Not a whisper: “self-esteem” but a YELL: “SELF-ESTEEM!”
We’ve spent the past year talking about all sorts of health topics, and one think that struck me (OK, it is obvious, so maybe I needed to work on these with a bit more coffee in the system)…. Is that self-esteem plays into so many health related things. It drives the decisions you make, the risks you take, how you treat your mind and your body. All things that affect drinking, smoking, drug use, eating disorders, mental health, risky driving, giving in to peer pressure and generally how happy you feel going through life.
There are all sorts of dry, scientific, spacey, warm-and-fuzzy, or other definitions out there about self esteem, but the one that I liked the best was self-esteem is whether you feel Worthy or Unworthy. Are you worthy of being treated well in your life? Worthy of feeling happy? Worthy of the friends you have? Worthy of being loved? Worthy of taking the time to care for yourself? Worthy of the accomplishments you have made?
Some experts think self esteem starts high in early childhood, and then gradually gets chipped away as you work your way through life. Others think self esteem is built up as you go through life trying things and succeeding – not just in big ways, but in little ones too (remember learning how to walk? Maybe not, but you get the idea). Interactions with people close to you can definitely impact your self esteem. Not all parents, teachers, friends are perfect and those interactions can certainly take a big hit on your self-esteem. Because of all this, I am thinking self-esteem is both built up through life and chipped away through life.
Before we dive in, one thing that you need to know is that low self-esteem can be related to depression. If you are feeling sad for several weeks and don’t know why, and you have with the sadness change in your sleeping patterns (too much or can’t) eating patterns (not hungry or eating tons), or you feel like hurting yourself, you need to see you Dr and make sure you don’t need help.
If you feel you need help now, click here: Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK.
OK, let’s proceed.
So why is self-esteem important and what can you do to beef yours up?
First, probably the biggest reason that self-esteem is important, is that it is the filter through which you experience your life. Think back to the feeling of: Are you Worthy or Unworthy?
- High self esteem filter? Life is exciting, a challenge, filled with happiness, has some bummer days but those pass and then you run out and seize the next challenge. You broke up with your BF/GF, but you know that what you learned in that relationship will help you with your next. You have successes and they fuel you to try new things. You are optimistic about the next day. You look forward to the rest of your life.
- Low self-esteem filter? You feel like a loser. You can’t do anything right. Those things you accomplished were a fluke and had nothing to do with you or your skills. The friends you have will figure out sooner than later that you are a fraud and will leave you. What’s the point in trying new things – you’ll just fail anyway. You’re too ugly to find a BF or GF.
A lot of people worry that low self-esteem leads to bad things – including bad health things (obviously, that is exactly what I worry about). There is evidence that low self-esteem PLUS being a perfectionist can contribute to eating disorders. It is common sense that if you don’t feel good enough about yourself to take care of yourself well, that you might make a LOT of poor decisions about food, exercise, trying Molly, smoking, etc. And we already know that those things can affect your health (just search this blog for more on those topic!). Low self-esteem may make you give in to sexual pressure or make you participate in sexual behaviors that you don’t want to (STDs, pregnancy, rape). None of this is good.
OK, so let’s talk about what you can do to build yours up.
First things first, if your self-esteem is below sea-level, underground, down in the dumps, DO NOT GIVE UP! There are little tricks and exercises you can do to build it back up and maintain it. You exercise your muscles to make a strong body. You exercise your brain to make a strong mind. Now you will exercise your self-esteem to make you feel Worthy.
I found this great guide to Building Self-Esteem on line (LINK: http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA-3715/SMA-3715.pdf ) from SAMHSA, CMHS and DHHS. I extracted some of these ideas and added my own, but feel free to click on the link if you want to learn more.
TO DO LIST:
- Pay attention to your own needs and wants. Need to study for that test? Want to spend more time with your BFF or grandmother? Need to get out for a walk for exercise and fresh air? Need to snuggle your dog? Listen to and pay attention to what your mind and body are telling you. Fighting your needs and wants constantly is exhausting and drains you of feeling you are worth having needs and wants.
