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Why self-esteem is important for our mental health

Written by Chloe Hall and Jack Terry.

There are things we can practise that, over time, can help our mental health. Self-esteem is one of these, something that can make a big difference to how we feel in ourselves.

What is self-esteem

Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves. It’s linked to our perceptions, and people with high self-esteem often rate their mental health as higher than people with low self-esteem.

It can be difficult to change our self-esteem, as it may have been set towards negative beliefs in our early life. But you can change your self-esteem, and it may well help improve your overall mental health and wellbeing.

How improving self-esteem can also improve our mental health

High self-esteem means you’re less likely to blame yourself when things go wrong, and less likely to doubt yourself or worry about how others perceive you. You’re also more likely to be able to cope with stress, anxiety, and pressure.

How to improve your self-esteem

Adopt a positive outlook

It is vital to counter negative feelings about yourself, admittedly something that is far more easily said than done. If you struggle with self-esteem, it can be helpful to adopt a gentler, more positive outlook about yourself.

It might seem like you’re lying to yourself at first, adopting a positive, glass half-full outlook, if you’ve spent years not thinking that way. But small changes can add up in a surprisingly small space of time.

Look for the good in what you do, try to consciously notice when you feel good about yourself, even for the smallest thing. If we repeat that pattern, eventually it becomes a habit, and our self-esteem will improve over time with very little effort.

Challenge negative thinking

If you’ve had low self-esteem your entire life, it’s likely that you’re critical of yourself by default, without even realising.

The next time you make a small mistake and think to yourself ‘that was stupid’, or something along those lines, try challenging that thought. Recognise that everyone makes mistakes, and that you aren’t somehow worse than everyone else.

This can be difficult and energy-draining, feeling like you’re fighting yourself internally, but if you’re consistent in challenging negative self-talk, your self-esteem will improve.

Recognise the small things you achieve every day

There are dozens of little actions we do everyday that we take for granted, that, if we didn’t do, our lives would get worse.

Something as simple as watering your plants, doing the dishes, or going for a walk won’t change your beliefs about yourself overnight, but they’re always worth recognising when you do them.

When starting out with trying to improve your self-esteem, you might feel silly patting yourself on the back for taking the bins out when other people are running marathons or climbing mountains, but it’s still something that needed to be done.

Cooking a nice meal is an achievement. Recognising when you’re taking care of yourself, or changing things around you, reinforces the idea that you, yourself, are a person worthy of care. That you matter, and you have the power and ability to change things in your life for the better.

Focus on parts of you you’re happy with

We live in a world that is more focused on image than ever before in human history. Our self-esteem is often closely linked to how we view ourselves and our bodies. We tend to focus on things we dislike, things we perceive as ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, which obviously makes us feel worse.

While most people have at times longed to look different than they do, it is all too easy to fixate on how we wish we were than how we actually are.

Next time you’re looking in the mirror, try to find one thing about yourself that you like. It can be your eyes, your hair, your smile, or something that isn’t physical, like your voice, your creativity, your sense of humour. Again, focusing on the good things makes you more likely to notice them, and more likely to feel good about yourself over time as you train your brain to focus on those elements.

Be gentle with yourself

Above all, people need sympathy, support, and reassurance. That includes you. While everybody amounts to more than their appearance, it is not always easy to feel comfortable inside our own skin, and some days we all feel bad about ourselves. When you’re struggling with your self-esteem, don’t beat yourself up for not feeling better. Be gentle with yourself, and try again tomorrow.

Know that you’re not alone

When trying to improve your self-esteem is it vital to remember that you are never alone in experiencing these feelings. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who have low self-esteem, who are trying to be kinder to themselves.

Low confidence can have a huge impact on our lives, and holds many people back. It can stop people searching for a new job or place to live, stop people pursuing relationships, or stop people believing that they deserve those things at all. That can leave people with very poor mental health. It is always worth fighting for better self-esteem, even if it is a fight with yourself.

The bottom line is that nobody is worthless, it is a question of being honest with yourself and of finding a place to begin to build some confidence. Once you have found a way that works for you, things can improve, sometimes very slowly, sometimes dramatically.

Focus on yourself

Lastly, it’s helpful to understand what matters and what doesn’t. There’s a danger that we can over worry and overthink situations, especially when so much of our lives are played out online. Everything seems definitive, important, permanent.

Try to keep things in perspective, prioritising what matters most to you. Keep things simple and aim to find positives in situations, and above all in yourself.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t put up with lingering negative thoughts, resist putting yourself down. Treat yourself to a favourite meal and be pleased when you do, and make time for an old hobby or something you enjoy. All of these together can massively improve your self-esteem, and your mental health as well. And remember: you deserve that.

Additional Support

Our blog offers advice on a variety of mental health issues. Sometimes just getting some extra information can prove to be a positive first step.

Our mental health services directory, Wellbeing West London, can help you find mental health services near you.

Our Safe Space service may also be able to help. We provide an alternative to A&E for people experiencing a mental health crisis, and can give advice, support, or just listen.

Read more about how to improve your mental health.

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Posted on: 28th July 2023

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