February 19, 2015

Improve your self-esteem, improve your life

February is National Boost Your Self-Esteem month. The Community Social Work Team's Genevieve Jacques explains how self-esteem is a catalyst for our mental health and suggests ways we can boost ourselves up.

Students often find themselves wishing they could do better in school, become more relaxed during the day, or just find more enjoyment in the little things. Why do we have a problem achieving these things? For many of us, the answer is usually found in our self-esteem. The degree to which we value ourselves affects how well we can do in school and life. But what is self-esteem exactly?

Self-esteem is the beliefs that we hold about ourselves: our abilities, the kind of person we are, our limitations, our future expectations/achievements, etc. When we have healthy self-esteem, we have a positive outlook about ourselves. We believe we are deserving of respect from others and deserving of positive outcomes in our lives. When we have low self-esteem, we place little value on ourselves and focus on weakness or mistakes we have made. We also blame ourselves for our shortcomings and have difficulty recognizing our own strengths and positive aspects. These different levels of self-esteem have a deep impact on our mental health and, therefore, our well-being, affecting our daily lives.
Research has proven that low self-esteem affects us in the long-term and makes life more difficult in general. However, self-esteem can be worked at and changed for the better, helping us achieve the things we want. Take the time to incorporate a few of these tips into your life and soon you will notice an improvement in your self-esteem and, ultimately, your well-being.

Meet your basic needs and practice self-care
You know the drill eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep each night, and get regular exercise. Practice self-care for at least five minutes a day  doing whatever it is that brings you relaxation or joy. Try to organize your work and school life in a pro-active way so that things don’t pile up, and, when you are struggling to do any of this or are feeling lonely, reach out to someone: a teacher, a classmate, someone you trust.

Recognize negative thoughts and challenge them.*
We all have negative thoughts, sometimes even when we have healthy self-esteem. Improve your level of self-esteem by learning to recognize these negative thought patterns and challenge them:

The thought: All or nothing — everything is either good or bad.
The challenge: Look for middle ground — what other ways can I think about the situation?

The thought: Focusing on the negatives.
The challenge: Consider the whole picture — can I look at this in a more balanced way?

The thought: Imagining that the consequences will be disastrous.
The challenge: Not to catastrophize — what is the worst thing that can happen? What is the best thing that can happen? Will it matter in a month?

Read about other thinking errors here and here.

Make a list of past successes
Big or small, a physical list can help you focus on your accomplishments and the positive strengths you hold. Some examples of accomplishments can include: graduated from high school, ate a salad every day, applied to post-secondary school, passed my driver’s license, talked to my teacher when I wasn't sure about my assignment, etc. Acknowledging positive accomplishments in your life is a great way to boost your self esteem  a way to pat yourself on the back and give yourself the affirmation you deserve.

Support each other
When you see others having a bad day reach out and lend support. Even just saying “Hi” and having a short conversation may help to brighten their day, and probably yours, too. Compliment someone when you see the result of their hard work, or encourage them when they are struggling. Chances are, they will happily return the support when you need it most.

Remember, these techniques can and should be practiced year-round. Small boosts in your self-esteem can go a long way, especially through your years as a student. 

If you are having trouble resolving low self-esteem yourself and are concerned or worried about the impact it is having on your daily life, there is further support you can receive by attending workshops, using talking treatment, and utilizing support groups. To learn more about these strategies or to speak to a helping resource, please contact one of the following U of A services:

*Thinking Errors Worksheet – from Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute