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How is self-esteem tied to mental health?

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Introduction

Self-esteem is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.” In other words, self-esteem is how you feel about yourself. When someone has high self-esteem, they have positive feelings about themselves. On the other hand, someone with low self-esteem has negative feelings about themselves. For example, someone with low self-esteem may believe they are not worthy of love or happiness.

Conversely, mental health encompasses our emotional and psychological well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It is easier to understand mental health when you look at it as a scale ranging from wellness or illness.

How does low self-esteem affect mental health?

Self-esteem impacts every piece of our life. It not only affects how we value ourselves as a person, but also how we take care of ourselves. Someone with higher self-esteem may make more time for self-care and rest. Furthermore, people with higher self-esteem are kinder to themselves, recognize their strengths, and advocate for themselves. On the other hand, people with lower self-esteem may focus on the negatives in their life, make it difficult to move beyond mistakes, and believe they are not good enough.

Lower self-esteem is linked to increased risk of depression and anxiety. We may begin to feel worthless because we believe we are not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, etc. It can also impact our relationships. When we question our own worth, we often act in ways that demonstrate our insecurities. We may feel like our partner does not love us or feel paranoid about their fidelity.

Feeling comfortable in your own skin is a key part of self-esteem. When we constantly look for validation from external forces, like people around us or our followers on social media, our self-esteem and mental health will be negatively impacted. Thus, our self-esteem develops within ourselves.

What causes low self-esteem?

Often times, we can trace self-esteem damage to rejection and / or lack of positive reinforcement. When our parents, our friends, our partners, or other important figures in our life engage in abuse (whether it is emotional, physical, or sexual), we may feel like we deserve the pain. When we are constantly told our faults, especially by someone we care about, we tend to believe them. Low self-esteem can stem from manipulative relationships, where we are cheated on and / or gaslighted. It can also come from mental health conditions, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Depression. Recently, we have seen social media play a huge role in children’s self-esteem. We often compare ourselves to everyone around us—from our bodies to materialistic items to followers to likes.

Someone with low self-esteem may fear rejection, abandonment, or change. They may also seek approval from everyone around them. Low self-esteem is often hidden by using humor to point out their perceived flaws.

How can you build self-esteem?

Building self-esteem is important. However, shifting the feelings we have about ourselves is not an easy task. Often times, it involves discovering the underlying reasons behind our negative thoughts and learning how to adapt them. Therapy can be a great tool for this! Therapists can guide you through processing and lifestyle changes to build your self-esteem.

However, if therapy is not accessible to you, there are life-changes you can make now. There is always something you can do for yourself. Healthy lifestyle changes are crucial! Taking care of your body is taking care of your mind. Therefore, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and allowing your body time to rest is a great place to start. It is also important to spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. The more time you spend with people who make you feel not good enough, the more your self-esteem will decline. Remember: what you put in your body, on your body, and around your body affect your physical and mental wellness.

Here are some other things you can do to build your self-esteem:

  • Celebrate your accomplishments. Even the small ones, including making your bed, finishing an assignment at work / school, or eating a balanced meal.
  • Focus on cultivating your inner happiness. Setting boundaries can be very helpful. You do not have to please everyone around you, especially not at a cost to yourself. When you attach your worth to someone else’s happiness, you have no control over your own happiness.
  • Be understanding of yourself and your emotions. It is okay to feel. Whatever you are feeling is valid, but it may not be true. Ask yourself where the thoughts come from.

Having a healthy self-esteem is vital to your quality of life. You deserve to love yourself as much as you love those around you.

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What do you mean by self-care?

black and brown brush on saucer

Self-care is only for people with enough time and money, right?

Did you know that the majority of people misunderstand what effective self-care is and how they can benefit from it? Furthermore, surveys have reported that 44% of people believe self-care is only possible for people who have enough time. Surveys have also reported that about 35% of people believe self-care is only possible for those who have enough money.

Self-care does not have to be extremely time-consuming. We all have 24 hours in a day. The difference between the people who incorporate self-care habits and those who do not is simply time management. How do you use your time? Look at your phone’s daily screen time. You can see exactly how much time you spend on elective apps, such as social media accounts (unless your job requires social media), streaming services, and games. If you spend more than 20 minutes a day on these elective apps, there is your time for self-care!

Additionally, self-care does not have to be costly. Despite the misleading idea that self-care is spa days and retail therapy, self-care is actually about forming and maintaining healthy habits. Self-care is about taking care of yourself: mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can play an essential role in maintaining overall wellness. Self-care encompasses more than meditation, journaling, or bubble baths. Although, these can be a small piece of a self-care routine. In fact, “It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure, etc.), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.), socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.), and self-medication.” (WHO 1998)

How do I incorporate self-care into my daily routine?

