Mental Health: Why our COVID-19 worries could be linked with body image issues

Increased screen time caused by lockdowns could be affecting our mental health, according to this new study

Man looking in mirror body image
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Our mental health is as precious as our physical health, and it needs to be carefully maintained with positive influences. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has, understandably, left many of us extremely stressed. With people losing lives and jobs and others stuck at home, it's been a tough situation for all and fertile ground for mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, to develop. 

However, COVID-19 is not just causing anxiety around the issues at hand. A new study has highlighted an unexpected side-effect of COVID-19 anxiety: increased body image issues. 

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University looked at 506 UK adults with an average age of 34. Amongst women, the researchers found those with increased anxiety around COVID-19 also had negative body issues associated with thinness. 

For men, it was much the same story. COViD-19-related anxiety and stress was associated with a greater desire for "muscularity", to have the chiselled pecs and six-pack of a cover model or a Marvel hero. Their anxiety was also associated with body fat dissatisfaction.

Woman meditating

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Lead author Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology, said: "During the initial spring lockdown period, our screen time increased, meaning that we were more likely to be exposed to thin or athletic ideals through the media, while decreased physical activity may have heightened negative thoughts about weight or shape. 

"At the same time, it is possible that the additional anxiety and stress caused by COVID-19 may have diminished the coping mechanisms we typically use to help manage negative thoughts."

All the negative body image pressures tended to fall along gender ideals, meaning women tended to worry about being thinner while men wanted to be more muscular, and have less body fat. 

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health: if you're worried about yours, our guide to uncertainty and anxiety in lockdown is a good place to start.  

From there, you can browse our guides on how to meditate, including our walk-through of your first two-minute session, and our look at digital detoxes

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.