Self-esteem and mental health

Self-esteem can impact every area of our lives, including our mental health. In this article, you'll learn what exactly self-esteem is, why it matters, as well as practical things you can do to start raising your self-esteem.

Helps with
7 min read
Photo of undefined

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is the overall opinion we have of ourselves. It influences how we feel about who we are, what we think we have to offer the world, and how much we believe we deserve good things in life.

  • Why is self-esteem important for mental health?

    Having healthy self-esteem allows us to:

    • Confidently express our needs and share ideas
    • Be open to trying new things
    • Recognise our value beyond our mistakes
    • Have healthy relationships
    • Trust ourselves
    • Ask for help.

What does low self-esteem feel like?

If you experience low self-esteem, it can be difficult to feel worthy, show kindness to yourself, or believe that you can overcome challenges.

Low self-esteem can also feel really painful, often making you feel like you hate yourself, are unloveable, and don’t have anything to offer the world.

Low self-esteem can cause thoughts like:

  • ‘I have no control over my life.’
  • ‘Everything is my fault.’
  • ‘I’m never enough.’
  • ‘It’s useless asking for help.’
  • ‘I shouldn’t even try because I always fail.’

It doesn’t matter if you’re scrolling online, flipping through a magazine, or watching TV, there always seems to be pressure to compare ourselves to others. This can chip away at our self-esteem and leave us feeling like we’re ‘not enough’.

While it makes a lot of sense that so many of us feel ‘behind’, ‘unqualified’, or like we don’t even deserve to be in the game at all, it’s important to remember that this is not the reality.

We likely just need to improve our self-esteem.

Below, you can watch a group of people talk about how self-esteem impacts their mental health.

Why is self-esteem important for mental health?

Self-esteem can impact every area of our lives, including our mental health.

While healthy self-esteem can be really helpful in preventing mental health conditions and challenges, low self-esteem can negatively impact our mental health and make it more difficult to cope with challenges.

When we think and feel positively about ourselves, we’re more likely to:

  • Set personal and professional boundaries
  • Feel confident to face setbacks and challenges
  • Build and maintain healthy relationships
  • Feel comfortable expressing our needs
  • Seek peer or professional support when needed.

When we think and feel negatively about ourselves, we’re more likely to:

If you’re already experiencing mental health challenges, financial stress, or relationship problems, low self-esteem can make it difficult for you to believe that you are able to change your circumstances. You may also forget to prioritise and practise self-care, and find it really hard to ask for help.

With life throwing us constant challenges, it can be hard to imagine ever feeling differently about yourself and the world. But, there are ways you can improve your self-esteem, and start to feel better about yourself and the world around you.

Whatever you're dealing with, you don't have to do it alone.

Experiencing low self-esteem can be an isolating experience. If you’re open to connecting with someone, Lifeline is here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via phone, text, and chat. If life is in danger, call 000.

What can impact self-esteem?

Our self-esteem can be affected by a wide range of things including our thoughts, childhood experiences, current experiences, and/or our mental and physical health.

Some other things that may negatively impact self-esteem are:

If you’re experiencing low self-esteem due to current life challenges, or difficult past experiences, it can feel overwhelming to think about how you can overcome them.

Recognising how the things you’ve experienced in life may have directly impacted how you feel about yourself is a great first step to working through them and improving your self-esteem.

Tips for improving self-esteem

Even though many things outside of our control influence our self-esteem, it's the way these experiences make us feel about ourselves internally that impacts the way it affects our lives.

In other words, if we can find ways to separate the things that happen to us from the things we believe about ourselves, we can feel better about things like our physical appearance, our skills, accomplishments, relationships, and future.

So, how can you improve your self-esteem? You can:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others
  • Challenge and change negative thoughts
  • Direct your focus to things that are helpful
  • Ask for help if everything becomes too much.

Scroll down to learn practical ways you can get started.

Challenge negative self-talk

Self-talk is a term used to describe the voice in our head that helps us process our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It can either be positive, negative, or a combination of both.

Positive self-talk is when we have thoughts about ourselves that are:

  • Supportive
  • Complimentary
  • Kind
  • Nurturing.