As previously stated, self-care is about taking care of yourself: mind and body. This includes a range of areas from hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle, environmental factors, socio-economic factors, and self-medication. Below are just a few examples of the many ways to easily incorporate healthy self-care habits into your daily routine.

Hygiene (note: pay attention to the additives and chemicals inside your hygiene products)

  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Wash your face when you wake up and before bed.
  • Thoroughly wash your hair and body in the shower.
  • Moisturize your skin after you shower.

Nutrition (note: pay attention to organic, non-gmo labels AND what chemicals or hormones are inside the food you are consuming)

  • Eat a well-balanced diet (meal prep can be a great tool if you do not have a lot of time during the week)
  • Consume sufficient levels of necessary vitamins and minerals (supplements may help, speak to a doctor)
  • Avoid highly processed foods.
  • Hydrate.

Lifestyle

  • Engage in 30 minutes of exercise 5x a week. (ex. yoga, running, walking, strength training)
  • Walk 10,000 steps a day (ex. park at the end of the lot and encourage yourself to walk further)
  • Allow your body and mind time to rest.
  • Get enough sleep! Sleep is important for your overall wellness.
  • Meditate for self-awareness in the morning.
  • Journal for 20 minutes in the morning.
  • Read for 20 minutes before bed.

Environmental Factors

  • Pay attention to whom you spend time with. Are they draining you or energizing you?
  • What chemicals are you using to clean your household? Switch out hazardous/dangerous chemicals.

Socio-Economic Factors

  • Take 5-10 minutes each morning to reflect on your religious / cultural beliefs.
  • Create a budget that works for you, your family, and your lifestyle.

Self-Medication

  • Several MINOR illnesses / conditions can be treated without a doctor (such as occasional headaches, allergies, acne, stomachache, minor wounds); however, check in with your doctor if your symptoms worsen overtime, cause lifestyle disruption (severe pain / difficulties), or conditions are persistent.
  • Holistic medicine (such as meditation, aromatherapy, etc.)

Final Thoughts

How you care for your body and mind is up to you. Can you afford an extra 20 minutes everyday to incorporate just one healthy habit? Maybe you wake up 20 minutes earlier to meditate or journal. Maybe you take 30 minutes at lunch to walk or exercise. But do not forget one of the most important factors, that takes no extra time, is incorporating a healthy lifestyle by paying attention to what you put in, on, and around your body. You only have one life, the quality of it can be determined by how you care for yourself.

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Signs you need a mental health break.

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When it comes to our physical health, we often have an idea how far we can push ourselves. When we are starting to feel under the weather, we recognize the warning signs, and we go to the doctor. Typically, when we get sick, we allow ourselves time to heal. When we break a bone, we visit the doctor, and we allow our body time to heal. Yet, when our mental health is declining, we often do not recognize the warning signs until we are burnt out.

Mental exhaustion is a normal occurrence. However, it can be avoided if you recognize the warning signs, practice routine self-care, and allow your mind and body time for rest to rejuvenate.

Mental health breaks are needed, especially during stressful times. We all need rest. If you allow time for both physical and mental rest, you can actually boost your productivity levels and enhance overall wellness.

Nonetheless it can be difficult to recognize when it is time for a break. When you start to feel off or a little different than normal, taking a break can be extremely helpful.

Here are some signs that you may need a mental health break:

  • Are you making yourself physically sick from emotional strain and / or high levels of stress?
  • Do you feel uninterested in activities you once found pleasurable?
  • Are you experiencing low energy levels?
  • Do you feel disengaged / detached from people in your life or from your life in general?
  • Are you having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
  • Is it difficult for you to get up in the morning?
  • Have your eating habits changed?
  • Are you experiencing lower levels of productivity than normal?
  • Is it difficult for you to concentrate?
  • Do you feel unmotivated?
  • Has your mood changed lately?
  • Do you feel more down and / or depressed?
  • Are you feeling irritable?
  • Are you experiencing higher than normal levels of anxiety?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, it may be time for a break.

Please note, a lot of these symptoms are similar to the symptoms of depression. Reaching out to a therapist or counselor for support and guidance on your mental health may be helpful.

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Beyond all labels, who are you?

lighted candle

If no one told you who you were or how you were to behave, who would you be?

Societal standards influence how we perceive ourselves, how we behave, how we treat others, what career path we choose, what we believe, how we vote, and whom we marry.

