The more I talk with others who struggle with anxiety, and the deeper I analyze my own thought patterns, the more I realize that self esteem and lack of confidence is at the heart of anxiety for a lot of people.
This relationship between anxiety and self-esteem has been studied extensively.
Julia Friederike Sowislo of the Department of Psychology at the University of Basel (Switzerland) analyzed 95 studies on anxiety and depression.
While she found that decreased self-esteem increased the risk of depression more than depression increased the risk of low self-esteem, the relationship was different among the 18 anxiety studies she analyzed.
In people who suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem was equally effective at raising the risk of anxiety as anxiety was at decreasing self-esteem. [Source]
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I have friends who berate themselves because they let anxiety get the best of them.
I do it, too.
In fact, when I objectively analyze my thoughts, I often find that a lot of my anxiety stems from a fear that I don’t have the skills, intelligence, or abilities to be successful and create a life I love.
Remember my worse-case-scenario as a self-employed business owner that I mentioned? It was that my business would fail, and that I would have to live behind a dumpster and paw through the trash for dinner.
It’s silly, really, because I consciously know that this is not likely to happen. It’s far less likely that I would end up dressed in rags on the street than it would for me to become a billionaire.
But why does my mind consistently speed down the worse-case-scenario, catastrophic track?
Fear, Doubt, & Low Self Worth
I think a lot of that has to do with fear rooted from low self-esteem – the fear that I will fail. The fear that I will make poor decisions. The fear that I am not good enough, that I don’t deserve the success I get, that I’m not qualified, or smart enough.
I’ve never considered myself as somebody with self-esteem issues. I mean, I have the same criticism about myself that everybody else has. We all have parts of our bodies that we hate, or we are keenly aware of areas in our lives that we do not excel at.
I don’t consciously hate myself. I don’t consciously think that I am an unworthy individual or that I deserve whatever bad things happen in my life.
If you ask me if I have low self esteem, my quick answer would be, “No”. That is, until I deep-dive into my anxious thought patterns, and ask myself why I think the way I do.
When I ruminate on negative outcomes, catastrophic and worse-case-scenario thinking, I am basically dismissing my own ability to rise above these situations (if they were to even happen).
It’s as if I feel subconsciously that I deserve to have these things happen to me.
I have a lot of optimism. I allow myself to dream big dreams, and pursue those dreams. But at the same time, the fear that my achievements will be stripped away, or lead to ruin, or that I am unable to achieve my goals in life, is ever present.
Always anticipating the worst is a measure of how you feel about yourself.
Take some time to answer the following questions yourself. Write down the answers in a journal or notebook.
Why are you more comfortable expecting bad things to happen?
How do you feel when you think about great things happening to you?
Do you feel selfish when you think about things turning out in your favor?
Do best-case-scenarios feel much more unrealistic than worse-case-scenarios? Why?
What evidence do you have that it would be impossible for you to be successful?
What evidence do you have that you are not smart enough, or good enough, to do something that you want to do in life?
Do you begin to think about excuses as to why good things can’t happen to you? Are these excuses related to your skills, abilities, education, etc.?
Again, take some time to write down the answers to these questions.
How To Boost Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem and a lack of confidence, in my experience, permeate the subconscious and conscious thoughts of those who suffer from anxiety.
Low self-esteem is particularly felt among those who suffer from social phobia. Intense fears of humiliating yourself, or offending others (saying the wrong thing), or fear of being judged, are all rooted in low self-esteem.
It is important to analyze your anxious thoughts, and root out any that come from a place of self-loathing, or low self-esteem.
Addressing, understanding, and boosting self-esteem can help you counter negative thoughts – particularly catastrophic and worse-case-scenario thinking.
It can also lift you out of anxiety, and provide some defenses against it.
But boosting self-esteem takes work. Here are a few ways you can boost it:
1) Take A 2-Minute Self-LOVE Break
Take a self-love break every day.
Here’s what you do: Take a deep breath, slow down and ask yourself this question: What are 3 things that I love about myself today?
This can change from day to day. It can be anything from having a good hair day, to helping someone in need, or finally treating yourself to a pedicure.
Try doing this first thing in the morning to start your day off on a good note.
You might be tempted to go for the negative thoughts first, but use this exercise to derail them.
2) Keep A Gratitude Journal
We tend to focus on the negative things in our lives (or on what bad things might happen).
Instead, make a conscious effort to focus on the positive things in your life.
Here’s what you do: Every day, write down three good things that happened that day. You can also write down three things that you are grateful for.
The purpose of this exercise is to train your brain to seek out positive things to focus on. You can do this exercise when you are in the midst of anxiety, since shifting your focus can help derail an anxious train of thought.
How does this impact self esteem? It shows you that you DO have positive things in your life, and that self-sabotaging, self-loathing thoughts do not reflect your reality.
3) Be Your Own Best Friend
Pay attention to the words you use when you describe yourself. Would you use these words, or that tone, to talk to your friends or family?
Chances are, you wouldn’t. A good friend wouldn’t put you down, trample on your dreams, or tell you that you’re not good enough or smart enough.
Quite the opposite.
In fact, you wouldn’t stay friends with somebody who treated you like that, would you?
Here’s what you do: Put a note on your bathroom mirror or computer monitor that asks, “Am I being kind to myself today?”
Quit treating yourself like dirt. Stop being a complete jerk to yourself. You deserve better.
4) Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
We all compare ourselves to the people around us, or to those that we admire.
We either put them on a pedestal as if they have some superpower that we don’t, or we assume that success and happiness come to them with ease.
Unfortunately, this can make us feel that everyone else has their life together while we are struggling (because we are not smart enough, skilled enough, or have the right connections, etc.).
We may feel that we are not special, that we can’t possibly possess the business savvy, or the social skills, or the talent to be the person we wish we could be.
Here’s the thing – EVERYBODY has insecurities, fears, and problems that pester them. Everyone at one time or another feels unsure about their talents, skills, and abilities.
Even the most influential, successful people have had their share of problems – and survived.
In fact, there’s a famous story about Walt Disney who was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Of course, he went on to become a household name.
So if you don’t yet see how special and important you are, or if others have yet to recognize it, keep pushing forward.
Making mistakes and experiencing rejection is a prerequisite for getting more from your life, so don’t sell yourself short by belittling yourself.