Scientists are learning more and more every day about the link between your mind and your health. Stress, depression, and anger have all been shown to pave the way to illness and disease. On the other hand, if you feel good about yourself, have a positive outlook, and maintain an active involvement in life, you’re more likely to be happy — and healthy.
The Importance of Self-Esteem
Many things — genetics, environment, the food you eat, illness, sleep, even the seasons — influence your emotional state. But at the heart of it is how you regard yourself. If you have a healthy level of self-esteem, you not only cope with life’s challenges better than people with low self-esteem, but you’re probably more content, confident, and successful. You’re probably also healthier. Studies show that positive self-esteem actually helps inoculate people against depression and anxiety, conditions that may pose increased risk of everything from colds to osteoporosis to heart disease.
Most people’s sense of worth is rooted in their childhood — in the early approval or disapproval of parents, teachers, and friends. But as we get older, most of us judge ourselves by our sense of how effectively we’re managing in the world, especially in the areas of love and work.
Our ability to love and be loved can give our lives a sense of purpose and deep fulfillment. We can also find satisfaction and pride in work-related accomplishments, and the people we meet and work with can reinforce our sense of self and our role in life.
Once midlife comes along, however, our self-esteem can take a turn in response to changes in our lives. Marital relationships may change, children may leave home, and we may begin to scale back on work as we approach retirement. Of course, the view in the mirror may not be what it used to be, either.
Bolstering Your Self-Worth
If you find your self-esteem eroding a bit, there are plenty of ways to build it back up again.
Reframe your identity. Redefine what you base your sense of self-worth on. Instead of “sales manager,” “stock market analyst,” or “mom,” start thinking of yourself as “community organizer,” “literacy volunteer,” “great cook,” “gifted gardener,” and more.
Talk back to your inner critic. Become conscious of how hard you’re being on yourself, and counter a negative attitude with some positive self-talk.
Let yourself off the hook. As the saying goes, it’s better to try something and fail than to be successful at not trying anything. Focus on goals that are linked to activities you’re really interested in so you’ll enjoy a sense of purpose and derive pleasure from the pursuit whether or not you achieve your goal in full.
Take time for yourself. Read the paper, keep a journal, go for a swim. This is especially important for women, who are often so busy nurturing others that they neglect their own needs and interests.