In my opinion, societal standards were created to control how we define ourselves. We were put into a box at birth based on our gender, race, culture, economic background, religion, and parental occupations. We grow up to fit into the box by making choices based on society’s expectations. Most of these choices are subconscious choices.

Peer Pressure

As children, we are always warned about “peer pressure.” What no one tells us is that peer pressure extends beyond your friends tempting you to engage in behaviors such as drinking and doing drugs. Peer pressure is the idea of societal expectations. These expectations influence our behaviors, even if they go against our values and principles.

You are not meant to fit into the world, the world is meant to fit you.

How many times have you heard the question, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Yet, we have somehow built a society consumed by fitting in, from beauty standards to clothing to hobbies to careers to the type of music we enjoy to the major we choose in college to the way we use social media. Somewhere along the way, society has decided that in order to be accepted, you have to be the same as everyone else.

Many of these standards were created for economic interests. They were created to feed your insecurities so that you may purchase products and make lifestyle changes that increase someone else’s bank account while diminishing your own self-worth anytime you step away from the box.

I let societal standards control my life for a long time.

Recently, I thought about how much time I have wasted comparing myself to supermodels, actresses, and influencers. I have exhausted so much time trying to change my appearance, from learning new makeup trends, changing my hair style, and redoing my wardrobe—not because I wanted to, but because I “needed” to.

The day before my freshman year of high school, I remember breaking down to my parents because I needed to change my hair color. My natural color was dirty blonde hair, and I was made fun of it in middle school. Other kids would tell me that it was not a “real color.” From the age of 14 to 21, I continually destroyed my hair by bleaching it every 2 to 3 months. But I needed to fit in.

In college, I forced my dad to watch makeup tutorials with me. I was crying, because other people were able to look society’s definition of beautiful with the perfect highlight, contour, and eyeliner wing. I, on the other hand, could not (and still cannot), so I felt ugly in comparison.

I even spent years battling anorexia nervosa trying to be “thin” enough. I woke up at 5am to workout before classes, walked 2 miles to class in 106-degree weather, and worked out till 12am every single day for an entire year. I starved myself, only allowing myself to eat 1 bell pepper and 1 cucumber a day.

In middle and high school, I was bullied over my blog and podcast, “Inspiring My Generation.” I would go through periods of time where I refused to blog and quit my podcast. It was not considered cool, so I started to give up on my dreams of changing the world for the better. In my high school advisor file, it said “Career Goal: wants to have a talk show like Oprah Winfrey and inspire others.” Yet, I felt like I had to hide that part of me for a very long time.

Do you truly love yourself?

When I look back at how certain societal standards influenced my self-worth and my behaviors, I see how much I hurt myself. I never showed myself any love, because I was focused on being whom society told me to be. Every day, I told myself all of the reasons I was not good enough, according to society’s expectations. A few years ago, I realized that of my beliefs were taught to me and all of the stigmas I had developed were taught to me. I continuously experienced anxiety attacks and panic attacks trying to fit into an impossible standard. Ultimately, I lost myself and my sense of purpose. In that brokenness, in that dark hole, was where I learned how the labels created by societal standards were the problem, not me.

Truthfully, I betrayed myself in countless ways. I became obsessed with who the world told me to be. Obsessed with the labels—beautiful, intelligent, cool, successful, athletic, normal, etc. I turned against myself, and I took it out on my own body. In fact, I completely destroyed my physical and mental health for years. Who I was and who I wanted to be were defined by the box society put me in, and I continuously felt like a complete failure trying to live up to impossible standards. Yet, I was trying so hard to not be labeled as “crazy, psychotic, mental, or deranged” that I suppressed it all inside.

Societal standards taught me to not love myself. They taught me to continuously compare myself to who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to look like. And they ultimately left me feeling numb.

Beyond labels, who are you?

Who are you? Without any of the labels that society has given you, who are you? Who are you not?

It is okay if you do not know who you are beyond the labels. It is not easy to discover yourself in a world telling you who to be, how to think, and what to wear. Take some time to yourself. Write down what is important to you, what you believe, and who you are. Then, write down where all of that comes from. Did someone tell you? You may find that most of who you perceive yourself to be was defined by someone else.

Your loved ones, your foes, society, nor the people around you get to define or label you. Only you can define yourself. So, I will ask you again: Beyond all labels, who are you?

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Is empathy a thing of the past?

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Feeling heard and understood is a human need.

