This is a guest blog written by Sarah at ‘My Possible Self’, a mental health app that can help with stress, anxiety and mild to moderate depression. The main module, Managing Fear and Anxiety is free, and comes with a private diary feature that helps you keep track of your daily thoughts and feelings. Find out more at http://www.mypossibleself.com.
How to improve your self-esteem
Low self-esteem can affect us all at one time or another, but when it becomes a more long-term problem it can impact our mood, our relationships, our careers and our mental health as a whole.
We all have our own ways of ‘feeling better’. This might be learning a new skill, making time for pampering or surrounding ourselves with people who encourage and support us. There are also some techniques you can learn in order to tackle unhelpful thoughts and improve your self-esteem, which are outlined below.
Learn to spot thinking traps
‘Thinking traps’ are negative thought patterns that are easy to fall into but often keep us in a cycle of worry or self-criticism. They can be very distressing, but we can learn ways of keeping them at bay. The first step is to learn to identify what these thinking traps are. Below are the common types and some examples of the kind of thoughts that go along with them:
‘Mind reading’ occurs when we assume we know what another person is thinking, for example “My boss thinks I’m useless”, “My mother is disappointed in me” or “Everyone is judging me”. When you catch yourself mind reading, think about what evidence you have for coming to this conclusion.
Black and white thinking
One way to identify ‘Black and white thinking’ is to look out for words like ‘always’ or ‘never’. For example, “I always fail”, or “No-one ever listen to me”. Also look out for extreme or blanket statements like “I’m worthless”.
Remember life is mostly shades of grey. We all experience failure in our lives, but sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we’re listened to, sometimes we’re not. Try and remember that this is an over-simplification and that life is very rarely black and white.
Filtering is also known as ‘selective’ thinking. This is where you focus on the negative aspects of a situation while filtering out the good aspects. For example “My holiday was ruined because the hotel room was too small”. It can be upsetting when things don’t go to plan, but try and focus on some of the positive aspects.
Once you’ve learned to identify these thinking traps, you will find you start to shift your perspective. As an exercise, keep a log of these thoughts and write down some statements that challenge them.
There are some other simple self-care strategies which might help boost your positivity. When you’re busy, it can be hard to find the time to look after yourself, and many of us view self-care as something of a ‘luxury’. But it’s not, it’s a necessary means of keeping going. Self-care can be different for everyone. It might be practising a sport you enjoy, pampering yourself, reading or socialising.
One important aspect of self-care is making time for pleasurable activities. These are activities which we enjoy, and which give us a sense of satisfaction. There are four main ‘categories’ of pleasurable activities and it’s good to try and get a balance of all of them, if you can. The categories are:
Social: activities which involve interacting with others.
Achievement or mastery: activities which give you a sense of accomplishment, such as making something or learning a new skill.
Physical: activities that make you get up and move around. This doesn’t have to be running a marathon, it could be going for a walk around the park.
Pleasant or fun: This simply means doing something you really love, whether it’s watching a movie, playing music or reading a book.
These activities may cross over into one another, and you don’t have to be regimented in making sure you do a certain amount of each one. It’s just a case of getting a bit of a balance and, more importantly, making the time to do it.
Know when to get a helping hand
It’s possible to break negative thinking patterns and improve your self esteem with some simple techniques. But if you need a bit of extra support, it’s OK to ask for help. If you’re feeling hopeless, or have thoughts of self-loathing or self-harm, help is at hand. Talk to your GP or seek advice from a professional.