“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” I call to mind those resonant lines from the film The Help, in honor of International Boost Self-Esteem Month. I’ve just recently discovered that this month long observation existed, and I’m quite pleased to know that at least one month of the year (February) is set aside for something so important (in my opinion).
Self-esteem is something so integral to our overall mental and emotional well-being, and as such, should be nurtured and tended to often. How we feel about ourselves is a tenuous thing with the propensity of being influenced and affected by myriad factors. Just because our youthful days of impressionable naiveté are but a snug memory, doesn’t mean we cease to be exposed to stuff and people that can cause us to feel either a little bigger or a little smaller. Our boss, our loved ones, our friends, and even strangers can say or do something that seems to literally suck a little of our life force right out. Bit by bit, the toxic things that chip away at our spirit can stir up negative emotions that have wider implications on our health and happiness.
Like a plant reaching for and thriving in the sunlight, we should reach for those things and people that fill us with innate joy and happiness. The strength of the joy we build from within serves as the armor to defend us against the poison that aims to break us down. And mind you, sometimes that poison can come in the form of negative thoughts we ourselves create and believe. The point is that each of our lives is valuable and important, and we should never cease to be true to ourselves and those we care for. Our individuality, our differences, our very unique essence should be celebrated and reaffirmed by positive means. The children’s book, Incredible You! : 10 Ways to Let Your Greatness Shine Through, communicates this concept in such clear and simple ways. I urge you to grab a copy from your local Howard County Library System branch when you have a chance. It truly doesn’t take a peer-reviewed journal article or a doctoral thesis to state the case that we do harness the power of our thoughts, and the key to our happiness.
Feeling good about oneself, and having good self-esteem, is a foundation established in early youth. As we mature, we must nurture our spirit in our own unique way, by doing the things and being with those who encourage our greatness to shine. And if we’ve tried, and can’t seem to overcome the crippling thoughts, then we must seek out professional guidance. Life is too short to be plagued by low self-esteem.
So how do you feel about yourself today? What are the things you can do to nurture your self-esteem?
Rewiring Your Neural Pathways of Emotion
Bridget Hughes, licensed acupuncturist, Qigong instructor, meditation teacher, and owner of Healing Point Acupuncture & Healing Arts in the Medical Pavilion at Howard County has spent the last two decades looking at the many ways our mind-body connection enhances (or undermines) our health. Hughes calls the mind-body connection our “greatest yet least tapped personal resource for health,” and considers the best key to unlock that resource to be meditation.
“To meditate in such a way that the biochemistry of the body changes profoundly enough to support improved health,” Hughes describes, “a person must learn to reliably access resourceful and beneficial feeling states. This meditation isn’t what people typically expect; it’s not emptying the mind or focusing on the breath,” says Hughes. Rather, she describes her meditation technique to be more like “getting the right feeling song stuck in your head.” To further clarify, she quotes Paracelsus, the famous 15th century physician, “The spirit is the master, the imagination the tool, and the body the plastic material.” Hughes remarks, “We’ve known since at least the 15th century that using our mind, our heart, and our spirit changes our bodies. It is up to us to do it.”
On March 12th from 7:00-8:30PM, Hughes will teach us how. In a free community offering Rewiring Your Neural Pathways of Emotion, Hughes will teach us how to find the feeling states that scientists have shown change our biochemistry, neurotransmitters, and immune system, and how to use those feelings as a basis for a meditation practice. Says Hughes, “Meditation must be something we can practice as we are driving in rush hour traffic, and as we are dealing with a confrontative boss or colleague. The fruits of our efforts must be accessible right in the midst of our busy, challenging lives.”
Hughes explains that anything practiced over time changes the brain. “Rewiring Your Neural Pathways” is the result. “People intuitively know that anger, disgust, depression, and overwhelm are bad for their health” says Hughes. “They also can sense that states like love and gratitude can improve health. What they don’t know is how to change states, especially when life is frought with hardship. Many of us grapple with anger, depression, anxiety, or stress every day. For meditation to be most useful, it must be effective irrespective of how difficult the circumstances of life may be.” Hughes cites a passage from Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics to describe her approach to meditation, “Feelings cannot be directly controlled by willpower. They cannot be voluntarily made to order or turned on and off like a faucet. If they cannot be commanded, however, they can be wooed…Remember that feeling follows imagery.”
“We are using imagery to woo the feelings that change the biochemistry” says Hughes. “Through such a meditation practice, we engage our greatest hidden resource for wellness: the power of our mind and the mind-body connection to heal.”
