Did you know that the global prevalence of depression and anxiety increased by 25% during the pandemic? Although social distancing, stress, and fear affected just about everyone around the world, the younger population and women were hit the hardest.
Increases in anxiety and depression heightened risks for low self-esteem and vice versa. If you have wondered how to improve self-esteem now that the world is shifting back to a new normal, we have a complete guide for you.
In our article, we have over a dozen useful tips on how to build self-esteem, including when it is time to seek professional help. Scroll down below to learn more about boosting your confidence and self-esteem!
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What Is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is a combination of how you feel about yourself in regards to your self-worth and value. Synonymous with self-worth, self-respect, and self-regard, self-esteem could include feelings of:
High self-esteem is essential since it helps set and maintain realistic expectations, foster healthy relationships, and boost confidence in your skill sets. It isn’t quite the same as confidence. Is self-esteem the same as confidence?
Not quite, although the two are closely intertwined. Self-confidence is trust in oneself, and successful experiences can lead to an increase in self-confidence. It doesn’t include self-worth or other characteristics of self-esteem listed above.
It is possible to have low self-esteem and high self-confidence. You can find this example plastered around the music and entertainment industry, where people have highly successful careers but report feeling depressed and having low self-worth.
What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
Many of the causes of low self-esteem stem from childhood and may include:
- Lack of love and affection
- Social media influences
- Poor body image
- Other mental health illnesses
- Change or moving away
It is usually multi-causal, and several factors can influence your confidence and self-esteem. Ongoing low self-esteem puts certain people at risk for depression and substance use disorders. It also negatively affects relationships and overall quality of life.
How To Improve Self-Esteem
When you look at low self-esteem, some of the key signs and symptoms are:
- Lack of trust
- Feeling out of control
- Lack of boundaries
- People-pleasing behaviors
Poor confidence, negative thinking, and excessive worrying are also indicators of poor self-esteem. Fortunately, there are many tools to implement in your day-to-day life that will assist in building up confidence and self-esteem!
1. Identify Negative Thought Patterns
The first step on how to build self-esteem is identifying negative thinking and thought patterns. These can be verbalized or hand-written. Sometimes, writing down negative thoughts helps you acknowledge them and view them from an outside perspective.
Identifying negative beliefs, thought patterns, and behaviors is a common first step in the psychotherapy field and with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT sessions, a skilled therapist helps identify thoughts that lead to unwanted behaviors or problems. Examples of maladaptive thought patterns you may have are:
- Black-and-white thinking
Cognitive restructuring requires time and lots of patience. It starts with self-monitoring.
During this stage, you will begin acknowledging when and where maladaptive thoughts arise. When these automatic thoughts pop up, start thinking about the why behind them. Some examples of questions you can ask yourself at this point are:
- Am I thinking this based on emotions or facts?
- Is there any evidence this thought is accurate?
- What is the worst that could happen?
- How can I test my thought pattern?
Next, you will start questioning your assumptions and gather evidence against your biases. Lastly, once you have mastered some of the skills above, start performing a cost-benefit analysis of your negative thoughts. You may ask yourself how this affects your emotions in the long term and what benefit you get out of talking poorly about yourself.
Don’t worry – in your journal, you won’t only be writing down negative thoughts or situations. In the next step, you will work on counteracting them.
2. Switch Negative Thoughts for Positive Ones
Replace negative thoughts. If you are at work one day and tell yourself, you can’t do something because you aren’t smart enough, stop, and consider an alternative.
Maybe something like, “I am knowledgeable about Excel; maybe I could ask a coworker for help on this project.” For each negative thought, match it with a positive one right after, or write it next to your identified negative thought.
3. Keep a Journal
Along with steps one and two, consider keeping a journal for more than identifying negative and positive thought patterns. Research shows that journaling can improve mental health and well-being by:
- Prioritizing problems and fears
- Tracking symptoms
- Identifying triggers
- Engaging in positive self-talk
At work and home, start paying attention to what other people say about you and write down positive interactions. Even simple comments can go a long way.
For example, your friend might say, “Thank you for coming to pick me up for drinks tonight. You always go out of your way to help me.” Although it is a simple, passing comment, you may write down that your friend appreciates your thoughtfulness and unselfishness.
In your journal, start incorporating positive experiences you have during the day. These can be things such as nailing a project at work, cooking a new meal, learning a hobby, or even just saying “no” when you aren’t feeling up to going out (more on the benefits of that below). To get started, here are some great journaling prompts to consider and the types of journaling you can choose.
4. Look at Your Relationships
The people you surround yourself with play a prominent role in your confidence, mood, and self-esteem. If you have friends who nit-pick everything you say and make you feel poorly about yourself, it might be time to broaden your horizons.
