Self-esteem refers to the emotional evaluation of one’s self worth and how confidently we believe in our own abilities. Despite the fact that low or poor self-esteem is not a mental health illness, it may sometimes be a predisposing factor in the development of some mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
If you are battling with low self-esteem, you may feel:
-worthless, hopeless and/or helpless
-a general lack of confidence
-as though other people do not like you
-a dislike or hatred towards yourself
-indecisive or lack assertiveness
-as though you do not deserve joy and happiness, and/or
-unfairly or unreasonably guilty in situations where you are not to blame.
The reasons an individual develops or experiences low self-esteem may differ from one person to the next. Low self-esteem may result following a difficult or traumatic experience, such as physical or emotional abuse, or long term stress. For example, following mental or chronic illness, redundancy or unemployment or a relationship breakdown. Low self-esteem may also be associated with loneliness or isolation, or poor performance/lack of achievement (e.g. academic or career).
Living with low self-esteem can be very unpleasant and can cause a person to miss out on many wonderful opportunities and experiences. However, it is important to remind yourself that you deserve happiness, and fortunately there are a number of things you can implement to help boost your self-esteem.
Things You Can Do To Improve Your Self-Esteem
Spend Time Connecting With People Who Care About You
Spending time with people who love and care for you is a great way to help you to challenge negative thought patterns and to feel positive about yourself. It is important to surround yourself with people who support, encourage and appreciate you, as opposed to people who treat you poorly and make you doubt yourself.
Opening up to loved ones about how we are thinking and feeling can assist us to view ourselves in a different light. Often when we are lacking confidence or doubting our ability, the people close to us help to lift us up by pointing out our abilities and qualities, and can encourage us to move forward.
Showing kindness (and assistance where you can) to other people is a great way to put a smile on your face. For example, welcoming a new neighbour or preparing a home-cooked meal for a friend or family member who is sick/struggling. Spreading kindness is a great mood booster.
Challenge Your Negative Thoughts And Beliefs And Practice Positive Affirmations
You may have heard the famous quote “What we think, we become” (Buddha). When our minds are overrun with negative thoughts and self-beliefs, our feelings towards our self can worsen and we can begin to believe we are no good when in fact this is far from the truth – it is important to remember that you are completely deserving of joy and happiness.
Begin to practice challenging a negative thought when it arises. When you are experiencing negative thoughts about yourself, stop for a moment and ask yourself if you would speak to someone you care about in the same way (likely not!).
When you are suffering from low self-esteem, it can in fact be a habit to put yourself down without giving it much thought. Instead, it may help you to practice positive affirmations to remind yourself of your qualities and strengths when any negative thoughts or self-beliefs arise. Positive affirmations are purposefully thought or spoken statements that assert something positive to be true. If you are looking for some positive affirmations to begin your positive thinking journey, check out this article.
Focus On Your Qualities, Strengths And Achievements
Brainstorming and listing your qualities, strengths and achievements is a great way to remind yourself of your value and worth, to the people you care about and the world around you.
Start with your qualities (or best personality traits). What do you like about yourself? If you are struggling to get started, you may wish to think about what other people say they love about you. Perhaps you are kind, thoughtful, genuine, respectful, loyal, appreciative, trustworthy or funny.
Next, work on listing your strengths (or what you are really good at). Perhaps you are very organised, hard-working and responsible, or a good listener. More specifically, you may be a reliable and supportive friend (or family member), an academic or career-specific whiz, or skilled at a particular sport (such as soccer), instrument (e.g. guitar) or activity (cooking, for example).
Finally, write a list of your achievements. Keep in mind no achievement is too big (e.g. graduating university) or too small (you made your bed this morning)! Take the time to celebrate your personal successes.
When you are feeling flat and lacking confidence in your abilities or self-worth, sit down for a moment and reflect upon your list of your qualities, strengths and achievements and be reminded of your value. And remember, “comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt). Don’t worry about what others are doing, run your own race and focus on your own successes.
Practice Being Assertive
Assertiveness may otherwise be viewed as practicing self-confidence and standing up for yourself when necessary. Assertiveness does not mean doing what’s right for you without considering how your decisions may affect others, but rather placing equal importance on your wants and needs as well as those of others.
Being assertive is both empowering and liberating, and can help you to strengthen your problem-solving ability while simultaneously treating yourself and others with respect. Don’t hesitate to avoid or say no to people or situations that bring you down. Setting boundaries and taking control of our choices helps us to recognise our value and can help us to improve our self-esteem.
Look After Yourself
Despite how you may feel about yourself when suffering from low self-esteem, taking good care of our physical (and otherwise mental) health is especially important for our mind.
You may wish to focus on some of the below key areas as part of taking good care of yourself:
-Engage In Regular Exercise: Exercise is not only largely beneficial for our physical health, it plays a huge role in improving and maintaining our mental health. Exercise produces endorphins, which help to boost our mood. Additionally, when we are exercising regularly, we tend to feel more positive and more confident about ourselves.
