• Mabel Osejindu

5 Ways To Improve Your Self-Esteem

5 ways to improve your self-esteem in an environment or workplace that's far from diverse and inclusive.

How often do you think about or work on your self-esteem? Have you learnt all there is to learn about yourself and what truly makes you happy? Some of us may know exactly what we value in life, the nature of our core beliefs, our worth and our successes; past and present. The great things about us make us glow and form our ‘self-esteem’; how we view ourselves and our place in the big wide world. A crucial distinction that must be made is that self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves. It's not what others say we are bad at or good at or can do and cannot do. And so in theory, one can distinguish the two; the opinions others have of us, and the opinions we have of ourselves. After all, they have two different sources.

One type of opinion comes from those around us i.e judgement, while self-esteem is derived from our thoughts, feelings and emotions. So easily though, it's so typical of us to let the opinions of others change or alter the way we feel about ourselves especially if we are a Black, Asian or minority ethnic individual in the UK and living in this perfectionistic world of social media where we are forced to compare our notion of identity and self-image to millions of others. We aren't always accepted or welcomed in certain spaces; not embraced, acknowledged, recognised or praised, simply because of the colour of our skin, hair or socio-economic background. So the fight for us and our self-esteem status is an even more challenging one. But it doesn't have to be. Yes, we are talented, worthy and wonderful and so here are a few tips and advice I’ve found helpful over the years:

1. A support network of friends/family/neighbours

Relationships, healthy ones I must stress, are a source of great connectedness for human beings. Having a friend and ally in your corner who encourages you when you struggle with self-esteem, compliments you, reminds you of your achievements and literally just someone you can have a ball with, is one of the best things you can do for your general wellbeing. Finding someone who sees you for you, says you matter and makes you forget about the abrasive noise of negative talk the world throws at us daily. Dr Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist, said it brilliantly “Connectedness has the power to counterbalance adversity...Good relationships are key to healing. When you see another person and they send a signal that you belong, or they smile and give you a gentle touch, that changes the physiology of your brain and body in ways that lead to a more regulated stress system...and literally will influence your physical and mental health". When we leave a conversation with an individual, it's so important to recognise how they make you feel within yourself so that your self-esteem can remain as sturdy and compact as can be. Once that’s done, healthy boundaries that stop those nay-sayers and negative people can be implemented.

2. My ‘I Love Myself’ List and Positive Data Logs

Write a detailed list of things you love about yourself! Add your special character traits, quirks, skills or experience, talents, beliefs or causes that matter to you or things you enjoy doing. Add things you are normally complimented for too! It could be that you are good at dancing, you have a Masters in Engineering, you’ve climbed Scafell Pike or everyone loves your hair. You could ask other people for suggestions too. Note it in a journal if you have to! This list is great to refer to daily, weekly or monthly to remind yourself of your value as a human being, a friend or a colleague. If you experience microaggressions, discrimination because of your dress style or someone ignoring your contribution to a team discussion, discard these negative scenarios and rely on what you know to be true about yourself from your perspective alone. If you’ve experienced racial abuse or received another application denial, try and brush it off by writing a positive data log alternatively. It's essentially a quick account of what HAS gone well in your day. Maybe you invested your time well completing things on your to-do list or spoke kindly to someone who was condescending. These can all go down in that log! This log can be voice-recorded for ease too or discussed with a loved one in conversation instead. Positive belief records, as they are also named, are a way of collecting information to reinforce a new helpful belief. UK Psychologist, Dr Becky Spelman makes an astounding suggestion to take a piece of paper and a pencil and write down a negative self-belief you’re experiencing e.g. “Nobody likes me.” Think about how much you believe this to be true and assign the negative statement a percentage of belief, such as 70% or 90%, or whatever seems appropriate to you. Then, most importantly, write an alternative and more helpful belief. For instance, you might write: “Maybe I am not everyone’s cup of tea, but some people like me and share my sense of humour.” It can be applied to a wide range of other situations. If you start to think ‘I don't like that I'm working class, you can just say ‘I may be working class but I know the importance of hard work and I am ever-growing and improving’. If you start to think ‘I don't like the fact that I’m the only person of colour in the room, I’m the odd one out’, just think ‘I’m making headway and paving the way for others like me to join. I am a change-maker’.