Studies show that peer support services for treating patients with mental health illnesses are effective and beneficial. The same holds true for self-confidence, and surrounding yourself with positive relationships bolsters your confidence. It provides an outlet for you to safely discuss ongoing struggles, challenges, or worries.
If you don’t know where to start, begin by taking inventory. Think about your relationships with family and friends, identifying ones you feel lower your self-esteem. Next, don’t write the person off entirely.
Communication can go a long way in resolving problems and harboring close relationships. The person might not even know they are making you feel poorly about themselves! Maybe they have a unique sense of humor or are going through their own struggles.
You’d be surprised what you can fix with open and honest communication. However, if that doesn’t work, start branching out and finding people who support you and provide self-love tips. You may find these people at work, stores, recreational sports leagues, college classes, and much more. You can even make friends online quite easily in this post-COVID age!
5. Take the Advice You Give to Others
Have you ever told your friend that they deserve better than a recent girlfriend or boyfriend that broke up with them? You likely mean it wholeheartedly and are a good friend and support system. Yet, when the same happens to you, your natural instinct could be to psychoanalyze everything wrong about you and why that person didn’t see you as good enough.
These are the maladaptive thought patterns sneaking their way back in. Instead, start being kinder to yourself and take the advice you give out.
It might sound easier said than done, but the more you practice it, the better you will become. How can you start this process?
- Practice self-compassion (e.g., learn from experiences, adapt)
- Recognize that you are human
- Use emotions and thoughts as data
- Stop black-and-white thinking
When unfavorable circumstances arise, don’t resort to labeling your emotions as bad or good. Try looking at it from an outside perspective and reason with yourself. Think about what could have gone better, what you did really well at, and what you’d like to work on in the future.
Going back to the relationship example, you may view your relationship as something that likely wouldn’t last very long. Maybe you both struggled with making time for each other between school and work.
On the other hand, acknowledge what you did well at, such as content communicating, being compassionate, or being a good listener. Lastly, take the pros and cons of the relationship and determine what you would like differently from the next one.
6. Take Hints From Those Around You
Part of the process of improving self-esteem is learning from those around you. You should not mimic behaviors entirely or “fake it until you make it.” The process is even more straightforward than that.
Find people you trust and respect, and take note of how they respond to challenging situations or negative feedback. An excellent way to start this is at work or school. Watch your peers and see their methods of coping.
Everyone receives poor feedback or bad experiences at some point, but it doesn’t mean that the response is a cookie-cutter version. If you have a difficult time with these observations, talk to them. Ask your friends what they would do in your situation or how they handled an especially challenging one of their own.
While this guide is meant as a useful beginner’s resource for improving self-esteem, increasing positive thinking, and building confidence, you may find that a few pieces of advice from a friend on their experiences makes a huge difference.
7. Saying “No” Is Okay
Saying “no” might not be in your wheelhouse, but it is an important skill to develop. Too often, people fall into the trap of becoming people pleasers and saying “yes” to things that make them uncomfortable or put them in a stressful situation.
This is different from you initiating activities or situations where you want to challenge yourself. In those scenarios, you are in control. Saying “no” helps with:
- Setting boundaries
- Reducing stress
- Reducing negative habits
- Decreasing resentment
- Increases time and devotion for activities or people you enjoy
Many people don’t want to say “no” because they are made to feel guilty. You could also avoid upsetting others, worrying too much about other people’s opinions, or you might think that you have the time and energy to handle it. The next time you are placed in a position where you aren’t sure whether to say “yes,” consider these questions:
- Does it support my goals?
- Does it align with my values?
- Does it prevent me from doing something else that is more important?
- Will it hurt my confidence, self-esteem, or mental health?
- Will it create more stress and anxiety?
Some situations you will likely encounter are being asked to jump on a new project at work or school, going out with friends on a busy Friday night, and more. These situations may increase your stress or challenge your values.
8. Avoid “Must” and “Should” Statements
“Must” and “should” statements lock you into black-and-white thinking. You are likely placing unreasonable demands and expectations on yourself. Some examples include:
- I must get this project done tonight
- I should go out with my friends to grab drinks
- I should go to the gym if I want to improve my physical health
- I must be on time
Some situations require promptness and accountability, but placing unreasonable demands on yourself leads to stress, depression, and anxiety. Instead, whip out that journal again and start documenting your “should” and “must” statements. Like distorted thinking, you will have to start by acknowledging them before you can counteract them.
Let’s look at an example.
“I must go to the gym every day this week.” If you struggle with obsessive exercise, this phrase is likely all too familiar for you. Start by challenging that statement.
Why do you need to go to the gym every day? Maybe it’s because you feel that is what is required to maintain physique or health. Next, analyze how you feel about that statement.
Does it cause anxiety or stress since you have a busy week with school or work? Maybe you can compromise and set healthy goals instead, like:
- I’m going to try and exercise 150 minutes this week
- I’m going to practice a new hobby I enjoyed last week with friends
Don’t be too hard on yourself when unexpected situations or events arise. Give yourself some flexibility during this process, and remember to write down how you feel about it.
