Everyone’s had moments of insecurity, regardless of what season it is. There’s something particularly special about summer though that makes even the most confident of people take a step back. Shorts, swimsuits, sleeveless dresses—summer tends to present us with reasons to sink into that cycle of self-doubt about how we look and feel.
Luckily, there are several science-backed things you can do when you’re feeling low—and none involve crash diets to lose fifteen pounds in a month. Psychologists and therapists like to use self-efficacy techniques, along with cognitive therapy to help patients overcome behavioral challenges, such as thinking negatively about themselves or being insecure. There are a few ways to use these skills in your everyday life, whether you’re dealing with dressing room anxiety or feeling a little timid about slipping out of that cover-up at the beach.
Change the voice in your head.
The brain and the mind are (obviously) closely connected. But when you repeatedly think negatively about yourself, your brain creates a neuron chain that gets stronger every time you do it. Maybe you go shopping with a friend who, despite being a few sizes smaller than you, complains about feeling fat. You then start to think about your body and compare it to hers. Next thing you know, you’re feeling really crappy.
“People have these habits that are running in the back of their mind but don’t notice it because they’re going so fast,” says Holly Stokes, a neuro-linguistics programming practitioner. “They’re just left with the emotion they leave behind.”
The best way to break these habits? Create new ones. Stokes says you have to build the evidence for the belief, which is a fancy way of saying that you can’t trick your brain—it needs to see how those previous thoughts aren’t true. So the next time a friend complains about her pants size, remember that every body is different. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that it’s perfectly normal for bodies to fluctuate.
Rebecca Clegg, a licensed professional counselor and eating disorder specialist, says one mirror exercise she has her clients do focuses on function over form. For example, instead of thinking about how huge your thighs look in your shorts, think about how grateful you are that they allow you to move around every day. Make a new habit of consciously thinking about the way you think about your body, and you’ll see your confidence grow.
Learn from others and the past.
This technique is similar to looking up to role models or admiring someone else’s work, and it boils down to, “If they can do it, so can I!” Clegg says thinking about positive role models actually helps her patients deal with insecurity. “Looking at people who do what you want to improve on and studying them is shown to improve our own self-efficacy even before we try or take action,” she says.
Rather than deleting Instagram because it makes you feel bad, try changing up who is in your feed. There are plenty of positive role models out there. Purposely fill your feed with those who inspire you, and see what they’re doing that you can implement in your life.
Another similar concept is parallel learning, which uses previous experience to inspire confidence when facing a new problem. Stokes says thinking about successful situations in the past can prepare you when facing a new one. “So for example, if you doubt your ability to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture, but you know you can change a tire. . . . Focusing on your ability to follow step-by-step instructions in this seemingly unrelated task can improve your confidence in putting together furniture,” she says.
Instead of stressing about what you look like, think about the triumphs of your body. Maybe you’ve been making progress on your daily run, or you’ve managed to be more active during the day. Thinking about things you have been successful in before can prepare you to tackle any insecurity, summer-related or not.
Mind the company you keep.
Positive verbal persuasion has been proven to increase our confidence levels, Clegg says. When we hear friends or coworkers praise us or give us compliments, we tend to believe them more. Who doesn’t feel better surrounded by complimentary girlfriends? Filling your social circle with people who cheer you on isn’t just good life advice, it’s proven to help push back those pesky negative thoughts.
But your girlfriends aren’t the only ones who can cheer you on: Studies show that self-affirmation can actually change brain processes. In a study published in Oxford Academic, scientists found that “activity in hypothesized reward/valuation regions are primary pathways associated with self-affirmation.” So positive affirmations are proven to have tangible effects on your brain and can make you better prepared to deal with stressful situations.
Following these steps will help prepare you for swimsuits, meeting new people at barbecues, taking a risk on a summer romance, or whatever else the season brings. It’s time to drown out the negative voice in your head.
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