Class info: Wednesday, March 12th 2014 from 7-8:30 p.m. Howard County General Hospital: Johns Hopkins Medicine Wellness Center, 10710 Charter Drive, Columbia, Maryland 21044. To register: (410) 740-7601. Free.
One of the struggles of living with a chronic condition, in my case rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is that when I’m feeling bad physically it leaks into my attitude and feelings about my self-worth. When I have a lot of joint pain and stiffness, after an extreme day (or several) I start feeling badly about myself.
My husband notices that how I talk changes, I’m more negative and down on myself. I blame myself for ridiculous things, like rainy weather or traffic delays. Everything I observe becomes clouded in gray and gloom.
I really can’t explain what happens because my usual self is annoyingly upbeat and optimistic. Somehow the weight of my chronic pain tips the scale and permeates my mind, poisoning it against myself. On these days, having a supportive outside observer, like my husband, really helps because he gently reminds me that I’m getting down on myself. With his observations, I’m better able to see through the clouds and recognize that it’s not me talking, it’s the RA.
When I’m able to see the mental cloud for what it is, I’m better able to recognize the problem and combat it with some strategies I’ve developed for myself.
- Positive self talk.
When I’m aware of the negative self-talk, I work to turn it around by speaking positively instead. No self-insults or criticisms allowed! Instead, I remind myself to speak sweet nothings of positivity and compliments. “You may feel bad, but you’re coping well.” “Don’t listen to the gremlins, remember how far you have come, how hard you have worked.” It may seem silly, but after you say nice things to yourself you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.
- Treats and rewards.
On bad days, sometimes I need a treat just for getting through it. Maybe a little chocolate, maybe listening to some favorite music. Rewards for managing tough days are vital for picking up my spirits. Sometimes I promise myself the reward or treat at the beginning of the day, other times it may be an impromptu decision. The point is to remember to treat yourself well, especially on the most difficult days.
- Taking a break.
Sometimes I just need to cut myself a break. I’m not perfect—no one is. And I can’t control my disease and a lot of other things about life. Remembering to be gentle with myself is important because I am my harshest critic. So in these moments I have to take a breath, let it go, and give myself a break. Tomorrow is another day and I can hope for better.
On Valentine’s Day remember that you also need to treat yourself well, try a little self-kindness and gentleness. When the negativity gets started, it can make you feel worse and harm your health. Some mental grooming may help with coping on bad days.
Here are a few books to help get you started with simple ways to take care of yourself.
I’m no relationship expert – in fact I feel a bit weird writing an article about relationships. My husband and I have been together for seven years and married for almost a year and a half. It’s no time at all when compared to the 30+ year marriages I hear about! However, we have a pretty healthy relationship and we’re aware of the ways in which we’ve improved in the past few years. I attribute most of our success to our ability to communicate and our mutual respect for each other. We’ve grown as people and as a couple since we’ve been together, and I thought I’d share what we’ve learned. Thanks to The Book of Love and Passionate Marriage for helping frame the following tips.
Respect one another. You likely have different strengths (and weaknesses) and together you can both benefit from those strengths and aid each other in overcoming your weaknesses. You both bring something vital and equally important to the relationship, and both partners should recognize and appreciate that.
Communicate. Discuss your day, big and little annoyances, interesting things you’ve come across, as well as problems. My husband and I always try to keep each other involved in decisions and informed on how we’re feeling. This way, nothing is a huge surprise and we’ve been discussing any little issues long before they become big problems.
Be kind. It’s easier to be rude or mean to people who are close to you, but that’s no excuse to treat your partner poorly. When I’m stressed, I snap at those closest to me, and I’ve been trying hard to stop that inappropriate treatment and apologize for it whenever I realize I have done so. Relating to that…
Forgive. Don’t hold grudges. “Don’t go to bed angry” is common advice and that’s because it makes a lot of sense. It’s basically a reminder not to dwell on frustrations or fights. You’re in this together and once you’ve discussed an issue, try to come to a conclusion concerning it, even if it takes a few conversations. One thing we do either in the midst of an argument or before one can escalate is step back and figure out what it’s really about. We aren’t actually fighting because the floor didn’t get vacuumed, but because of some previous underlying issue or even an outside problem.
Hang out. Enjoy each other’s company often. That can be in the form of date nights out, nights in watching a movie, or just going to bed early at the same time so you can unwind alongside one another. You wouldn’t be together if you didn’t like each other!
