How to Improve Your Self Esteem

How to Improve Your Self Esteem

Yoga and Mental Health Series

For this series of blog posts, I’m writing within the topic of mental health. If you are struggling with your mental health, I want you to know that you are not alone, and life can get better. I want to show you how it’s possible and teach you some of the tools and techniques that I found helpful in improving anxiety, depression, self esteem and the lasting effects of trauma. Missed a previous post in this series? Read part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Part 4: How to Improve Your Self Esteem

How to improve your self esteem

For me one of the hardest parts of depression to overcome has been, and continues to be, low self esteem. Years of believing the lies that I’m not good enough, I’m a bad person, I’m not capable of success and not worthy of love, are pretty hard to stop believing, but I’m getting there. Like most good things in life, improving your self esteem is something that takes continuous effort.

Self esteem is something that all of us struggle with at timeseither  throughout our entire lives or temporarily after certain painful events. Low self esteem can be rooted in any number of circumstances: abusive, neglectful or unsupportive parents, growing up poor, a chronic illness, a physical disability, poor academic performance, being bullied or made fun of, being turned down at auditions or job interviews, losing a job, having trouble finding a partner, breakups, being cheated on, abusive relationships, financial troubles, weight gain or loss, being excluded by friends, depression or other mental illness. The list could go on, but you get the picture.

The problem with low self esteem is that, in addition to feeling crappy and unhappy with yourself overall, it also amplifies your fears and can keep you from living a life you enjoy.

When you’re struggling with your self esteem what are some positive things you can do to help?

As I was writing this post, I came across a powerful speech by Marisa Peer. Marisa has been recognized as the top therapist in Britain and works with people around the world on improving their self esteem. She believes that the #1 disease plaguing society is the belief that we are not enough. But we can turn that belief around. When you have a chance, watch her full speech here.

Here are a few takeaways from Marisa’s lecture:

~Scientists say that a major cause of depression is the harsh, hurtful, critical words that you say to yourself. Criticism withers self esteem, while praise builds self esteem. However, sometimes when other people praise you, it’s for their own agenda (i.e. a boss praising your hard work then asking you to work all weekend). Praise yourself. Your own praise has no agenda and is more effective at building self esteem.

~Your mind responds to two things: the pictures you create and the words you say to yourself. Change the negative pictures and words to positive ones to change your life.

~Tell your brain what experiences you want with specific, detailed, clear commands. Convince your brain that you enjoy these things by saying to yourself: “I want this, I’m choosing to do this, I’ve chosen to feel great about it, I love it.” {For example if you’re trying to lose weight, what you want is to feel good about choosing healthy food rather than dreading it, going with an unhealthy choice and then feeling guilty and angry with yourself. So you would keep telling yourself how much you love healthy food and how great you feel when you eat it.}

~Write the words “I am enough” somewhere you will see them each dayon your wall or on your bathroom mirror. Put a reminder on your phone that pops up daily with this statement. Repeat it to yourself often, allow yourself to believe it and keep doing this over and over.

Some other things you can do to improve your self esteem:

~Yoga helps us become aware of and release negative thoughts about ourselves. It is also calming and can help slow down those racing negative thoughts.When practicing asana (the physical postures of yoga), we are connecting with our bodies in a positive way and promoting self acceptance.

~Think of how you want other people to treat you, and treat yourself that way. Or if it helps, think of the people you lovehow do you talk to these people? If you wouldn’t say something to a person you love, don’t say it to yourself.

~Make a list of all the things you appreciate about yourself. Don’t take this exercise as a time to pick yourself apart and notice your flaws. Think about anything positive about yourself: any talents you have, or the way you treat others or care for your family, or perhaps your work ethicwhatever you can think of, write it down. Keep this list somewhere you can read it often, and add new things anytime you think of them.

~Meditate on a self esteem boosting affirmation daily, such as “I love myself” (or Marisa’s affirmation mentioned above, “I am enough”). If you’re new to affirmation meditation, read this post.

~[bctt tweet=”Challenge your self-criticizing thoughts. Ask yourself if they’re true and if they’re useful.” username=”alexhowlettyoga”] Usually they’re not. Once you realize this, it becomes easier to let go of your fears.

~Adding to the above point, what is your biggest fear? Mine is what others think of me: being judged, not being accepted, people not wanting to hear what I have to say or thinking I’m a joke, etc. So think of your biggest fear and challenge it. Continuously. List all the reasons it’s invalid or doesn’t matter. I have to constantly remind myself  that there are people in my life who love me unconditionally. And if sharing my thoughts and beliefs makes some others think badly of me, are they really people I want to keep in my life anyway? Probably not.

~Take care of yourself. Eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep improves your overall health and happiness, as you already know. On the reverse side, when you do things that are damaging to your well-being, you get angry and disappointed with yourself, criticize yourself and lower your self esteem. If you’re struggling with an addiction or health issue, please seek help so you can begin to work on healthy self care habits.

Most importantly, remember that you have to put in the work to see the results. Thinking thoughts of self love or acceptance for one day isn’t going to change your life. You have to do it every day. All the time. It’s tough to keep challenging your criticizing thoughts, but it gets easier. (If something doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.) Some days you may feel totally confident and ready to take on anything, and then the next day you could have an unpleasant encounter with someone and want to go hide under a rock. But I know that, just like so many other people, I am capable of changing my thoughts and changing my life, so are you, and this stuff really works.

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Disclaimer: The yoga therapy components of my teaching are based on my personal life experiences with mental illness and study of relevant subjects, and are not derived from my status as a RYT with Yoga Alliance Registry.