Weight Worries: Can Feeling Heavy Make You Socially Shy?

You’ve probably heard it before: obese people are at risk for serious health issues like heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and stroke. But have you ever stopped to think about the toll that obesity takes on a person’s mental health? It’s time to shed light on this overlooked aspect of obesity, and how it can lead to significant problems like social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital recently discovered that obese people may suffer from severe mental depression due to their weight. In their study, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, they found that obese individuals with anxiety related solely to their weight may experience anxiety as intensely as those diagnosed with SAD.

The criteria for SAD

The current criteria for SAD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) state that if a person has a medical condition, they can only be diagnosed with SAD if their anxiety is unrelated to their medical condition. In other words, if your anxiety is directly related to your obesity, you can’t be diagnosed with SAD.

However, the research conducted at Rhode Island Hospital challenges this notion. They found that obese people with weight-related anxiety experience significant social anxiety, similar to individuals who have been diagnosed with SAD.

Dr. Kristy Dalrymple, who led the study, expressed her hope for changes to the DSM criteria in future editions. She explained: “We believe the results of this study support adoption of the proposed change to the medical exclusion for SAD criterion in the DSM-5.”

The connection between obesity and mental health

The relationship between obesity and mental health is more complex than you might think. Obese individuals face societal stigmas and stereotypes, which can contribute to feelings of depression, shame, and worthlessness. Furthermore, social anxiety can make it even more difficult for a person to seek help. For instance, if they’re too afraid of being judged or rejected at a doctor’s office or gym, they’ll avoid these places and miss out on opportunities to improve their health.

Aside from social anxiety, obesity has been linked to other mental health disorders. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, a higher body mass index (BMI) is associated with an increased risk for common mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

How to cope with obesity-induced social anxiety

If you’re struggling with social anxiety related to your weight, it’s important to recognize that you’re not alone. Many people experience this type of anxiety, and there are steps you can take to overcome it.

  1. Seek professional help: A mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychologist, can help you understand the root causes of your anxiety and develop coping strategies to manage it. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular and effective treatment option for social anxiety.

  2. Practice self-compassion: Learning to be kinder to yourself is an essential step in dealing with obesity-induced social anxiety. Recognize that everyone has their struggles and that you’re worthy of love and respect, despite your weight.

  3. Understand the thoughts behind your anxiety: Recognizing and challenging the irrational thoughts that fuel your social anxiety can help you gain control over your feelings.

  4. Establish a support network: Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family can provide encouragement and motivation to face your social fears.

  5. Prioritize your health: Focus on improving your physical health, as this can have a positive impact on your mental well-being. Adopt a healthier diet, start exercising, or join a weight loss support group.

The takeaway

The findings from Rhode Island Hospital emphasize the need to consider mental health issues, such as social anxiety, when addressing the challenges faced by obese individuals. Recognizing the connection between obesity and mental health is crucial in advocating for comprehensive and compassionate care – both for physical and psychological aspects of the condition. By understanding and addressing the mental health struggles faced by obese individuals, we can work towards more holistic solutions for those affected by this increasingly prevalent health issue.