When it comes to one key aspect of our health, we often feel starved, look for support in others, and even sabotage ourselves along the way. But we’re not talking about weight management; we’re talking about self-esteem, a central piece of our emotional health and overall well-being.
Though there are a lot of opinions out there about what constitutes our self-esteem, the psychology community has some guidelines to help define it for us. Writing for PsychCentral, Dr. Stanley Gross puts it simply: “Self-esteem answers the question, ‘How do I feel about who I am?’” He explains that our self-esteem can be experienced at an individual or a group level, and that it can fluctuate easily and considerably. And according to Dr. David Rock of Psychology Today, we all have a deep human drive for feeling self-esteem, and when our self-esteem is threatened, perhaps by an insult or simple criticism, we can even experience a biological threat response.
However you phrase it, our personal self-esteem is with us always and can be tremendously important to our well-being. As with so many other things, getting the right start with a strong foundation early in life is vital, and young people feel the impact of low self-esteem all the time. Recent research shows that, for example, young people embrace social media as a way to deal with emotional distress and build self-esteem. Another study suggests that teens risk lower self-esteem and even depression when dealing with common afflictions like acne. But it’s not necessary to have a Facebook account or a dermatologist to deal with self-esteem problems; one way for young people to work on self image is to embrace positive thinking and speaking.
Further research on emerging adults backs this up. By the time they reach college, the large majority of young women engage in self-deprecating comments about their bodies, which can have the unintended consequence of taking a swipe at their self image. Instead, it’s better to purposely engage in positive self-talk, focusing on those qualities we like in ourselves. As it turns out, one of the best factors acting on adult self-esteem may simply be time—Science Daily reports that personal self-esteem typically is lowest among young adults, and then increases throughout life, peaking around age 60. This suggests that individuals form a better sense of self over the years as they establish themselves within their careers and families.
Sources like the Mayo Clinic reinforce that self-esteem is probably most affected by our own thoughts and actions, rather than external pressures and comments. With that in mind, here are 5 ideas for small steps individuals can take to work on improving their self image and self-esteem right now—
1. Pay yourself 1 compliment today. It can be about your appearance, how proud you are of a recent accomplishment, or maybe how happy one of your personal traits makes you. Too often we are our own worst critic, but by balancing those common negative responses with a compliment once in a while, we increase self-confidence, which can have lasting effects over time.
2. Pledge to not automatically answer “yes” to a request from a friend or family member. Sometimes we say “yes” out of habit. But when pausing to consider a response, it might become clear that we don’t have the time, energy, or resources to support this request. That’s when we need to feel OK about being assertive and saying “no” to a request.
3. Write down 2 assertive statements you can use in a future difficult conversation. Some people believe that when they are assertive, they may be seen as being pushy or selfish. But being assertive simply means asking for what you need or want in a neutral or even friendly way, and people generally have greater respect for others who find a direct way to ask for what they need or want.
4. Recall 1 way you recently helped someone, and how it made you feel. Maybe you stayed late at the office to help your co-worker, or lent a hand to a neighbor. Think about how it made you feel when you agreed to help the person, and how you felt afterwards. Altruistic acts like volunteering, donating, or just pitching in around the house can actually boost happiness levels, and give your self-esteem a nice shot, too.
5. Challenge 1 negative thought today. The next time you have a negative thought about yourself, challenge it! When you challenge a negative or self-defeating thought, you chip away at its power to affect how you feel about yourself. By stepping back and viewing the situation from a different angle, the mistake or problem gets only the small amount of attention it deserves.
For more tips on building strong self-esteem, visit the Strengthening Self-esteem Track in Daily Challenge.