9. Implement Self-Care Routines
If you are in college, this suggestion for building self-esteem is especially important. Taking time for extracurricular activities and exercise helps boost motivation, connect with friends, and reduce stress. Self-care and self-love tips go hand-in-hand, increasing in popularity during the pandemic.
As more people were practicing social distancing and working from home, it became critical to find ways to improve mental health and awareness. Here are some examples of self-care activities:
- Brisk walk
- Hot bath
- Listening to music
- Drinking herbal tea
- Get a massage
- Make time for social connections
- Nourish skin
- Get outside
- Get enough sleep
- Remind yourself of your value and skills
The options are many, but you will want activities that are soothing, relaxing, and rejuvenating. Experts find that regular self-care promotes better physical and mental health. More substantial self-care is implementing a healthy diet, exercise, and regular sleep schedules.
10. Talk to a Therapist
While many of these tools can start helping with low self-esteem, there may be other underlying mental health illnesses or struggles that make the process more difficult. Anxiety can accompany low self-esteem and lead to feelings of excessive worry or guilt.
Many tips for managing anxiety also help with building self-confidence and giving you a self-esteem boost, such as:
- Being in the present
- Deep breathing
- Talking to a loved one
If you continue struggling, find a therapist you trust by asking friends, family, work colleagues, or fellow classmates for recommendations. You could also perform a simple Google search in your area and read online reviews.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have success the first go-around. It can take patients months to find a therapist they click with, but the pay-off is worth it!
11. Learn a New Hobby
Did you know that learning a new language can improve low self-esteem? The benefit of mastering a second (or third) language is you have to go through the trial-and-error phase. You will make mistakes, but you will also learn how to overcome them and see obvious rewards ahead.
Ultimately, it places you outside your comfort zone and challenges you to persevere. In return, using a new language abroad or even at a new job can build confidence and a higher self-esteem.
12. Start Taking Initiative
It may seem counterintuitive to take initiative and risk rejection to build self-esteem. But the opposite can also hold true.
Taking initiative requires putting trust in yourself and acknowledging your strengths and your weaknesses. Start with baby steps for small wins, asking simple questions such as “How can I help on this project?”
Progression from there might include offering your ideas for the next work project. If you struggle with socialization, taking the initiative entails talking to two strangers on a night out with friends or signing up for a dating app. The options are endless, but taking the first step toward initiation will help build up confidence.
When Should You Call on the Professionals?
Research has found that good self-esteem is multi-faceted and includes many constructs such as:
Low self-esteem also shows close ties to other psychiatric disorders, although the cause is likely bidirectional. Some of the higher instances of low self-esteem and mental health illnesses are depression, social anxiety, substance use disorders, and eating disorders.
Depression is a common occurrence in a large portion of Americans and is closely intertwined with low self-esteem. Licensed mental health professionals have vast experience working with co-occurring disorders and mental health illnesses.
If you notice recurring thoughts of guilt or changes in mood, you may need to talk to a professional. Don’t try to cope on your own! Depression stems beyond feeling “down” for a day or two. You might lose the enjoyment of activities you used to love or start withdrawing from loved ones.
On the extreme end, suicidal thoughts and tendencies are medical emergencies, and you should seek help immediately. Sometimes, these signs are difficult to spot in yourself, requiring you to rely on the advice and observations of close peers or loved ones.
Professional Treatments and Therapies
What can you expect when you schedule an appointment with a mental health professional? First, they will likely review your symptoms and perform a psychoanalysis.
This isn’t cause for concern; it gives your medical professional better insight into other mental health illnesses and your coping strategies. There are a few different options when it comes to managing low self-esteem and depression or other mental illnesses, such as:
Counseling or therapy is effective for helping you construct positive thoughts and address your feelings. Medication is often a front-line approach to other mental health illnesses like depression.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are among the most commonly prescribed medications for depression. Studies that looked at major depressive disorder (MDD) in children and adolescents found that antidepressants helped improve symptoms but didn’t affect the quality of life.
Contrarily, previous studies that examined antidepressants and quality of life in adults found positive associations.
Building Your Self-Esteem
Now that you know a few strategies for how to boost your self-esteem, it is time to get started! Take time daily to review your progress and enlist your trusted friends and family for support during the process.
If you feel like it is too high of a mountain to climb, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional for some guidance. They play a crucial role in the long-term success and implementation of evidence-based practices.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember that maintaining confidence and self-respect, as with great mental health in general, is a lifelong process. There will be many challenging and difficult situations throughout your life, but, with positive thinking and constant effort, you’ll be well able to manage life’s ups and downs.
And if you enjoyed this article, check out the rest of our self-improvement articles for more great advice and tips!