Student Wellbeing Champion Natalie discusses ways you can improve your self-esteem…
Self-esteem is the way we view ourselves. When we experience low self-esteem, we may think of ourselves as inadequate, unacceptable, unworthy or not entitled to good things in life. This irrational and distorted way of thinking can permeate all aspects of your life, resulting in painful and damaging effects.
Do I have low self-esteem? Here are a few symptoms:
- Social withdrawal, anxiety and emotional turmoil
- Pattern of self-defeating behaviour
- Inability to accept compliments
- Feeling needy, inadequate and unacceptable
- Often comparing yourself to others to evaluate your progress and/or sense of self-worth
- Lack of social skills and self-confidence
- Inability to accept compliments
- Dissatisfaction with your relationships/interactions with others
- Reluctance to put yourself first or trust your own opinion
- Expecting little out of yourself
- Treating yourself badly but not other people
- Reluctance to share your ideas and opinion in a group setting
- Unhelpful thinking habits
What causes low self-esteem?
Low self-esteem can be a result of negative experiences, especially when we are young and at our most vulnerable. Criticisms and being negatively judged by parents, teachers, siblings and school bullies can stick with us. Stress and difficult life events may also cause an increase in negative thinking. Sometimes our very personalities are at fault, as some of us are more prone to negative thinking, especially if we set impossibly high standards for ourselves.
What allows low self-esteem to continue
You may have developed negative thinking habits from negative things which have occurred in your life. This means that when something occurs, your automatic response may be irrational and self-critical, leading to you feel bad about yourself. It is a cycle of negative thoughts and a distorted way of seeing.
Having low self-esteem can have a detrimental impact on our health and wellbeing.
Here are some tips to help you boost your esteem
1. Positive self-talk
Whilst being self-critical can be useful in motivating yourself, there is a thin line between healthy critical and disrespecting/putting yourself down. If you are constantly repeating negative thoughts to yourself, the way you view yourself and your self-esteem will eventually be affected.
The way you think has a large impact on your feelings and emotion, as well as the way you view yourself. Be compassionate with yourself, just as you might be with others around you. Try saying: ‘you can do it’ and ‘you are good enough.’ Whenever you notice yourself thinking a negative thought, ask yourself: would a caring friend tell me the same in this situation? If not, perhaps you shouldn’t be saying these things to yourself either.
2. Don’t compare yourself to others
When we compare ourselves to someone else, negative thoughts may be triggered when we find that we lack something. If you keep on comparing yourself to others, you will never come to an end of it as there will always be something or someone else to focus on.
Try this: be aware of your thoughts and make a mental note of it when it occurs. Then remind yourself that those irrational thoughts are just a result of the comparison. Next, focus on you and give yourself credit for the things you have done and the things you are great at.
Of course, I understand that this is easier said than done. However, there are ways to help you become more aware of your thought, including doing mindfulness exercises.
3. Set realistic goals and expectations
Goals: I’m going to start running tomorrow and I expect to lose 10lbs in three days. I also want to get a high first in an essay that I’ll start writing an hour before the deadline.
Whilst some (really, really smart) people might be able to achieve the grade with only an hour of work put into it, I know that the goals I’ve listed above are not realistic for me. When the results are not the same as your expectations, your self-perception may be negatively affected. You might start thinking: ‘I’m not good enough’, and ‘I will never be able to accomplish anything.’
This is the importance of setting realistic goals. Know your strengths and limits and make sure you have considered them.
When making goals, try writing a checklist down on paper. However, instead of just stating the goals, break them down into smaller chunks. For example, if the goal is to finish writing an essay, you could make a checklist of: 1) do the research, 2) write a plan, 3) topic sentences and 4) complete each paragraph. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that there is a satisfaction in crossing things off my list. There is a sense of accomplishment in being productive and proving that you are good enough.
4. Focus on things that you can control
Every now and then I notice myself being really nervous, fidgety and anxious over something I can’t control. For example, in a situation where I’m having a meeting with my tutor about my submitted essay, I would be spending time before hand thinking: “what if i did really badly and he’s going to tell me how awful my ideas were.” A lot of the effort has been put into worrying about something that might not even happen.
Instead of focusing on things you can’t control, focus on things that you can, including: your thoughts, emotions, actions and body language. Try to worry less about things that are not in the present.
5. Watch your thoughts
You do not have to control your thoughts or push negative thoughts away. Instead, simply watch your thoughts. Cultivate awareness of them. Observe the mind’s activity without getting caught up in it. Remind yourself of the poisonous parrot whenever a negative thought comes up: it’s just a thought, not a fact.
