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May is National Teen Self-Esteem Month: Ten Ways to Boost Your Self-Esteem

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
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This month, May, is International Boost Your Self-Esteem Month. As many of us know, self-esteem is a vital ingredient in mental health. A positive self-view promotes emotional health and wellbeing. A negative self-concept is linked to depression, anxiety, substance use, addiction, and other mental health issues.

In honor of this month, here are ten ways to boost your self-esteem today, with several tips courtesy of the NHS in the UK.

  1. Get active. According to research, exercising for about 45 minutes to an hour every day can boost your self-esteem significantly. If you can participate in a team sport, that’s even better. Starting a new exercise routine doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Just take it day by day. For example, today – after reading this article – you can do a few minutes of jumping jacks or pushups. Tomorrow, maybe you can walk or jog around the block a couple of times while listening to music. Next week, you can schedule an easy hike nearby. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel even after a moderate amount of activity. Increase your physical activity gradually so it can become a consistent habit you can stick to.
  2. Try something new. Whether it’s a new language, a new song, or even a new recipe, now is the time to try it. Research shows that mastery builds confidence and self-esteem. There are lots of free, online tutorials to help you with whatever new project you want to take on – whether it’s learning how to speak Italian, figuring out the Harry Potter theme song on the piano, or learning how to tie-dye a sweatshirt. Even better, though, is to engage in activities that you’re scared you won’t actually succeed in. Perhaps you have social anxiety and joining a birthday party (even over Zoom) makes you sweat with fear. Or maybe you’ve always been too nervous to learn how to swim or initiate a conversation or date with your crush. Teens who have low self-esteem often avoid situations they’re not sure they’ll excel in. But mustering up the courage to just do it (thanks, Nike!) will do amazing things for your self-esteem.
  3. Talk to your friends. Yes, we know there’s a pandemic going on. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still interact with friends via social distancing, Zoom, or the phone. It’s important to spend time with positive, healthy friends who raise you up. The right type of friends can do wonders for your self-esteem and self-confidence. And the other side of the coin is true as well. Research has shown that relationships that are more conflict-ridden than peaceful lead to lower self-esteem and increased risk of depression. If you have friends who are constantly critical and always put you down, perhaps it might be a good time to reassess the friendship. While it might be scary to cut yourself off from toxic friends, ultimately, it’s for the good of your own mental health. If you have trouble making friends, check out our article on three ingredients to help make new friends.
  4. Tackle your to-do list. When you’re busy, you have less time to ruminate, and you feel proud of yourself for being so productive. That sense of achievement when you finally clean out your overstuffed closet or call up that friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with? Priceless. Even when it’s just checking off small tasks on your to-do list, it inspires a feeling of confidence. It’s a positive cycle: the more you feel accomplished, the better you’ll feel about yourself, and the more you’ll be inspired to do more. In treatment terms, this strategy is part of the therapeutic modality known as Behavioral Activation, and it is associated with elevated self-esteem in teens.
  5. Identify what you’re good at. Some teens are amazing at hockey. Others can whip delicious desserts or know all the lyrics to every single Taylor Swift song. Are you a Minecraft champion? A voracious reader who can go through several novels in a day? A sought-after tutor or babysitter in your neighborhood? If you have a hard time figuring out your strengths, that’s okay.  Reflect on what it is that many of your friends, neighbors, or peers commonly ask you for help on or compliment you about. Then, once you can point out a few unique traits that make you special – and that you’re proud of – write them down in a journal. Whenever you feel like you need a boost in your self-esteem, take out your list to remind yourself of how awesome you are.
  6. Save special notes. Have you ever received a special letter that you’ve been tempted to read over and over because it makes you feel so warm and fuzzy inside? Whether it’s a note of praise from a coach or teacher, a birthday card from a friend, or just an encouraging message from someone you admire, save these special letters in a designated place. If the note was sent via text or email, print it out so you can have it nearby. When you have a rough moment, you can boost your self-esteem by taking a minute to read it again.
  7. Say no. This is an important one: setting boundaries. Saying no is often a form of self-care. If you have a friend who’s always asking you to help them, or to do things you’re uncomfortable with, take a step back. Consider whether you need to define healthy boundaries. Teens with low self-esteem sometimes feel like they need to say yes all the time to peers in order to feel good about themselves. This is commonly known as people-pleasing. Saying no – even if it’s scary at first – will help you reclaim your time and manage your energy. It will also help you understand that you’re a person worthy of goodness on your own. You don’t have to make someone else happy to feel happy yourself. If you realize you have a hard time saying no to others, you may need help from a qualified adolescent therapist.
  8. Challenge self-negativity. Any time you catch yourself putting yourself down, try to challenge that thought or belief using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills. If you think you’re never going to make it through junior year of high school, be your own cheerleader. Give yourself a positive pep talk. For example: “Self, I know you are going to do your best this year. You try hard to complete your assignments and reach out for help when you need it.” DBT teaches us that we can feel two emotions at the same time. For example, if you have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), you may feel distressed that you slipped at a party, and still proud that you were sober for a period of time before that. If you relapse again, tell yourself “I am trying my best, and I can still do better.” Note that DBT discourages the use of the conjunction “but,” as it negates, rather than affirms, the first half of the sentence. Instead of thinking, “I’m a terrible person” or “I’m unlovable” or “I’m so stupid,” try to challenge those self-beliefs with more truthful, dialectical statements. When you’re self-critical, it’s also helpful to think of yourself as a best friend. What would you tell your best friend if they told you these things about themselves? Sometimes it’s easier to be kind to our friends than to ourselves – and that shouldn’t be the case.
  9. Learn social skills. Think of the most confident person you know. Perhaps they’re a friend, a neighbor, or a classmate. Figure out what makes them seem so self-assured. Is it the way they speak? The way they listen? How they walk? Their body language? Observe their social skills and then try your own version of them. While intrinsic self-esteem usually manifests itself in external confidence, there’s nothing wrong with “faking it till you make it.” In fact, Dialectical Behavior Therapy teaches that actions have the potential to transform beliefs. In other words: even if you don’t feel like you have self-esteem, behave as if you do – and you increase your chances of developing your own genuine sense of positive self-esteem. If you feel that you can benefit from learning social skills training, a teen treatment center or licensed adolescent therapist can help. Social skills training can help you learn to talk to peers, how to share personal information responsibly, and how to choose friends wisely. With effective communication skills, you increase your chances of making social connections, which can boost your self-esteem.
  10. Adjust your social media use. The next time you scroll through Facebook or Instagram or find yourself involved in a multi-day Whatsapp convo or Snapchat streak, pause and ask yourself it makes you feel better or worse. If you always feel grumpy or moody after spending time on social, consider cutting back. Research shows that teens who struggle with low self-esteem, sadness, and loneliness are more likely to react negatively to events and circumstances while using social media than teens who don’t have these issues. Some teens report social media use makes them feel excluded, inferior, and anxious, especially when no one comments on or likes their posts. If you’ve ever been tempted to delete a post that was under-performing, you know what we’re talking about. On the other hand, some teens say social media use increases their feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. Only you know how social media use affects you – but make sure you tune in to yourself honestly.

What to Do When None of These Ideas Work

Perhaps you’re reading through this list and thinking none of these ideas are going to work. First, we suggest you try them – and then decide. Or perhaps you feel like you need professional help to work on your lack of self-esteem. If that’s the case, you may benefit from contacting a licensed, qualified therapist who specializes in treating adolescents. Lack of self-esteem is one of a host of factors related to mental health issues and substance abuse. And often, low self-esteem is one of the factors at play when a teen engages in self-harming behaviors, like cutting, or thoughts of suicide.

If you struggle with these mental health issues, professional support can help. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out to a trusted adult today. Whether it’s your parent, school counselor, or an older relative you trust, we suggest you find someone to help. They can get in touch with a teen treatment center to arrange a complimentary assessment for you. The admissions team at a high-quality treatment center can determine whether you need professional help. They may recommend outpatient therapy, an intensive outpatient/partial hospitalization program, or a residential treatment center for teens.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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