- Take good care of yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Rest. Take time to relax. You are WORTHY of taking care of your mind and body! Treat yourself well, and you WILL feel better about yourself.
- Do what you like to do. Take time to hang with a friend, play your guitar, call your cousin, paint that picture, play with your dog, catch up on Netflix. You get the idea. You are worth taking the time to do something you enjoy!
- Do what you HAVE to do. OK, take care of 1 thing on your list that you HAVE to do. Get books for term paper. Write thank you notes. Study for your test. Practice piano. Play a game with your little brother. Load the dishwasher. You have to get that stuff done anyway, and when you do, it makes you less stressed AND it is an ACCOMPLISHMENT – building back up that self-esteem.
- Do things that use YOUR special talents. Draw pictures as gifts for family. Write a poem for a special person. Reach out to a sad or stressed friend since you are good at making people feel better. Play pick-up ball.
- Spend time with people that make you feel good about yourself. For real. Not the people that PRETEND to be BFFs and compliment your outfit and all that, and then turn and snicker behind your back. No “head-games” people. Avoid people that treat you badly – the GF that threatens you all the time if you won’t blow off your buddies to hang out with her 24/7. Or that BF that threatens to leave you if you don’t have sex with him. That rec league coach that yells at you all the time and calls you a sissy and says you are weak and suck. Etc. You get the idea. We all have some of these people in our lives.
- Make your special place a celebration of you. Could be your bedroom, your top bunk, your corner of your shared bedroom. Hang up stuff you like that makes you, you. Surround yourself with celebrations of your accomplishments – grades on tests, school newspaper write ups from the big game where you scored a key goal, a note from a friend that you helped, a token of love from a smaller sibling who admires you.
- OK, THIS IS A BIG ONE. Learn how to turn off those negative thoughts. We all have them. You know the ones “I am so stupid I forgot my homework”. “I am such a loser, she’ll never want to go out with me”. “The entire team hates me since I missed that shot”. “I am so fat and ugly I cannot even take a good selfie”. Now we learn these messages from the media (fashion magazines, body building images from ads), family (remember, adults aren’t perfect – I don’t really need to tell you that though, do I?), prejudice or stigma (LGBTQ, racial minority). Hopefully those sources of negative messages will change over time. But the negative messages that you can DEFINITELY control are the ones you tell yourself.
So, how to stop? Here are the steps:
- Notice them. You probably don’t even realize how often you think something negative about yourself. Maybe jot them down for a day or 2 as soon as they pop into your head.
- When you feel good, happy, etc, look at those thoughts you jotted down and ask yourself, “are they really true?”. We often have these thoughts when we are tired or stressed or having just gone through a difficult social situation.
- Next, make a list of positive thoughts. Some people call it Affirming Lists (for you older readers out there, that makes me think immediately of the old SNL “Daily Affirmations” skits!). So your list would include stuff you like about yourself or things you do well etc. Like this: " I have a great fashion sense that people admire.People can be themselves around me.I am great at math.I am good at guitar.My little sister thinks I am awesome. I am a GREAT dancer! I rock at Xbox. I am good at making YouTube videos. I am awesome in my church choir. I am great with my dog. I am kind. Etc. "
NOW the next time you feel a negative thought coming on, practice replacing that with one of your positive thoughts. Practice makes perfect. Sounds corny. IT WILL HELP!
Other stuff you can do IN TEN MINUTES that helps build that self-esteem muscle:
- Find a good friend. For 10 minutes sit with each other to say positive thing about each other. You go for 5 minutes talking about positive things about her. Then switch. Repeat often.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes. Write down as many positive things about yourself as you can in 10 minutes. Nothing negative allowed. Repeat often!
So, self-esteem. It’s what makes you realize that you ARE Worthy. And like everything else, we need to work to maintain it, and we can build it back up. These are skills that will help the rest of your life. Promise.
Next topic: Cutting. Stay tuned.