Have you ever needed someone to talk to who just understands? You were looking for empathy. Empathy is how we connect with others. Essentially, empathy is recognizing and understanding the thoughts and feelings of someone else. Empathy is an important part of our relationship with others. Furthermore, empathy is an important part of our relationship with ourselves. By getting in touch with our own emotions, we can learn to understand others’ emotions. This allows us to see things from their point of view.

Empathy is important.

As mentioned earlier, feeling heard and understood is one of the most basic human desires. We crave an authentic connection—a connection where we can be our true selves without feeling judged. Empathy allows us to connect and build strong relationships.

Furthermore, empathy plays an important role in our moral compass. Empathy is similar to compassion. When we have compassion for other people’s feelings, we are more likely to act in a way that does not hurt them. Without empathy, without compassion, we are often more focused on how we feel and receive things than on how our words or actions may be received. However, the difference between empathy and compassion is action. Empathy is passive, meaning we connect to one’s feelings. Compassion, on the other hand, is active, meaning we choose to act to help someone. For example, empathy is “I am sorry for your loss” because I have been there too and know what it is like to lose a loved one. On the other hand, compassion is empathy plus I am going to start a meal train for you to take off the pressure of feeding your family for a few weeks.

Empathy is not sympathy.

Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably. However, empathy and sympathy are very different terms. Unlike compassion and empathy, sympathy is not about understanding someone’s feelings. Rather, sympathy is about feeling sad for someone else who is struggling. Sympathy is simply, “I am sorry for your loss.” Whereas, empathy was “I am sorry” because I can relate to your feelings. And, compassion was, “I am sorry, I have been there too, I am going to help you.”

When we are struggling, we often desire empathy and / or compassion, not necessarily sympathy. Sympathy is not a connection. And, at the base of all human need is the desire for connection.

Are we raising a generation without empathy?

Social media has blessed us with the ability to connect with anyone from anywhere around the world with the touch of a button. Unfortunately, social media has also provided us with the ability to communicate without seeing how people receive our content. Therefore, we have a whole generation learning to communicate based solely on their own point of view and no ability to see the other person’s reaction. We also have the power to push our energy into other people’s lives. Think about the mean comments people write, including to people they do not know. This has created a sense of entitlement where we believe that other people should receive our energy, even if its negative energy filled with hate and pain.

With the benefits and the drawbacks of social media, the question at hand is “is empathy a thing of the past?”

My opinion.

Empathy is a trait that many of us are born with. Empathy can also be learned through emotional training. Many of us are naturally empathetic, but that empathy is not being cultivated. For example, we spend most of our time communicating behind screens. Especially since March 2020, most of us have been primarily virtual. Over the past year, we engaged with screens more than we did with other human beings, face to face. Imagine growing up with that same scenario, where 90% of your communication is done through a screen—think phones, social media, school computers, television, video games. The world around you is you and a screen that allows access to the whole world.

The next generation is not growing up without empathy. Instead, this generation is growing up in a world that discourages the cultivation of empathy. There is no chance to truly connect, not with ourselves and not with others. Because of the amazing advantages technology and social media have provided us, we have started to forget the importance of building deeper connections. Furthermore, we have not been exposed to seeing the fallout of a lack of empathy behind a computer screen. When we press “send,” we do not see the person, how they receive it, or how it affects them.

Remember, feeling heard and understood is a human need. Social media can help bring us closer to people who also understand us. Social media can also bring us closer to people who choose to be mean and share content without thinking. Therefore, social media itself is not the problem, but rather the lack of true connection is.

Empathy is not a thing of the past; empathy is a very much alive. Thus, it is essential we start encouraging ourselves, our loved ones, and the younger generation to connect with the person on the other end of the screen—not simply the screen itself.

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What does it mean to prioritize your mental health?

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Do you believe in the mind body connection?

We prioritize our physical health. As children, we often receive annual wellness check-ups and see a doctor whenever we start to feel sick. We are taught the importance of exercise, good hygiene, and a balanced diet. When we break a bone, we go to the doctor. We do not say “think positive, walk it off, or get over it”.

Our mental health is not treated with the same value as our physical health. Mental health is rarely prioritized. Self-care and self-love are often labeled as selfish. Yet, your mind is a key player in your overall health. A healthy mindset improves many physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, low immune system, chest pain, and more! Still, we lack an emphasis on cultivating our own mental health.

Why should we prioritize our mental health?

When you prioritize your mental health, you engage in self-care that stimulates inner peace, inner happiness, and self-love. You continuously practice and develop new coping mechanisms. And, you learn how to forgive yourself. More than that, you show yourself compassion and understanding. You provide your mind and body with space and time to relax, to heal, and to grow.