Try new things together. Don’t let boredom or restlessness negatively affect your relationship.Try new things, even if it’s just a new restaurant. Stay involved in each other’s lives. If you think you aren’t spending enough time together, discuss a new activity you’d like to try together like a gym class or guitar lessons, or even just watch a new TV show together – we have a lot of those at the library!
Maintain your identity and work on yourself. Don’t rely on the other person to figure you out or fix all your issues. Keep working on yourself individually as well as together. Your partner is there to support you, not solve all your problems.
Celebrate and recognize the uniqueness of your relationship. Try not to let other people’s perceptions affect your relationship. You and your partner may not be a traditional couple, or you might do things your own way, and that’s fine. Do what works for you and keep doing it as long as it keeps working. You are individuals who work uniquely from other people, and you know yourselves best.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means and while there are no absolute guarantees or hard and fast tricks to keeping a relationship healthy, it’s clear the essential element is the two of you working together.
Please comment below and share your tips to keeping your relationship happy and healthy!
How much does body image impact on the mental health of today’s adolescent girls?
More than you think. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the NYC Girls Project - by middle school, “body satisfaction” so “hits rock bottom” that “the self-esteem of those girls affected – nearly 70 percent – will not improve “until the age of 20.”
While dysmorphia is complicated by myriad cultural issues, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health offers well-researched ways of altering an adolescent’s perception of perfect. Here’s an excerpt from the published material (p. 13, pdf p. 28).
Another approach may involve simple exposure to great, dead-on young adult novels like Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things.
Consider: junior-plus-sized Virginia Shreve is fifteen, smart-mouthed, and standing on the precipice of an emotional cliff. Should she take the plunge and mess around with a boy from school? A boy actually called Froggie? Or should she just go in the kitchen, call it a day, and eat another Twinkie?
Nothing seems right in Virginia’s life, but her insensitive parents (and truly rotten brother) are only half the problem. Her best friend has moved far away, and then, there’s that relentless queen bee at school. Not to mention, she may never ever be the size 2 of her mother’s dreams. And then, a harrowing event changes everything.
Sharply honest, young (and young-at-heart) readers will find themselves cheering for Virginia – all the way to her “a-ha” moment in a Saks Fifth Avenue dressing room, where self-esteem finally outweighs the scale.
Feel good about yourself, and read this book.
I’ve recently discovered how wonderful and rewarding it is to have a bond with my younger sister and I want to share my experience. My sister and I have an age gap of 11 years. When she was born, I was used to being an only child. I didn’t really know how to act, let alone, be an older sister. As she was growing up and making friends, I was finishing high school and starting college. This lead her to experience as the “only child” as well. It’s only in the last couple of years, that our long awaited bond has finally fallen into place.
I’ve realized how incredibly important it is to have that genuine relationship with your sibling(s). It had always felt foreign to me; being a big sister- partially, because I tend to keep to myself at home and also because of a notable age difference. Over time, my sister and I began to talk more, and in doing so we were able to relate more. We discovered similar interests and points of view (shockingly). In addition, I’ve become aware of how to be there for her. I have learned a lot through our interactions (such as her awesome sense of humor – that she definitely got from me). I am beyond thankful to have her open up to me more as time passes. I am grateful to be able to provide that safe haven that I’ve always naturally offered to friends.
My sister is now in her first year of high school and the pressure from her peers to be a certain way or have certain possessions seems off-the-charts in comparison to when I was her age. Media is flooding the minds of today’s youth more than before, and I have declared it my job to help her find the beauty in herself and her surroundings. I want her to to be able to relate to me and the experiences I had at that age and ask questions. I want her to feel as if she’s not alone. Let’s face it, high school was/is tough. I’ve been extremely careful in offering my advice in way that enlightens her, instead of telling her what she ought to do. I want to encourage her to be herself no matter what and share my experiences so she can find peace in her own.
We have developed a real and true bond that is growing every day. We make time for each other, watch our regular shows together, have inside jokes, and eat late night ice cream together. I even took her to a Justin Bieber concert this past summer for her birthday. (I had a lot of time to make up for, okay?)
I’m completely embracing my ability to offer insight into our family (and reassurance that yes, we are all a bit quirky and, yes, it’s alright), growing up, boys, friends, and other tough topics. Not only do I get to be an older sister, I get to be a new voice in her life.
Editor’s Note: Keep checking our Well & Wise Classes and Events Calendar for more sessions of I’m Going to be a Big Brother or Sister if your family is preparing for the arrival of a new little brother or sister. This class is made available at HCLS in partnership with Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Contact your nearest Howard County Library System Branch for more information.