Depression can make it difficult to see yourself in a positive light. But there are ways to regain confidence and realize how wonderful you are.
Living with low self-esteem can impact many areas of your life, from career choices to relationships. It could also fuel a cycle of negative self-talk, potentially feeding other symptoms of depression.
In fact, research from 2019 suggests that people with low self-esteem and a negative view of themselves may be more likely to experience symptoms of depression.
Low self-worth is a common depression symptom for many people.
“When you stop doing the things that you love, including taking care of yourself, your self-esteem starts to be impacted,” says Lena Suarez-Angelino, a licensed clinical social worker based in Woodbridge, New Jersey.
Working on your sense of self while living with depression may help you cope with other depression symptoms.
You can quiet that negative voice and improve your sense of self.
Treatment for depression can help, and it’s highly advisable. Doing the following exercises can also benefit you.
While journaling alone can’t treat the symptoms of depression, writing down what you feel and think of yourself can help you identify negative thought patterns.
Research from 2005 also suggests that expressive writing, specifically about traumatic or stressful events, may help improve mental health. This type of writing may also provide long-term benefits, including better mood and improved psychological well-being.
Consider getting a journal and spending a few minutes each day on it. You can write how you feel about yourself on one page, then about events in your life on the next. You could also combine it all.
The idea is that you pour yourself into the blank sheets of paper. There’s no need to do it all at once. You can go slowly and write longer as you feel more comfortable with the exercise.
Blocking out that inner critic can be tricky. So you may find it easier to talk back instead.
Is it telling you you’re not worthy of love? Or that you’ll never get the job you applied for? Is it blaming you for how you feel or why you live with depression?
Consider stopping it in its tracks.
When you become aware of that inner talk, try asking for evidence. Why wouldn’t you deserve to be loved? Why would you choose to live with depression?
Evidence can’t come from assumptions or what other people may have told you. Evidence is based on facts. So, you may find that there’s little evidence to what that inner critic is telling you.
Consider demanding it to be quiet.
When you notice that you’re beginning to criticize yourself again, it may also help to reassess the criticism and turn it into something positive. For example:
- Old, critical self: “I got a medal for finishing that 5K, but I wasn’t as fast as I should have been, considering all the training I did.”
- New perspective: “I got through weeks of training and finished that tough 5K strong. I’m proud of my accomplishment.”
What is your usual response when you see a loved one put themselves down? You probably don’t pile on and add to the criticism.
Try to do the same with yourself. Take that empathy you’re so great at doling out to others and try to turn it inward. This can give you peace of mind and make you feel more hopeful.
Suarez-Angelino recommends using a Hawaiian prayer called the Ho’oponopono Prayer. It focuses on self-compassion and forgiveness. It reads: “I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, I love you.”
Do you want to set goals for yourself? Great! However, it may be helpful to avoid lofty ones.
When you live with depression, you may feel fatigued and lack the motivation to do simple tasks.
Setting goals that require a lot of planning or steps may leave you overwhelmed. This, in turn, could feed your lack of confidence if you feel you didn’t achieve what you wanted to.
“I want to be a millionaire before I turn 30 years old,” for example, is an unrealistic goal for most people. If you live with depression, goals like “I’m going to clean and organize my entire house” could also feel unattainable.
By setting goals you’re more likely to achieve, you can build your confidence and improve your self-esteem if you have depression.
It may also be easier to break down more achievable goals, like “I’ll clean my room,” into smaller goals. For example, your goal one day might be “I’m going to dust today” and the next day “I’m vacuuming today.”
Each time you reach those mini goals, you may find yourself experiencing a self-esteem boost.
These don’t have to be huge things like getting a promotion or winning a race.
Consider the smaller things that speak to your positive qualities.
Maybe that’s being a good parent even when you’re handling a lot. Or being a supportive friend and a great team member. Perhaps you have great manners or you smiled at that stranger who seemed to need it and watched how their facial expression changed.
You might also find it helpful to write down the positive things people say to you. Did you receive an e-mail from your boss congratulating you for a job well done? Consider printing that out and keeping it somewhere.
And consider asking your inner critic to be quiet or provide evidence if your first impulse is to doubt what other people are saying to you. That’s called a cognitive distortion, and it’s just a filter you’re wearing that may not let you see things as they really are.
The next time you’re feeling low or down on yourself, consider taking a peek at your folder of “wins.”
Try not to compare yourself to others. Everyone is different, and people have all kinds of positive traits.
One way to steer clear of comparing yourself to others, suggests Suarez-Angelino, is to do a social media detox: “It is so common for people to associate how they feel about themselves based on their social media presence and engagement.”
By deleting apps from your phone and logging off, even if for a couple of hours, you can avoid this common self-esteem killer.
You may also want to avoid comparing your present self to your past self.
People change and grow. Maybe you’re no longer a movie trivia whiz. But you’ve likely gained other skills or attributes your younger self didn’t have before.
Try to focus on learning from those things that didn’t work out as you wish. These challenges don’t define you.
Everyone falls short at one time or another. Focusing on this can lower your self-esteem. Instead, it may be helpful to think about the potential bright side.
It’s natural to feel upset about things. Maybe you missed out on a promotion at work. That doesn’t mean you’re not a great worker and a valuable team member.
But what exactly is a positive affirmation? Affirmations are statements that you repeat to yourself to improve your self-esteem.
Some examples include:
- I’m worthy.
- I matter.
- I’m a good enough.
- I can do this.
- I’m strong.
You can try saying these out loud or writing them down. One tactic that some people use is to write down affirmations on Post-Its and put them somewhere where they’ll see them every day.
The key to effective affirmations, says Suarez-Angelino, is that you feel connected to them: “You have to believe them. If you’re using affirmations that feel impossible to reach, you’re sending subconscious signals to your brain that what you’re saying isn’t true.”
You may find it helpful to share your successes, however small, with those around you.
Telling others about your achievements is good practice for silencing that inner critic.
By enlisting a supportive group of people who can celebrate your wins with you, you may be able to create an echo chamber that’s louder than the negative voice inside your head.
Poor self-esteem is a common symptom of depression. It doesn’t have to be permanent, though.
With strategies like silencing your inner critic, using positive affirmations, and setting realistic goals, you can recover that sense of worth you may be missing.
Untreated depression may over time lead to more intense symptoms and poorer self-esteem. It’s highly advisable that you reach out for professional support.