Just like with our physical health, taking care of our mental health is important. We are focused on being the “perfect support” for everyone around us. As a result, we push ourselves and our mental health to the back burner. The paradox is that in order to be the support our loved ones need and deserve, in order to be the best version of ourselves, we have to put time and energy into cultivating our mental health. Therefore, it is important to value your mind as much as you value your body. Furthermore, it is important to spend as much time and energy caring for your mind as you do your body.

Your mental health affects how you feel, think, and act. Unlike when you feel sick or when you break a bone, it is not always as easy to recognize the warning signs within your mind. Often times, our mental health has declined a significant amount before we have recognized it. Furthermore, our mental health can dramatically affect our relationship with our loved ones and with ourselves. Therefore, we have to prioritize cultivating our mental health every day.

A few of the many ways you can prioritize your mental health.

Make time for yourself. This can be as simple as spending 30 minutes reading a book or journaling in the morning. This could also be taking a quick walk or meditating during the day. Spend some time alone with yourself and learn to love the moments of silence.

Do things that bring you joy. The week can feel very long and stressful. There is a lot going on in your world and the world around you. You do not have to sit in all the trauma and fear all of the time. Try to dedicate at least 1 hour a week doing 1 thing that you really enjoy, something that brings you joy, and makes you happy to be alive.

Check in with yourself. How are you really? What are you feeling right now? What kind of headspace are you in? How can you allow your mind some space and time to rejuvenate? What can you do for your mental exhaustion? Which coping mechanisms would be helpful right now? Be honest with yourself. Lying to yourself will only hurt you in the long run.

Listen to your body. Is your body starting to feel tired? Are you constantly running on empty? Honor your body. Acknowledge the stress put on it. When your body needs rest, allow yourself to rest. Taking a nap is not “being lazy,” it is preventing a burnout that takes an extended period of time away from work, school, and / or your day to day.

Listen to your mind. What are you telling yourself? Are you putting yourself down? Are you upsetting yourself? Why are you telling yourself negative things? Listen to what you are telling yourself, become aware of it, and counter it with positives. Treat yourself with the same love and kindness you would a friend.

Pay attention to your feelings. What are you feeling? Where is that feeling stemming from? Pay attention to how these feelings are affecting your mind and body. How are you reacting? What coping mechanisms can you use to validate yourself while simultaneously comforting yourself? Remember, it is okay to not be okay. But, also remember that there are coping mechanisms and resources available to help you through the hard times.

Fining a safe place where you feel content. This can be an actual physical space or an image within your mind. When the world feels overwhelming, when our symptoms are too much to handle, connecting to your happy place can provide a sense of calming. Maybe this place will comfort you, motivate you, inspire you, or help you escape for a few moments.

I will leave you with this thought: Prioritizing your mental health validates you as a human being. If you do not validate and prioritize yourself, who will?

“If I wait for someone else to validate my existence, it will mean that I am shortchanging myself.”

Zanele Muholi

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Self-Love: Selfish or Selfless?

self care isn t selfish signage

“The greatest love of all is easy to achieve

Learning to love yourself

It is the greatest love of all.”

Whitney Houston, The Greatest Love of All

A question that has been long debated is whether or not self-love is selfish. We live in a world that repeatedly tells us how loving ourselves is the definition of selfishness. In fact, did you know that when you look up synonyms for self-love, you will find the following words?

  • Egotism
  • Selfishness
  • Egocentricity
  • Narcissism

From a young age, we are often taught that loving ourselves is putting ourselves before others. And, putting ourselves before others is bad. If you put yourself before others, you are selfish. But what if the world is not that black and white?

Let us look at self-love from a different perspective. Right now, let us define self-love as simply accepting yourself and prioritizing your own happiness and well-being. This does not mean prioritizing yourself over others by refusing to help or support someone else, but simply, working hard to achieve inner peace and happiness.

If we learn how to accept ourselves for who we are, we are able to work on cultivating that inner peace and happiness that we deserve. Within that happiness, we no longer feel the desire to prove ourselves to others. This helps us to live more authentically. When we are our authentic selves, we are able to offer more to others. Through the love and understanding we found within us, we are able to extend that same love and understand to others, in the form of empathy and compassion.

So, what if self-love meant that we did not view ourselves as better than others, but simply as important as others? What if self-love meant the following?

  • We simply see ourselves for who we are and are proud of who we are, instead of telling ourselves all of the reasons we are not enough.
  • We acknowledge and validate our thoughts, feelings, experiences, and traumas, instead of invalidating important pieces of our lives.

I will leave you with this, what do we take away from others by also loving ourselves?