I’m so lost in my life
Asked by Nessa
Good day Nessa, and thank you for reaching out for help with regards to the distress you are experiencing as a result of feeling “lost” and lacking confidence. I can understand how distressing feeling worthless feels, and for what it’s worth, I assure you that you DO have worth. I am sure that your teenage children need you, even if they don’t always show it (as most teenagers tend to be more defiant and rebellious than affectionate and validating). The issues that you report experiencing can often be whittled down to low self-esteem. Low self-esteem can lead you to feel worthless, unlovable, and unwanted. Additionally, feelings of low self-esteem have been directly linked to aggression, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, eating disorders, and a general lower quality of life, as I’m sure you can identify or relate to at least some of these. By changing some of the things you do every day (how you dress, your posture, how you think of yourself), you can develop more confidence and higher levels of self-worth. It is important to know that while the way you are feeling did not all of the sudden happen overnight, nor is changing out of the “slump” that you are in, and simply by taking small actions each day you can surely improve your functioning and overall experience in life. Below are just a few tips and small actions that you can take that have been empirically shown to have a positive effect on increasing one’s self-esteem.
1) Wear black and invest in nice-smelling cologne or perfume.
How you dress (and how you smell) can make a difference. According to a 2015 study that assessed what colors people associate with different personality traits, black was voted as a "confident" color that makes people think of attractiveness, intelligence, and confidence. Additionally, the clothes you wear can have an impact on self-esteem and self-perception. In another study, men were divided into three groups: one group dressed in suits, another in casual attire and the last group dressed in sweatpants. They were then asked to roleplay a negotiation scene for getting a raise at work. The results of this study prove the men dressed in suits (dressed for success) scored higher levels of dominance, job performance, and confidence, which ultimately resulted in them getting better negotiation deals in the roleplaying scenes. Another study has proved that how we smell greatly affects our self-confidence. Not only that but how we smell can also have an impact on how others view and treat us, which can also have a positive impact on our self-esteem.
2) Listen to bass-heavy music.
Did you know that the type of music you most frequently listen to can subconsciously be driving your insecurity? Music with a louder baseline can make you feel more powerful, dominant, determined, and motivated.
3) Take more photos (including selfies).
Researcher has shown that taking photos of yourself (or seeing yourself in a mirror, paying attention to the way you look) can actually raise your self-confidence. In the study, a group of 41 students took three types of photos every day: one of themselves smiling, a photo of something that made them happy that day, and a photo of something they believed could make someone else happy. Each type of photo had positive effects on the participant's self-esteem levels, but the photo they took of themselves reported the highest levels of increasing self-confidence.
4) Talking to yourself in the second person will help improve your confidence.
While it's important to take note of how we think about ourselves (because this says a lot about our self-confidence), did you know that positive self-talk (actually talking out loud to yourself in a positive way) is scientifically proven to help with self-esteem? If you have ever tried to psych yourself up for a job interview with the phrase "you've got this!", you're on the right track, according to science.
5) Self-awareness and positive affirmations help.
Confidence can come from being honest with yourself, but that is much harder to accomplish when your feelings of worthlessness are telling you there are no redeeming qualities about yourself. According to new brain-imaging studies published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, when people practice self-affirmations (positive self-statements), the brain's self-processing (medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex) and valuation cortex (ventral striatum and ventral medial prefrontal cortex) are both activated. The results of these scans highlight the positive neural processes that happen when we self-affirm, proving that self-affirmations work.
6) Identifying and challenging your self-criticism.
We all speak to ourselves, and when we do it in encouraging ways we can feel pretty good. People with low self-esteem often have a harsh and critical inner voice though. Some therapists like to call this a ‘bully voice’. The psychologist Paul Gilbert often uses an analogy about the kind of teacher you would want for a young child: would you want one who is harsh and punitive or one who is kind and supportive? One way of overcoming low self-esteem is to change the way we speak to ourselves or to have a different relationship with our inner voice. Some of the techniques that psychologists teach include monitoring your self-critical thoughts using self-esteem worksheets like a self-critical thought monitoring record (can be found on the internet), challenging your negative thinking using thought records, and learning about your unhelpful thinking styles.
