Are you constantly comparing your body with perfectly-sculpted figures of celebrities and fitness models, or feeling like you should be fitter than your friends? Sport Psychologist Josephine Perry explains how gratitude can improve your outlook.
It can feel intimidating to see on social media perfectly posed fitness models or celebrity figures. With other women looking great and seemingly glowing with energy, it can affect our confidence levels about how we look.
A survey conducted by Dove in 2016 that interviewed 10,500 women in 13 different countries showed that female body confidence was on the decline. Some 60 per cent of women believed they needed to meet ‘certain beauty standards’.
Another survey conducted by the website, better.org.uk, in association with OnePoll showed that 37 per cent of women didn’t wear a certain outfit due to low body confidence, while 22 per cent didn’t exercise for the same reason.
We know deep down that behind the scenes that life is not as glossy as we see it on social media, but many of us have a natural anxiety when we talk about fitness. It is known as ‘reference anxiety’.
Reference anxiety is where we are constantly comparing our own achievements and status to others – and often, through no fault of our own, find ourselves wanting to be similar to others. With social media, other women with great bodies who are achieving amazing feats are constantly visible to us.
To counter this feeling we need to be thankful and acknowledge the good in our life. We need to discover gratitude. This works because gratitude inhibits envy. It’s very hard to envious when you feel grateful. Gratitude inhibits negative feelings and means we get to appreciate our own fitness feats, and stay happier, healthier and focused on our own pathway to success.
Some of us are born with a gratitude trait. Some people find this gratitude from spirituality. However, many of us need to be a bit more proactive and purposely develop a grateful mindset.
When we develop gratitude into a mindset it starts to sit within a psychological framework that directs our attention towards reasons to be thankful. This means we become more aware of the good things in our life. Instead of focusing on how your nemesis did a double spin class, you can be grateful you got to ride outside while chatting to a friend.
Dr Amy Whitehead is an Associate Professor in Sport Psychology and Coaching at Liverpool John Moores University. She says that using gratitude helps you make exercise a habit. ‘Focusing on all the things that you are grateful for in relation to exercise can help generate positive feelings towards the activity, which in turn will make you more motivated to engage,’ she says.
Gratitude towards others helps us build deeper, more intense relationships. It pulls us closer to the people we spend time with, so we have more support when we need it, feel more comfortable exercising with others and we become more aware of kindness when it is offered to us. When researchers looked at 24 different personality strengths, they found gratitude was in the top three for influencing how happy we are and accounts for near 20 per cent of our happiness levels.
As well as improving our positive feelings, gratitude reduces our negative thoughts, meaning we are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, stress or burnout. It is thought to do this because we make better choices over which coping mechanisms we use so we are better equipped to cope with the stress. Instead of dealing with stress by hiding away we might go out running, or instead of avoiding people we might ask a friend to come to yoga with us.
It improves our fitness levels too. A US study found that when people kept a weekly gratitude journal they increased the amount they exercised by 40 minutes per week. Random gratitude sessions help too. When Teri McKeever, the head coach for the University of California Swim Team, started her practice sessions by asking her swimmers to write down ten things they were grateful for she says: ‘Those practices are always more productive, cohesive and enjoyable for all of us.’