By being mindful of what you are thinking and all your negative thoughts, you are interrupting the process that lead to conditioned behaviour: feeling sad, anxious or having low self-esteem.
The following youtube video shows one of the ways in which you could watch your thoughts:
Headspace is a useful app that guides you through mindfulness step by step, only requiring 10 minutes of your time each day. It is free and could be useful to those you are struggling to do the exercise on your own.
Alternatively, if you would like face-to-face support on mindfulness exercises, the Student Support Centre also offer a Mindfulness course. These sessions run once a week for 4 weeks, slowly easing you into the idea of being mindful. The concept is not solely based on meditation, nor is it religious, but rather focuses on breathing exercises, physical relaxation, body scans and using your five senses. It also looks at challenging barriers to thoughts as a result of unhelpful thinking habits.
If you are interested in trying out the Mindfulness group session but do not want to have any commitment, there are also drop-in sessions available.
6. Get help and talk to someone you trust about overcoming this issue.
The Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Team are here for you. Alongside the one-to-one sessions that are offered, there are also group sessions available. If you feel that you are experiencing any negative thoughts, stress or distress – no matter how big or small, there is always someone for you to talk to. Click here to find out more about what’s available.
Does counselling help?
By talking to someone, whether it is a one-to-one counselling session or in a group context, exploring your challenging thoughts, setting realistic goals and learning techniques to cope with negative automatic thoughts can help build your self-confidence and self-esteem. Here are some of the workshops and courses that could help:
- Feel Good Factor workshop: This workshop begins on 20 October, 11am-12:30pm and is perfect for those wanting to enhance their self-esteem and self-confidence. It will teach how to handle criticism, and negative automatic thoughts. It may help you to develop a kinder attitude towards yourself, and improve your relationships as a result.
- Mindfulness course: These workshops run once a week for 4 weeks, starting on Wednesday 2 November, 2-3:30pm. They focus on different activities and resources to help you tackle challenging thoughts outside the session. By being in the moment and watching your thoughts as they pass by, you will be able to identify distorted thought and distance yourself from negative thoughts. Mindfulness is about finding a way to live life more in the present, thinking less about the past and worrying less about the future.
- Living Life to the Full course: This is a course for 8-12 people, running throughout the semester (6/7 weeks), beginning on Tuesday 18 October . It is an interactive course aimed at encouraging self-help and giving guidance on practical skills to become happier and build your self-esteem. This programme also focuses on recognizing negative automatic thoughts and understanding why we think the way that we do.
There are also other workshops and courses to help you combat low self-esteem. To find out more about our workshops and courses or to book your place on any of the above, click here.
Contacting Counselling Health and Wellbeing
If you are struggling to improve your wellbeing, please know Cardiff University Support Services are here for you – there is no problem too big or too small and we would be happy to provide you with some support. We offer a range of flexible support options including:
- Counselling and Wellbeing Appointments
- Face to Face, Online or Telephone
- Wellbeing Walk-in: Drop-in Service running Monday to Friday
- Wellbeing Workshops
- Therapeutic Groups
- Wellbeing Champion Support
- Self-help resources
Bookable appointments are available via our online referral questionnaire. We also offer a Wellbeing Walk-In Service, Monday to Friday, 3pm to 3.45pm and Wednesday mornings, 9.30am to 10.15am, at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place. We also hold a walk-in service at our Student Support Centre in Cardigan House at the Heath, on Wednesday afternoons 3pm to 3.45pm.
Watch our video and see for yourself that we have friendly and approachable staff. Staff who are able to listen to you non-judgmentally, in a safe and confidential space.
If talking to a member of staff is something you are not sure about, why not chat to one of our Student Wellbeing Champions. They are trained student volunteers who can signpost you to support, offer you a peer ear and give you basic health and wellbeing advice. If you would like to see our Champions in action, check out their video.
If you are worried that you are experiencing physical symptoms that may be affecting your health, we strongly advise you to make a GP appointment to discuss this. If you do not already have a GP, please contact NHS Wales on 0845 46 47 or check out their website to view all of your GP options. The University also has its own GP Practice – Park Place Surgery for those in their catchment area.
Your feedback and help please
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Natalie, Student Wellbeing Champion.
Your Student Life, Supported.
The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including:Advice & Money, Careers & Employability, Counselling, Health & Wellbeing, Disability & Dyslexia and International Student Support.
For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.