You walk out of the house on a weekday morning rocking a leisure suit, a bold lip, and all the self-esteem of Cher Horowitz. So why is it that one look look in the bathroom mirror at work is enough to shatter your confidence? Two words for you: fluorescent lighting.
The common bulbs are notorious for casting a greenish-yellow I’m-going-to-be-sick sheen on your skin, which is why one lighting expert (whom Vogue credits as lighting Annie Leibovitz photo shoots and J.Lo music videos) says he avoids them “at all costs.” But because they’re less expensive than more flattering alternatives (like LEDs), fluorescent lighting is nearly ubiquitous in public spaces—which is perfect, because at work and while shopping are definitely great times to feel like Skeletor.
But while you may not be able to change all the lightbulbs in your office—and the mall, and every Starbucks restroom—you can change your perspective. Here, two psychologists share their step-by-step guide for reminding yourself that the pallid face you see in the mirror is only a ghostly reflection, not your true self.
Step 1: Take note of your triggers and your habitual narratives
“The first step in changing negative body image is to be aware of when, why, and how you’re speaking to yourself,” says Farrah Hauke, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. “What we tell ourselves about a situation—in this case negative self-talk about our appearance—has a powerful effect on our emotions and behaviors.”
Dr. Hauke explains that by identifying the triggers that make you the most vulnerable to feeling self-conscious—i.e. lighting that casts shadows —you can ready yourself by stocking a go-bag of coping mechanisms to employ in those particular situations.
Step 2: Be your own BFF
Once you find yourself triggered, try stepping outside of whatever you’re feeling in the heat of the moment and ask yourself, “Would I speak to a loved one the same way I’m speaking to myself?” says Dr. Hauke. Hell-to-the-no you wouldn’t. Extend yourself the same love and kindness.
Step 3: Ask yourself if you’re generalizing your entire worth based on your trigger
According to Brooke Wachtler, PsyD, a New York City-based psychologist who specializes in rational motive behavioral therapy, there are four patterns of thinking that spark inner distress: rigid demands, catastrophizing, frustration intolerance, and something she calls “self-downing.” The last category (which includes the bathroom scenario) is especially likely to make us feel like the faults we find with ourselves are representative of our overall self-worth, she says.
So, if you start to notice that your thought monologue quickly jumps from “I hate these dark circles” or “where did that cellulite come from?” to “I’m lazy” and “I’m worthless,” it’s time to call that time-out.
Step 4: Self-care, self-care, self-care
Dr. Wachtler notes that if you’re in the office during one of these minor crises, a quick bout of mindfulness might work a little pre-meeting self-esteem magic. Tell yourself, “I can’t necessarily change my situation right now or how I perceived myself, but what I can do is try to let go of those thoughts and bring myself back to the present to focus on what I need to accomplish in that meeting, or on the project, or in that moment,” she advises.
If meditation isn’t quite for you, though, trust that you already know exactly which rituals (read: long baths, sweat sessions with gal pals, and/or buckwheat pancakes) spark Marie Kondo-level joy in your life. Because a little me-time is the perfect antidote to poisonous thoughts.
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