To get you started on your process of recovery and regaining a life of happiness, enjoyment, purpose, and more positive and pleasurable experiences, I recommend doing many, if not all, of the following coping skills and techniques once a day when experiencing any of the symptoms of low self-esteem you identified and I (hopefully) elaborated on and clarified from a clinical perspective. It’s important to know you probably won’t be motivated to do any of them at first because depression frequently saps motivation. In other words, know that it’s normal to feel unmotivated until you’re halfway done. Individuals who frequently practice these coping skills do get better. The seven techniques can be memorized with the acronym MY PEERS. 1. Meaning: Find small ways to be of service to others. Find personal meaning by serving something larger than yourself. Remember service doesn’t have to be big to count. Consider this, “Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue… as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning 2. Your goals: Find workable goals that give you a sense of accomplishment. Most people feel guilty when talking about goals because they set unreasonable or unworkable goals. A goal is workable if it’s: Something you can control (i.e., it doesn’t depend on others) Manageable (i.e., not overwhelming) Realistic for you (not for someone else) Measurable (i.e., you know whether or not it is done or getting done) If something goes wrong with your goal, adopt a “what can I learn from this?” attitude (versus a judgmental, “this is why I’m horrible” attitude). Also, be careful when comparing your progress with others. We usually compare our biggest weakness with another person’s biggest strength. This is unfair (and usually not accurate anyhow). 3. Pleasant Events: Schedule pleasant activities or events. Don’t wait for yourself to be “in the mood.” For example, give yourself permission for a 30-minute “vacation” or schedule a healthy hobby every day. Just remember to do these activities with the right attitude (see Engagement). Also, practice gratitude — take time to notice what went well today, not just what went wrong. Consider keeping a gratitude journal. Know that being grateful for your blessings doesn’t mean you have to discount your problems. 4. Engagement: Stay in the present. This practice is sometimes called mindfulness. As best you can, during activities try not to be in your head with self-judgment. You may not be able to turn off the self-judgment, but you can notice it and bring yourself gently back to the present. Research shows that people with higher self-compassion also have higher self-worth or self-confidence. For those who have difficulty with self-compassion or healthy engagement, you can find self-compassion exercises and Mindfulness Based Stress reduction courses online. 5. Exercise: And, eat right too. Doing moderate exercise about five times a week (30 minutes a pop) can dramatically help your mood. Moderate exercise is a level of activity where it is difficult to sing from your diaphragm while doing it. Also, pay attention to how the type of food or drink you’re eating influences your mood. You don’t have to do fad diets, but anyone will be depressed if they frequently binge on carbs, junk food, and energy drinks. Remember the virtue of moderation. Also, avoiding alcohol (a depressant) can also help reduce symptoms of depression. 6. Relationships: Focus on people who lift you up. Interact frequently with others that bring you up (not people that bring you down). While it’s OK to have some alone time, find a balance and don’t isolate yourself or the depression will linger. 7. Sleep Regularly: Try to keep a regular sleep schedule. Keep a balance with not too little and not too much sleep. Staying up late one night and then sleeping in excessively the next day is a sure-fire way to feed depression. Also, don’t try to solve problems late at night when your brain is half-asleep. As you practice these coping skills, know that you’re on the path to overcoming depression In contrast, depression tends to linger when patients make up a reason why they can’t do these things. No matter what medication you’re taking, doing several of these activities every day — especially when you don’t feel like it — is vital to the treatment of depression. These positive coping skills may take time and practice, but if we don’t take the time to be well now, the periods of “unwellness” may be forced upon us later. I hope this response provided you with some answers and hope in your desire to change your present experience, and please feel free to reach out to me should you wish to engage in individual talk psychotherapy or have any other question pertaining to the alleviation of depression and anxiety.
(LMHC, MCAP, TIRF)