3. Allocate ‘ME’ time and rejuvenation

The charity, Mind, recommends ‘doing something for yourself everyday’. Not just on the weekends, when you’re not working or monthly when you’ve got those 2 hours to yourself! Everyday! It could be cooking a nice meal, watching a movie, listening to your favourite music, drawing, reading, meditation, yoga, mindfulness colouring etc. By doing a little something you love to do each day, you can begin to get into the habit of being kind to yourself and looking after yourself. Enjoy yourself! Have fun! We don't have to be perfect at something to enjoy doing it. No matter how busy things get, try and make time for a passion, hobby or personal project. It gives you the feeling like you are more than just an employee who works hard or perhaps a parent who gives all their time to their kids or even sadly, a disrespected member of society, but that you can accomplish something for yourself and it's something you truly want to do. We're all good at something. We all have something we’d rather want to do than be bogged down with the injustices of life. You can have something to look forward to after a long day and that could be the one thing that helps you get by and that's fine too. As well as doing something we love, we cannot underestimate the impact physical activity has on our mental wellbeing and therefore, self-esteem. When we exercise or work out, our bodies release endorphins. Endorphins act as analgesics and sedatives which means they diminish the perception of pain. No wonder they are called the ‘feel good’ hormone! I often find that when I’m running, skipping and stretching, I’m releasing any stress or frustration from the day. Finnish researchers at the Turku PET Centre, University of Turku have revealed that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) such as the use of stationary bikes, sprints, burpees, squats and bodyweight exercises, in particular, lead to endorphin release in the brain which alleviates emotional stress.

4. Emotional Regulation

Deep breathing, counting backwards and ‘grounding’ techniques can help to lower levels of stress, anxiety and negativity. We all experience a wide range of emotions. We are human. Cry. Let it out. Bent up emotion can put a huge dent in our self-esteem and send the unhealthy signal to our brain that we somehow aren’t permitted to show vulnerability. Yes, we can have an opinion of ourselves as strong, but strength also comes from crying as a confident demonstration of a completely comfortable relationship with one's self. It shows you don't care how others perceive you in the midst of your pain. And if we are honest, when we cry we unburden ourselves and end up feeling lighter and more mentally grounded. But often, these changes cannot be made without a healthy sleep schedule. Lack of sleep can negatively affect our mood and ability to regulate emotions, so it's still key to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night. How many times have you had a late night and woken up irritable and thinking like you can't do anything right and you are a failure? I know I have! Dr Matthew Walker’s bestselling book, ‘Sleep’, denotes “Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day. When sleep is abundant, minds flourish”. With emotional regulation of this sort, it is easier to not only manage anxious situations where we don't think we have a voice or are made to feel alienated but also maintain healthy boundaries with others.

5. Mantras

Saying positive affirmations about yourself is such an underrated practise for well-being and a healthy mindset. In situations where one hears constant negative talk or derogatory tones, it's essential to fight those conversations with positive thoughts and self-talk that uplifts you and reminds you of your worth and uniqueness. Develop a set of 4-5 mantras that you can speak over yourself when you get up in the morning in the mirror or when you’ve got 5 minutes during a lunch break. For me, some of my mantras are ‘I am strong’ and ‘I have a calling’. Remind yourself that though things become challenging, you have a set of facts and affirmations that you can depend on to shift your minds’ focus so its stays on the right and narrow path of self-belief. I love this quote by Dr Cloud and Dr Townsend in “Boundaries” that says “our words do not come from somewhere outside of us, as if we were a ventriloquist dummy, they are a product of our hearts”. Don't bash yourself! The way you speak to yourself matters, and if it's negative, it's altering your self-perception for the worse. If you got that crappy email or you lost your wallet or you couldn't help your child with a particular task, self-critical thoughts and talk won’t help! By bashing yourself, imagine yourself taking a knife and jabbing at your plumped up ‘self-esteem’ cushion. It’s gonna take a while to fill up the cushion so it's soft and bouncy again with all the attacks it has experienced. But if something didn't go your way or you’ve had a bad day (we all have one sometimes!), rephrase your self talk saying something like ‘you know what, I didn't like the way that person spoke to me, but I know that I’m ______ and I tried my best and that's all I can do” or “I made this mistake today but I’m gonna learn from it and it will make me better and stronger”.

Now I know some will say, it's easier said than done. But try your utmost best to commit to it. Hold your friends and family accountable to correct you if they see you getting in the habit of self-deprecation. Listen to audio clips and video clips that model examples of positive self-talk and adapt it to suit your life. Seek a counsellor or therapist. Make it a mission to value your mind and your thoughts like you’d value the most precious thing to you in your life. Let's all practice self-compassion. We sure deserve it.