Do mirrors trigger anxiety?

I have a rearview mirror attached to the upper shelf of my desk at work. Yes, a rearview mirror like you would have in a car. I do it because my back faces the hallway and, having a mirror there makes me less likely to jump out of my skin when a co-worker comes up behind me.

Yet, with a mirror in front of my face all day, I become transfixed on things like, "Woah! Your pores look huge today!" or "Ew! Look at that pimple on your chin!" or "There's a hair sprouting out of your chin that you forgot to pluck" or "Your cheeks are so fat, you look like a squirrel getting ready to hibernate for the winter."

After all, mirrors are exactly the reason I avoid going to get my hair cut – because I hate having to stare at my reflection the entire time. Yet, at work, I subject myself to having a mirror in my direct line of vision at all times. It's a catch 22 – be anxious because of the mirror or be anxious because someone may be silently standing behind me at work without me realizing it. Oh, the dilemma of someone with anxiety disorder.

The Institute of Psychiatry in London conducted a study based on the correlation between mirrors and feelings of anxiety. The study involved 25 people with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and 25 people without the disorder. Participants were exposed to a mirror in a controlled setting for a extended period of time (10 minutes) or for a short period of time (25 seconds).

The study found that "contrary to what was predicted, not only participants with BDD, but also those without BDD experienced an increase in distress and self-focused attention upon exposure to the mirror."

But, even though mirror gazing can increase anxiety – particularly in those of us who already have anxiety about our looks – we live in a world where it is encouraged for people, especially women, to constantly look at themselves in reflective surfaces to monitor their attractiveness.

So, what's a girl to do? Are we supposed to be like the members of the fictional faction Abnegation, from the "Divergent" book series, who are only allowed to look into the mirror once every three months? (I apologize if you don't get my nerdy reference)

In an article on, writer JR Thorpe said that giving up mirrors like an addict giving up drugs is not the answer.

"It looks like the solution to better self-esteem isn’t how much or little we look in mirrors, but how we treat what we see. The connection between what the mirror shows us and how we think about ourselves is the chain we need to break — and that’s a much longer journey than just throwing your bathroom mirror in the trash."

There will always be mirrors around us, even if it's just the reflective surface of a window or a toaster or a cell phone. And, mirror or no mirror, there will always be something that makes me feel anxious. For better or for worse and despite the meds that lessen its effect, I have anxiety disorder. If I gave up mirrors, cold turkey, it would not change this fact.

However, what I can change, as Thorpe suggests, is how I feel about myself when I look into a mirror and see my reflection staring back. I can stop pointing out my self-perceived flaws and, instead, realize that no one notices these flaws because they are too busy looking in the mirror and noticing their own flaws that no one else notices either. I am beautiful and I am worthy and I am loved, no matter what I see when I look in the mirror. And so are you.

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