Check negative self-talk
How we value and perceive ourselves and our abilities is believed to be strongly tied to influences in childhood. A recent longitudinal study following nearly 9,000 participants in the US from birth to age 27 found that family environment (covering parenting, cognitive stimulation and physical home environment) in childhood, and especially in the first six years of life, has a long-term impact on self-esteem. The first step to achieving healthy self-esteem as an adult, suggests the NHS, is to challenge negative beliefs you have about yourself, perhaps by writing down self-critical thoughts and the evidence against them, or by speaking to yourself the way you would of a friend.
Don’t compare yourself with others
It’s impossible to get an accurate view of other people, says the clinical psychologist Linda Blair, especially from their online presence. “You’re comparing yourself with a fantasy, and that will lead to either excessive striving or disappointment.” She advises focusing on what you yourself want to accomplish instead. Her other advice is to “get rid of the word ‘should’”. People can put a lot of effort into what they think others want or expect from them, which they may have misjudged – a recipe for unhappiness, she says.
Set yourself manageable goals
Aiming for too-ambitious a goal can be setting yourself up for failure, knocking your self-confidence even if you have taken big steps towards it. A sense of accomplishment is key to maintaining your pride, says Blair, who suggests setting short- to mid-term goals.
Although keeping to your comfort zone can offer short-term relief, it can backfire in the long term, says Chris Williams, professor of psychosocial psychiatry at the University of Glasgow. “It teaches you the unhelpful rule that the only way to cope is by avoiding things.” Think of that boost you feel once you tick off a challenge.
Take care of yourself
Low self-esteem can sometimes lead to neglect of physical health. The mental health charity Mind recommends considering any negative impacts on your life of stress, exercise, sleep, diet and drugs and alcohol. Finding ways to relax and addressing any issues you may have with your diet or substances can have a significant effect on your sense of self-worth.
Physical activity has been found to positively influence self-esteem and wellbeing. A 2016 study found that physical activity, perceived physical fitness and body image play an important role in self-esteem, and recommended that “regular physical activity should be promoted, in particular among adults reporting lower self-esteem”.
Take up gardening
Research published in the Journal of Public Health in 2015 found that just one session of gardening in an allotment yielded significant improvements in mood and self-esteem. If an allotment isn’t an option and you don’t have your own garden, search online for nearby gardening groups.