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Self-Esteem and Stress... How Are They Connected?

By Peggy Heerkens



Emotional stress can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms including worry, loneliness, depression, frustration, and feelings of powerlessness. Here’s the good news: there’s an important step you can take to better control your emotional life and avoid symptoms of stress.


How’s Your Self-Esteem?


Answer these questions with Almost Always, Sometimes, Rarely, or Never:


  • Do you find yourself bragging or exaggerating the importance of your role?

  • Are you jealous of the possessions, opportunities, or positions of others?

  • Are you possessive in your relationships with friends or family members?

  • Do you find yourself judging your behavior by other people’s standards or expectations other than your own?

  • Is it difficult for you to acknowledge your own mistakes?

  • Do you resort to bullying and intimidation when dealing with others?

  • Are you a perfectionist?

  • Do you put people down so you can feel ‘one up’?

  • Must you be a winner in recreational activities in order to have fun?

  • Do you feel inadequate or insecure when faced with new opportunities?

  • Do you have difficulty accepting compliments?

  • Do you hold back from expressing your feelings and opinions?

  • Do you shy away from things for fear of failure or looking dumb?

  • Do you neglect your own needs in order to respond to the needs of others?


Numerous answers of Almost Always or Sometimes may indicate that your level of self-esteem needs attention.


Self-esteem is a learned behavior affected by: “messages” we received from our past; how people react to us; what we believe are society’s acceptable standards of beauty, competence, and intelligence; how our performances are judged by parents, teachers, friends, and bosses; and our view of our own “ideal self.”


Self-esteem is similar to a grade we give ourselves. That grade can change daily, even within the day, by many factors such as: a look someone gave, how much sleep we got last night, a rude comment made by someone else, the things we say to ourselves, and even a bad hair day.


Are people better able to handle stress when their self-esteem is high or when it is low? High, of course. One problem is that many wait too long before taking steps to manage low self-esteem. They may become sick, distraught, or anxious; they may feel powerless to change anything about themselves or their situation. How do you feel when you believe you have no choices in life? Powerless! Powerlessness affects our self-esteem, and low self-esteem, in turn, leads to a feeling of powerlessness. It’s a vicious cycle.


Increasing Your Self-Esteem



Stopping this cycle takes work, focus, self-investment, and dedication. But the results are worth the effort.


Start by thinking about comments made by parents, teachers, coaches, or friends when you were young that may have affected your self-esteem.


“She’s so rattle-brained, she’d leave her head behind if it weren’t attached!”

“He’s not the brightest kid, but he tries hard.”

“That’s my son, he can do anything he sets his mind to.”

“That girl is gonna make it to the top in this world.”


Were they true then? Are they true now? If they don’t support you in a positive way, ignore them. Keep them if they support you today. While it is helpful to seek honest feedback from family or close friends about your strengths and weaknesses, ultimately you’re in charge of who you are. Believe in yourself. Don’t rely on others to tell you that you count.


Change your internal language. Instead of talking down to yourself, raise yourself up. “I can get that done. I can learn new skills. I will confront this challenge.” Read books, watch videos, and peruse articles about this topic. You are not alone. There are many resources out there to help you change the way you think.


Here are some suggestions as you embark on raising your self-esteem:


  • Write down your goals. Be positive about achieving them.

  • Begin with little steps.

  • Focus on activities that build your self-esteem and add more of them into your life (volunteering, playing a sport, being with good friends, attending church, music, etc.).

  • Eat nutritional food when feeling stressed.

  • Speak up for yourself. Your opinion is valid. No one can “put you down” unless you “put them up” by deciding their viewpoint is worth more than yours. Resist those belittling thoughts.

  • No one is perfect. Mistakes and failures are a normal component of human life. Instead of dwelling on them, learn from them.

  • Stop the pity party. Don’t indulge in guilt trips or blaming and shaming routines.

  • Think for yourself. Make your own decisions. Trust your process.

  • Be all that you can be. Don’t depend on others to do things for you that you can do for yourself. Even if they could do a better job. Challenge yourself.

  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Remember, many people only show the best parts of themselves, while hiding their shortcomings, trials, and struggles. We are all human; we all have them.

  • Tend to your needs. Don’t neglect yourself or ignore your own needs in order to meet the needs of others. But if you do, make sure it’s your choice to do so. (Choice = Power)

  • Be proud of yourself. You are unique, and your very existence proves your innate worth. Remember that!


Self-esteem and its relationship to stress is a complex subject. Think about these tips and do your best to make them a part of your life. Be the best you that you can be.

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