Self-esteem is closely linked to mental health.
High self-esteem is linked to confidence, fulfillment and life satisfaction, motivation, and greater quality of life in general.
Low self-esteem is a common symptom and contributing factor in many mental health issues, from depression and anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related problems.
Fortunately, self-esteem is not fixed. Some of us struggle with self-esteem issues more than others due to mental health issues or difficult experiences growing up, but this is something we can work on and develop.
We can build self-esteem, develop self-compassion, and cultivate all the positive qualities we feel are lacking right now with simple, effective, evidence-based techniques and exercises.
This article will explore techniques, exercises, and therapy activities for self-esteem.
Therapy activities for self-esteem
If you’re struggling with low self-esteem, it’s wise to seek support.
Speak to a trusted friend or family member about how you’re feeling, but consider that a therapist or counselor may be able to offer more unbiased support backed by professional training. In addition to outside help, you can also work on your self-esteem issues with some self-help activities.
Below we’ll look at three therapy-based activities to help you address low self-esteem – journaling, challenging negative thoughts, and practicing positive affirmations. All three of these activities aim to promote self-esteem and shift the negative patterns and beliefs that have made your self-esteem so low.
1. Begin a self-esteem journal
Journaling is an evidence-based method of gaining personal insight and promoting your self-understanding.
Sometimes our self-esteem issues are amplified by forgetting that we are loved and appreciated.
We put our positive self-view to the back of our minds and prioritize negative or critical thoughts about ourselves because they seem more important or pressing. In contrast, consciously remembering our positive qualities and traits can work wonders for our self-esteem.
Below you’ll find some self-esteem journal prompts to help you improve your self-esteem.
If this is your first time journaling, take it easy. Journaling can seem daunting, but there is no need for self-judgment or criticism.
This is a space for you to explore your thoughts and feelings privately. You can share them with a trusted friend or therapist, but there is no pressure.
You don’t have to write a masterpiece and don’t need good handwriting. As long as you can read and understand what you wrote, that’s all you need.
Set aside five to ten minutes whenever you can find the time and journal about these questions. It may help to practice consistency, so try to journal at the same time every day or on a consistent schedule.
Don’t worry if this all sounds too much – you can begin with a once-off journaling session and see how you feel about it!
Three things that make me feel proud of myself are:
Two things I enjoy doing every day are:
One thing that brings me a sense of peace is:
A recent success I had was:
My friends and family appreciate ________ about me/appreciate my_____
The highlight of my year was:
In my opinion, my best quality is the:
Two things unique about me are:
I thrive when_______
Three things or people for which I am grateful are:
I feel best about myself when_____
I’m excited for_____
2. Challenge negative thoughts
Identifying and addressing negative self-talk is a core tenet of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based therapeutic modality used by therapists and counselors worldwide to improve clients’ self-esteem.
While it’s wise to seek out a therapist or counselor if you’re struggling, you can also try CBT-based techniques at home.
The following technique may not change overnight, but if you can develop the habit of challenging your negative thoughts with the following questions, you’ll learn to reduce the power of negative thoughts in real time.
The result is that you will likely spend less time ruminating and mulling over those thoughts because you’ll instead see through them as just thoughts and as not necessarily true.
Is there evidence for this thought?
Is there evidence that counters this thought?
How might I look at this situation positively?
Will this matter next year? Or in five years?
What would someone who loves me think about this thought?
Negative thoughts, often automatic, can send us into a spiral of more negative thoughts, affecting our mood, relationships, and overall mental health. However, most of these thoughts are not based on reality but on some limiting belief we hold about ourselves, and they tend to fall apart when questioned or challenged.
Developing this skill of listening when our thoughts turn negative and challenging them can instill confidence. We gain a sense of autonomy over the content and creations of our minds. As a result, our self-esteem improves.
3. Start your day with positive affirmations
Positive affirmations are short phrases that help us remember our intrinsic value and belonging in the world.
It’s easy to forget our intrinsic worth in today’s unrealistic beauty standards and constant comparison. It’s tough to remember our worth if we’ve been led to believe it doesn’t exist.
Identify and list affirmations that resonate with you. You can affirm almost anything to yourself, so reflect on areas where you could benefit from improved self-esteem and craft personal positive affirmations to practice daily.
Examples of positive affirmations that may help you include:
There is far more to me than my negative thoughts and shortcomings.
I accept criticism and use it as an opportunity to improve, not as a statement about my worth or value.
I do my best, and my best is enough.
I accept myself as a perfectly imperfect human being.
I am learning and growing every day through new experiences and challenges.
I am the measurer of my worth, and I say I am worthy.
At first, practicing positive affirmation may seem challenging. Some people feel silly or awkward when they first practice and others are reluctant to do so because asserting this positive self-talk contradicts deeply held beliefs of the opposite view.
Stick with your affirmations by practicing them wholeheartedly and consistently.
Art therapy activities for self-esteem
Talk therapies are popular and effective forms of support for those struggling with self-esteem. However, sometimes talking alone doesn’t feel like enough. Some people enjoy a different approach.
Instead of relying on verbal articulation alone, some of us experience significant inner shifts by engaging the mind, body, and spirit in art therapy.
The term ‘art therapy’ may sound daunting, especially if you’re not confident in your artistic abilities. However, you don’t need to be a Picasso or Michelangelo to reap art therapy’s many benefits.
This is not about skill or talent but about our experiences during the creative process.
1. Animal qualities
Draw yourself as an animal whose qualities you wish to embody or whose qualities you believe you have within yourself.
Look for the positives in your choice of animal. Feel free to express yourself as openly and honestly as you like, but again, remember that the purpose of therapeutic self-esteem activities is to help you, not reaffirm your negative beliefs.
2. Freestyle paint or draw to meditative, uplifting music
Music has a profound effect on the human mind. When used therapeutically, it can lead to major inner shifts.
Meditative music’s calm, grounding effect can help you relax into a calm state, reducing your inhibitions around creativity and making it easier to enter a free-flowing state of self-expression.
3. Choreograph an expressive dance
Freestyling and exploring movement in the context of exploring your feelings and emotions is a great way to gain self-insight and get your creative juices flowing.
Spend time exploring your body and how it moves. Don’t judge or criticize your movements; be curious and appreciate your body as you play and explore.
If you’ve got a story in your mind that you’d like to release, imagine the storyline and play it out through a choreographed dance. Identify a beginning, middle, and end, and choreograph so that your ending brings you into a state you wish to embody.
Thoughtful quotes about self-esteem
Your journey of self-esteem is unique to you.
The work you do on building it may not reap immediate fruits, but consistent practice leads to significant results. You may not notice the results until you can look back and realize just how far you’ve come.
In the meantime, consider some words of wisdom about self-esteem and what it means to love and accept yourself.
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Sharon Salzberg
“You have been criticizing yourself and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” – Louise L. Hay
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.” – T. Harv Eker
Even if your self-esteem is low today, it doesn’t have to stay that way forever.
The exercises and activities above are designed to help you build positive self-esteem and take back control of your own life, control you may have lost to negative and limiting beliefs.