In my work, I sometimes feel that there is an epidemic of low self-esteem. Even people who seem to be very sure of themselves will admit to having low self-esteem, a feeling that often makes them unhappy and keeps them from doing some of the things they want to do and being the kind of person they want to be. In fact, they may say that low self-esteem causes, or worsens, their bouts with depression and anxiety.

I know this has been a big factor in my life. I feel that I am always working on raising my self-esteem and that I will always need to do that.

There is no single way to build self-esteem. There are many different things you can do to work on this issue, and I, myself, am always on the lookout for new ways to raise self-esteem. This article will describe some of what I have learned to date.

Get Involved

Right now you have an opportunity to do something that will help you to raise your self-esteem. Once every four years, you can vote for the person you would like to be the next president of the United States. You also have the opportunity to vote for other national, state and local officials. Regardless of the outcome of the election, informing yourself about the candidates and voting for the ones who support issues that are important to you can make you feel good about yourself, raising your self-esteem.

Begin the process by thinking about the issues that are most important to you—education, health care, the environment, taxes, defense spending, etc. If you don’t know how you feel about these issues, read some related articles and talk with people who have the information you need. Then, when you know how you feel, find out which candidates support your views. Then vote for those candidates. If you feel strongly about certain candidates and have the time, you may want to volunteer to help them with their campaigns. Activism will give your self-esteem another boost.

Take Good Care of Yourself

Another way you can build your self-esteem is to take very good care of yourself. You may take very good care of others and put your own personal care last. Or your life may be so busy that you don’t take the time to do the things you need to do to stay healthy. You may feel so badly about yourself that you don’t bother to take good care of yourself.

Some of the things you can do to take good care of yourself include:

  • Eating three meals a day that are focused on healthy foods—fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as whole grain foods and rich sources of protein like chicken and fish.

  • Avoiding foods that contain large amounts of sugar, caffeine and food additives. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, you may want to avoid it.
  • Getting outside and exercising every day.
  • Spending some time each day doing something you really enjoy.
  • Spending time each day with people who make you feel good about yourself.
  • Having regular check-ups with your health care providers.

Change Negative Thoughts about Yourself to Positive Ones

Work on changing negative thoughts about yourself to positive ones. You may give yourself lots of negative self talk. Many people do. This negative self talk worsens your low self esteem. You can decide now not to do this to yourself. That’s great if you can do it. However, negative self talk is often a habit that is hard to break. You may need to work on it more directly by changing these negative statements about yourself to positive ones. Begin this process by making a list of the negative statements you often say to yourself. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Nobody likes me.
  • I am ugly.
  • I never do anything right.
  • I am a failure.
  • I am dumb.
  • Everyone is better than I am.
  • I’m not worth anything.
  • I’ve never accomplished anything worthwhile.

Then develop a positive statement that refutes the negative one. For instance, instead of saying to yourself, “Nobody likes me” you could say, “Many people like me”. You could even make a list of the people who like you. Instead of saying, “I am ugly”, you could say “I look fine”. Instead of saying, “I never do anything right” you could say “I have done many things right.” You could even make a list of things you have done right. It helps to do this work in a special notebook or journal.

When you have developed positive statements that refute your negative statements, read them over and over to yourself. Read them before you go to bed at night and when you first get up in the morning. Read them aloud to your partner, a close friend or your counselor. Make signs that say a positive statement about you and post them where you will see them–like on the mirror in your bathroom. Then read them aloud every time you see them. You can think of some other ways to reinforce these positive statements about yourself.

Get Something Done

Low self-esteem is often accompanied by lack of motivation. It may feel very hard to do anything. It will help you to feel better about yourself if you do something, even if it is a very small thing. You may want to keep a list of possibilities on hand for those times when you can’t think of anything to do. Things like: cleaning out one drawer, washing the outside of your refrigerator, putting a few pictures in a photo album, reading an article you have been wanting to read, taking a picture of a beautiful flower or a person you love, making the bed, doing a load of laundry, cooking yourself something healthy, sending someone a card, hanging a picture or taking a short walk.

Make a List of Your Accomplishments

You may not give yourself credit for all that you have achieved in your life. Making a list of your accomplishments will help you become more aware of these accomplishments. It will also help change the focus of your self-thoughts to positive ones. You can do this exercise again and again, whenever you notice your self-esteem is low.

Get a big sheet of paper and a comfortable pen. Set the timer for 20 minutes (or as long as you’d like). Spend the time writing your accomplishments. You could never have a paper long enough or enough time to write them all. Nothing is too big or too small to go on this list. This list can include things like:

  • Learning to talk, walk, read, skip, etc.;

  • Planting some seeds or caring for houseplants;
  • Raising a child;
  • Making and keeping a good friend;
  • Dealing with a major illness or disability;
  • Buying your groceries;
  • Driving your car or catching the subway;
  • Smiling at a person who looks sad;
  • Taking a difficult course;
  • Getting a job;
  • Doing the dishes; or
  • Making the bed.

Have you ever noticed the good feeling that washes over you when you do something nice for someone else? If so, take advantage of that good feeling by doing things that are “nice” or helpful to others as often as you can to build your self-esteem.

Watch for opportunities that come up every day. Buy your partner some flowers or even one rose. Send a friend a greeting card. If someone you know is having a hard time, send them a note or give them a call. Go out of your way to congratulate people you know on their achievements. Visit a patient at a nursing home or hospital or someone who is “shut-in.” Play with a child—read him a book, take her for a walk, push him on the swing. Do a chore for someone that might be hard for her or him like raking the leaves or mowing the grass. You may even want to volunteer for an organization that is helping others, like a heart association or AIDS project. I’m sure you can think of many other ideas.

Other Quick Things You Can Do to Raise Your Self-Esteem

Following is a list of other things you can do to raise your self-esteem. Some of them will be right at one time, while others will work at another time. There may be some you choose not to do—ever. You may want to post this list on your refrigerator or in some other convenient place as a reminder.

  • Surround yourself with people who are positive, affirming and loving.

  • Wear something that makes you feel good.
  • Look through old pictures, scrapbooks and photo albums.
  • Make a collage of your life.
  • Spend 10 minutes writing down everything good you can think of about yourself.
  • Do something that makes you laugh.
  • Pretend you are your own best friend.
  • Repeat positive statements over and over again.

You can add more ideas to this list as you discover them for yourself.

In Conclusion

Work on raising your self-esteem may go on for the rest of your life. However, this is not a burden. The kinds of things you do to raise your self-esteem will not only help you to feel better about yourself, but will improve the quality of your life while energizing and enriching it.

Mary Ellen Copeland, Ph.D. is an author, educator and mental health recovery advocate, as well as the developer of WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). To learn more about her books, such as the popular The Depression Workbook and Wellness Recovery Action Plan, her other writings, and WRAP, please visit her website, Mental Health Recovery and WRAP. Reprinted here with permission.