-Ensure You Eat A Healthy Balanced Diet: It is no secret that a diet abundant in fresh, wholefoods is vital for good health. Sometimes when a person is struggling with low self-esteem, it can be easy to engage in ‘emotional eating’ – i.e. reaching for processed, sugary, fatty and/or salty foods to comfort ourselves. When we aren’t feeling our best, eating well is even more important. Take the time to plan, prepare and enjoy healthy meals each day.
-Avoid Self-Medicating With Alcohol: Indulging in a single glass of wine or beer occasionally may help you to relax and unwind when you find yourself feeling socially anxious or you have had a difficult day/week. On the contrary, regular and/or excessive alcohol consumption can worsen your self-esteem and can contribute to the development of mental illness such as depression, and therefore should be avoided.
-Get The Right Amount Of Sleep: In some cases, low self-esteem can interfere with sleep. For example, sleeping too much or not getting enough sleep. Try to aim for seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night. It may assist you to instil a regular pattern of going to sleep and waking up at the same times each day. It is commonly understood that we cope better when we feel rested as opposed to when we feel exhausted.
-Work To Reduce Any Stress: Having high expectations for ourselves can be stressful and exhausting. Take some time out each day to do something you find relaxing, in order to reduce your stress levels. To help you unwind, you may like to take a gentle stroll, enjoy a warm bath or do some drawing/colouring. You may also wish to give mindfulness meditation a shot. For more information about what mindfulness is and how focusing on the present moment only is of great benefit, check out our article ‘Beginners Guide To Mindfulness Meditation For Depression And Anxiety’ by clicking here.
-Practice Good Personal Hygiene: Do not underestimate the benefits of feeling fresh and well-groomed for your mental wellbeing. Showering, brushing your teeth and your hair, as well as practicing a skincare routine and taking good care of your nails can all contribute to feeling good about yourself and may help to improve your self-esteem. The same goes for getting dressed: wear clean clothing and comfortable shoes that make you feel great, and notice the difference in how you feel!
-Engage In Activities That Make You Feel Good: When we participate in activities that bring joy and happiness, our thinking patterns are likely to head in the same direction. Think about it – when we participate in an activity that we don’t enjoy, such as public speaking or driving in heavy traffic, we are more likely to have negative than positive thoughts. Be sure to schedule in some time each day to do the things that make you happy. You may like to practise yoga, call or spend time with a friend, listen to some music, play video games or get creative – the options are endless. In hectic times, taking as little as five minutes before bed for example, to do some gentle stretches or read a nice book, can do wonders for positive thinking.
-Keep Your Living And Working Spaces Clean And Organised: When we are surrounded by dirt and clutter, it can make us feel demotivated and/or scatty. However, the opposite situation can make us feel good and bring clarity and a sense of peace. Keep your home clean and tidy so you feel comfortable in order to boost your mood (and perhaps your sense of achievement). Similarly, getting to those jobs you’ve been pushing aside, such as organising paperwork, weeding the garden, or clearing sentimental clutter can make you feel great.
Using house cleaners is a great way to keep on top of your cleaning and mental wellness and allows you to have more free time to do the things you enjoy most in life.
Set Yourself Achievable Goals
When we are lacking confidence, self-belief and/or motivation, a good place to start to improve our self-esteem is to sit down and write some goals we wish to achieve. Your goals may include activities as simple as “make my bed every morning when I wake up”. Take the time to stop and think about what you might like to achieve and ensure your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based). Gently working towards completing the relevant tasks or sub-tasks attached to your goals can help increase the number of positive thoughts you have about yourself. Enjoy the sense of accomplishment when you are able to achieve your goals.
Perfection Is Unattainable And Mistakes Can Lead To Growth
It is important to keep in mind when you are battling with low self-esteem that nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. It is healthy to have ambition and the desire to succeed, but striving for perfection is not achievable and can make you feel worse about yourself rather than better. Instead, create small, achievable goals for yourself and celebrate your small wins.
In the instances where you make a mistake or something doesn’t go to plan, it is best to view the situation as an opportunity to grow and change the way you go about something in future. Remember, mistakes are vital for learning and are a foundation of human nature. Mistakes happen to everyone and you are no different. Look at the occurrence of a mistake as an opportunity to grow into the best version of yourself. Keep your focus on the things you can control and don’t waste your precious energy on things beyond your control.
Battling low self-esteem is a tough and often lonely journey, but it doesn’t have to be this way. As highlighted above, if you are struggling with your self-worth, surround yourself with people who care about you and reach out to them for support. Talking to close family and friends about how you are feeling is a great first step on the road to recovery. You may also wish to consider receiving help and support from a professional therapist to help you improve your self-esteem and get back to being the best and happiest version of yourself.