How Body Dysmorphia Affects Medical and Mental Health

Body Dysmorphia - Mental Health and Addiction

With the rise of social media, one of the health conditions that has become more common is body dysmorphia. This disorder can put people on a downward spiral, leading to changes in their habits that can make them physically and mentally ill. While social media and body dysmorphia are sometimes linked, remember that this condition can develop even in people who don’t spend time online.

What Is Body Dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphia, also known as body dysmorphic disorder or BDD, is a mental health condition that affects the way you view yourself physically. With this condition, you have trouble focusing on anything other than your appearance’s flaws, no matter how minor. Others may not notice anything wrong with you physically, but you may feel that your body is disgusting, the wrong shape or size or embarrassing in some way. The condition severely damages a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

The symptoms of body dysmorphia include:

  • Excessive exercising
  • Excessive grooming
  • Always asking others if you look OK
  • Avoiding leaving the house (especially during daylight hours)
  • Avoiding mirrors
  • Attempting to hide parts of your body
  • Seeing several health care providers to discuss your appearance
  • Engaging in excessive unnecessary plastic surgeries
  • Regularly comparing yourself to others

To be diagnosed with this condition, a mental health professional needs to see that:

  1. You have an abnormal concern about a nonexistent or small flaw with your body or appearance
  2. The thoughts you have about those flaws are so severe that they harm the way you live and interfere with normal life
  3. You have no other mental health disorders associated with your concerns about your body

If you are showing signs of these symptoms, then it may be time to seek a diagnosis and help with recovery. Body dysmorphic disorder could be the main cause of the symptoms, or you may have another underlying illness, either mental or physical, that requires treatment.

Social Media and Body Dysmorphia

Social media use and body dysmorphia are sometimes related, since people are exposed excessively to media that promotes physical perfection. It’s important to note, however, that social media alone does not cause body dysmorphia.

Body dysmorphia is damaging regardless of the cause. In a quest for “perfection,” some people turn to surgery, starvation diets or other drastic behaviors. Unfortunately, social media may spur people to embrace certain looks or trends, which can encourage unnecessary plastic surgeries and dissatisfaction with their natural appearances. In fact, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that there were 18.1 million cosmetic surgeries in the United States in 2019, an increase from the previous year. Additionally, over a million of the procedures were performed on people between the ages of 13 and 29, the group most likely to use social media heavily.

How Body Dysmorphia Can Create Other Mental Health Issues

The key issue with body dysmorphia is a preoccupation with your physical appearance. This cycle of worry can become so time consuming that it leads to other problems, such as anxiety, depression or interpersonal issues with friends or family.

Body dysmorphic disorder shares traits with obsessive-compulsive disorder and is associates with an increased risk of suicide. Left untreated, the disorder may intensify, which then creates a potential for severe depression and suicidal thoughts, which can be fatal.

How Body Dysmorphia Can Create or Worsen Physical Health Issues

As body dysmorphia develops and intensifies, it can cause actual problems with the body. For example, you may decide that you need to exercise regularly because you perceive yourself as too heavy, but by working out for long hours without rest, you may cause muscle strain, stress fractures or other problems.

If you restrict your eating, you could lose an excessive amount of weight and develop anorexia or another eating disorder. With this kind of condition, your body may not get the nutrients or hydration it needs to be healthy, and you could be at risk for fainting spells, cardiac arrest or other conditions.

Body dysmorphia also causes intense mental and physical stress, which can lead to physical or mental symptoms, such as:

  • Stomachaches
  • A pounding or racing heart
  • Intense feelings of self-consciousness
  • Night terrors
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety attacks

It’s important to speak with a medical provider if you’re dealing with these symptoms, because there are treatments that can help.

Seek Help With Body Dysmorphia and Your Body Image

Whether you think you have social media-induced dysmorphia or have developed a problem with your appearance due to other circumstances, it is important to seek help as soon as you can.

It is essential that you speak with your medical provider about how you’re feeling and discuss the treatment options that may help you to feel better about your body and end the cycle of self-harm. You will likely not “get over” the disorder without help.

Treatment options may include the following.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, helps you reframe negative thoughts, behaviors and emotional reactions. The goal of CBT is to challenge the way you think and to encourage alternative ways of thinking that help you improve your mental health.


Medications may also be an option for some people with body dysmorphic disorder. The medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are currently the preferred class of therapeutic drugs for the disorder.

You Deserve Support To Break the Cycle of BDD

Body dysmorphic disorder doesn’t have to control your life. You deserve the support you need to break out of the cycle of overthinking and obsessing about your appearance. At Restore Mental Health, we are here to help guide you on a path to better mental and physical health, so you can get back to living the life you want. Reach out to us today to speak with one of our supportive team members to learn more about what we can do to help.