Negative self-talk, on the other hand, is when we have thoughts about ourselves that are:

  • Critical
  • Insulting
  • Mean
  • Neglectful.

There’s a big difference between the two and it’s usually pretty easy to identify which is which.

For example, positive self-talk might be thinking, ‘I’m glad I found this outfit. I like the way it looks.’ before walking out the door while negative self-talk sounds more like, ‘There is absolutely nothing that looks good on me.’

Here are a few ways to challenge and change negative self-talk:

  • Speak to yourself how you’d speak to a friend

    When you catch yourself making mean comments or beating yourself up about something, ask yourself, ‘What would I tell a friend in this situation?’ Chances are, you’d show a whole lot more compassion.

  • Write positive affirmations on sticky notes
  • Try meditation

Most people have a healthy combination of positive and negative thoughts about themselves. However, issues arise when the negative thoughts outweigh the positive. That’s usually when our self-esteem is impacted.

Journal your thoughts and feelings

Another helpful activity for challenging/changing your thought patterns is journaling.

Studies have shown that journaling has the potential to reduce stress, improve your mood, promote better sleep, and even increase self-confidence.

Writing about challenging experiences can also help you process them in a constructive way, making it easier to handle difficult emotions.

Find a therapist who’s right for you

If you’re struggling to identify and change thought patterns on your own, you may want to consider seeing a psychologist who is trained in:

Remember, taking care of your mental health isn’t something you have to do alone. You can always speak to your GP about a Mental Health Treatment Plan or click here to learn tips for finding a therapist that’s right for you.

If therapy doesn’t feel right for you, you can try confiding in someone you trust. And if you don’t have anyone to talk to, or prefer to remain anonymous, Lifeline is always here for you, too.

Prioritise your relationships

The people you spend time with can have a big impact on your self-esteem. It’s important to build relationships with people who value you for who you are. You can find more about how to build social connections here.

Creating and maintaining healthy relationships can help you build your self-esteem.

For example, you can reach out to someone you trust to help you:

  • Get a sense-check on any negative thoughts
  • Find the ‘bright side’ of a situation
  • Identify the things that no longer serve you
  • Come up with a plan to move forward.

As you work to build a supportive environment, it’s equally important to reassess any relationships that feel unhealthy. Maintaining these connections can negatively impact your self-esteem because they may reinforce negative beliefs about yourself.

Practise self-care

Being kind to yourself by practising self-care is a great way to start boosting your confidence, learning to accept yourself, and caring for yourself like you would any other person you care about.

This can mean:

  • Limiting the time you spend on social media by doing a digital detox
  • Reading or listening to inspiring stories as a way to feel more hopeful
  • Putting boundaries in place in your relationships or at work
  • Ensuring that you’re giving yourself plenty of time to rest
  • Letting go of relationships, commitments, or habits that no longer make you feel good.

We understand that when your self-esteem is low, it may be difficult to think about what you can do to show self-care. You can consider making your own pre-prepared self-care box to take some pressure off yourself.

Break your goals down into smaller pieces

When you have low self-esteem, you may avoid things you think you’re going to ‘mess up’ or ‘fail at’.

A great way to face this type of fear is by approaching difficult situations gradually.

Let’s say you want to improve your social confidence and build connections at work. You can break the goal down into actions that allow you to build confidence at a pace that is comfortable for you.

For example, you could use a gradual approach like this:

  • Step 1: Initiate short conversations with colleagues for a few weeks
  • Step 2: Set up a coffee meeting with a colleague
  • Step 3: Speak up in a meeting.

By starting small, you can slowly build your confidence and boost your self-esteem.

Facing your fears is a big deal. It’s okay to take your time and step back if it starts to feel too overwhelming.

Life is full of ups and downs and it’s perfectly normal to feel like your self-esteem has taken a hit as a result of the downs. Just remember that this doesn’t mean you need to feel that way forever.

Your levels of self-esteem will change as you move through different stages of life and you can always come back to the practical strategies in this article when you need a little extra help.

And if you need someone to speak with, remember Lifeline is always here.

Was this page useful?

Your feedback helps us improve the service for people like you.

We'd love to hear why!