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If you’re going through a period of low morale, you know how wide-reaching the effects can be. So how do you improve self-esteem?
Self-esteem and performance fuel each other; higher self-esteem leads to better performance, giving you more basis for higher self-regard. On the other hand, if you’re having a bad work week or had a fight with your partner, your confidence can feel like it’s dropped to the floor (Baumeister, 2003; Harris, 2020).
It can be difficult to get out of a place of poor self-esteem. But even if you have self-esteem issues now, you’re not stuck.
Can my self-esteem change?
Our self-esteem can and does change; it’s not set in stone. Our sense of self-worth and personal regard naturally changes throughout our lives.
We chatted about this with Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear, who says our self-esteem is heavily impacted by childhood experiences. Research finds that most people’s self-esteem increases dramatically between ages 15–30 and continues to grow until age 60 (Orth, 2018).
Dr. Manly says it’s important to remember that self-esteem and confidence are not the same things.
“Self-confidence is largely based on skills, achievement, and superficial qualities like attractiveness,” she says. “Self-esteem is based on one’s inner sense of personal worth and value. It’s about how you relate to yourself and is largely based on self-evaluation.”
How to improve self-esteem
Science suggests our self-esteem increases over time, but it can feel stagnant day-to-day.
If you’re struggling with your self-esteem or it’s impacting your daily life, there are tactics you can take to give it a nudge. Here are five tips for how to improve self-esteem.
1. Foster honest self-awareness
Manly says this is among the three most essential skills for improving self-esteem. When you embrace life as a growth process, your weaknesses become areas for learning, not scorn.
“This involves learning to non-judgmentally acknowledge one’s strengths and weaknesses while striving to evolve for the better over time,” says Manly. “Shifting your thinking in this way can lead to increased self-esteem.”
Mindfulness: what it is, types, benefits
2. Try therapy to challenge negative thinking
A type of talk therapy recommended for this is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). It’s a goal-based program that focuses on identifying, challenging, and changing negative thought patterns (Chand, 2021).
In one study, people doing CBT reported improvements in low self-esteem. This effect was most significant for those taking weekly sessions (Kolubinski, 2018).
Therapy can be expensive and isn’t always covered by health insurance, but that doesn’t mean CBT is out of reach. Studies have found apps available for this kind of therapy work––as long as you keep up with it daily (Giraldo-O’Meara, 2021).
3. Power posing
Power poses are expansive positions described as non-verbal expressions of power (think of the Wonder Woman pose). Manly notes that power poses aren’t without controversy, but one study found that these open poses could increase self-esteem (Körner, 2019).
“Expressing power through your body can translate into changes that affect thinking, feeling, and real-life behavioral choices,” Manly says. She adds that such postures may positively affect self-esteem and create lasting change in how you think about or relate to yourself.
4. Cultivate self-compassion
Self-esteem and compassion are like food that feeds our well-being. Looking at life through a lens of compassion can boost your sense of self and how you connect to others (Pandey, 2019).
“When we are consistently kind and compassionate with ourselves, we diminish the negative thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that harm self-esteem,” explains Manly. “Genuine, consistent self-compassion is one of the greatest contributors to positive self-esteem.”
Learning to reframe stressful situations or life events also opens us up to others, including loved ones or a therapist if needed (Dupasquier, 2019).
5. Be physically active
Getting exercise and moving the body can be associated with improvements in how we see our physical performance and appearance (Dale, 2019).
In this way, regular physical activity may help those struggling with negative body image impacting their self-esteem. Other research shows different types of activities, like yoga and aerobic exercise, lead to overall improvements in self-esteem (Gulati, 2019; Gilani, 2019).
Types of therapy: what works for different issues?
“Using physical activity to support emotional regulation can, in turn, create stronger self-esteem due to having a positive tool for emotional regulation,” Manly says.
Practicing regular self-care is also important for our overall well-being. Saying positive affirmations, getting a massage, and trying meditation are just a few of many self-care practices that can boost your well-being.
Building self-esteem is a long journey, especially if you feel yours is low. Trying some of the actions above can strengthen how you see yourself and even help you connect with other people. These tactics will also protect the higher self-esteem you’ve built.
“When you know your truth and stand in it with pride, you are less susceptible to the negative opinions of others,” Manly says.
- Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(1), 1–44. doi:10.1111/1529-1006.01431. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1111/1529-1006.01431
- Chand, S. P., Kuckel, D. P., & Huecker, M. R. (2021). Cognitive Behavior Therapy. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470241/
- Dale, L. P., Vanderloo, L., Moore, S., & Faulkner, G. (2019). Physical activity and depression, anxiety, and self-esteem in children and youth: An umbrella systematic review. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 16, 66–79. doi:10.1016/j.mhpa.2018.12.001. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1755296618301418
- Dupasquier, J. R., Kelly, A. C., Moscovitch, D. A., & Vidovic, V. (2019). Cultivating self-compassion promotes disclosure of experiences that threaten self-esteem. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 44(1), 108–119. doi:10.1007/s10608-019-10050-x. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10608-019-10050-x
- Gilani, S. & Feizabad, A. K. (2019). The effects of aerobic exercise training on mental health and self-esteem of type 2 diabetes mellitus patients. Health Psychology Research, 7(1), 6576. doi:10.4081/hpr.2019.6576. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6441819/
- Giraldo-O’Meara, M. & Doron, G. (2021). Can self-esteem be improved using short daily training on mobile applications? Examining Real World Data of GG self-esteem users. Clinical Psychologist, 25(2), 131–139. doi:10.1080/13284207.2021.1923126. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13284207.2021.1923126
- Gulati, K., Sharma, S. K., Telles, S., & Balkrishna, A. (2019). Self-Esteem and Performance in Attentional Tasks in School Children after 4½ Months of Yoga. International Journal of Yoga, 12(2), 158–161. doi:10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_42_18. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6521754/
- Harris, M. A. & Orth, U. (2020). The link between self-esteem and social relationships: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(6), 1459-1477. doi:10.1037/pspp0000265. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2019-55803-001.html
- Kolubinski, D. C., Frings, D., Nikčević, A. V., et al. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of CBT interventions based on the Fennell model of low self-esteem. Psychiatry Research, 267, 296–305. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2018.06.025. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178117316670
- Körner, R., Petersen, L. E., & Schütz, A. (2019). Do expansive or contractive body postures affect feelings of self-worth? high power poses impact state self-esteem. Current Psychology, 40(8), 4112–4124. doi:10.1007/s12144-019-00371-1. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12144-019-00371-1
- Orth, U., Erol, R. Y., & Luciano, E. C. (2018). Development of self-esteem from age 4 to 94 years: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 144(10), 1045–1080. doi:10.1037/bul0000161. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fbul0000161
- Pandey, R., Tiwari, G. K., Parihar, P., & Rai, P. K. (2019). Positive, not negative, self-compassion mediates the relationship between self-esteem and well-being. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 94(1), 1–15. doi:0.1111/papt.12259. Retrieved from https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/papt.12259