distancing have magnified many of the symptoms people with BDD suffer. Many treatments are going online or stopping altogether. Whether you join a support group or talk to a friend, any step is positive. While lockdown presents several challenges, it’s still so important to speak to someone to get help.