How to (not) Improve Self-Esteem

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Part of my recovery from my big dip of anxiety was being part of an IOP program. IOP is intensive outpatient program and are used for all types of mental illnesses and addictions. Mine was tailored to people with high functioning depression and/or anxiety and everyday we went and learned about our brain and how it is ruining us (kidding... kinda) for two hours. I was in the program for five weeks and really benefitted from it. (for those of you from Colorado it was the Wellness Treatment Center but more on this in a tools post to come)

The most profound and seriously groundbreaking thing I learned there was about self-esteem. Western Culture and quite honestly all of my therapists taught me that self-esteem was something that I could improve and in turn my anxiety about not being good enough would go down - I can tell you from my own experience that is just wrong. I did everything to "work" on my self-esteem but I still felt pretty crummy when it came to social situations that made me anxious. So until a class where I learned something crazy I was just failing (and then making myself feel worse of course)

Self-esteem is not even real. I am not kidding you guys - it is nothing more than an opinion you hold about who you are as a person. Most of the time it isn't even true (even if we have really really high self-esteem)

I learned that I JUST AM. There is no _________ after that sentence. It isn't I am smart, or I am pretty or I am a good person. Nope. Just I am.

If you are like me at all you are probably thinking this is nuts and ridiculous. Well it kind of it haha but it also kinda works. When I take away the blank space after that sentence there is no longer an opportunity to label or judge myself. Within itself, "I am" is accepting and prepares me for every situation. If you think about it, no matter what I am doing, if I just "am" then I will be ok. This is a skill I have worked on for a few weeks now and it is changing my life by changing the way I think WITHOUT even touching "self-esteem". 

I have attached the hand out that broke this down for me for all of you. When we are leaving that _____ blank after our self-talk it is so much easier to revert to the bad. As humans, we easily pull from negative memories and experience rather than happy ones. BUT THAT IS OK! That is why I take away the dang blank. It leaves so much more room for all of us to be kind and accepting of who we are at in given point or place in our life. You may be a mother, a son, an anxious person but at the root of it you just are. 

I hope you read through this handout and maybe get some sort of peace when it comes to self-esteem because it can be one less thing you need to "fix". (you can even print it out and put it on your fridge like me - GREAT conversation piece)



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How to Deal With the "I Don't Want This"

I don't want this

One thing I kept repeating over and over in my head and to people around me is “I don’t want this”. I didn’t ask to be anxious. I didn’t wake up one day and say “Hey, lets make life really hard for a while that will be fun.” If all that were true, then mental health wouldn’t be a problem.

I struggle really hard with the fact that I have something that makes me “different”. Something that I have to work extra hard on to be at baseline or what I determine as normal. I think all of us have that one thing – it could be mental health, addiction, ADHD, a strained relationship – literally anything that we have in front of us that we just don’t want.

For weeks I just kept on with this mindset. Here is this thing that I have, I know what it is and I want it to go away so bad. I wanted it so bad that I would drive myself crazy thinking about how badly I just wanted to be normal (um hello rumination see last week’s post here). No surprise that in hindsight that didn’t work. I sat in the hospital the first day of my hold just crying. Crying over the fact that I felt so broken and so alone over something I DIDN'T WANT.

I needed to get better. I wanted to get better. I literally wanted to smash my anxiety so hard that it obliterated into nothing. But, the first thing that I had to accept was really hard for me. I didn’t ask for this AND I didn’t do anything wrong to make me this way or have this problem.

Once you can hear that and I mean REALLY hear that in your mind then you can start to tackle it. Your time and energy are precious. When you are anxious and you are upset so much time and energy is already spent into doing normal day to day tasks so why spend it thinking about how shitty you feel? I didn’t wake up one day and go ok, today is the day that I won’t be anxious and I am going to do this, this and this to stop it. No it takes time and practice but it does get better.

I know you don’t want this shitty feeling. I know you don’t want to have to deal with whatever crap is in your life right now BUT you didn’t ask for it and it will get better. In life we are going to have to deal with things (even people) we don’t want, but if we can take a step back acknowledge that we didn’t ask for it but we are going to accept it anyways then we can start to heal. This doesn't work everyday but it will work some days.

Trust me, easier said then done but we can do it!



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Rumination is the Enemy

Enemy #1 when dealing with anxiety or depression in my mind (and experience) is Rumination. Rumination is the repetitive thinking and loops that our minds get stuck on, 99% of the time it is a negative thought or story we made up that we just can’t seem to shake.

Let me paint my rock bottom rumination picture for you... Last month I was living with my parents and one day I was left alone at their house for less than an hour. It only took me 15 minutes to go from blindly watching TV on the couch to "I am going to die". I was pacing the house, hyperventilating, and staring out the window like a dog waiting for its owner to come home. At one point I remember my loop of thoughts getting so bad that I just layed on the floor in the hallway and bawled my eyes out. I. Was. A. Slave. To. My. Mind. (and it sucked). I was on a cycle of "anxiety is going to kill me" "I am a worthless bitch who deserves this" "you can't do anything about this" "the rest of your life is going to be miserable" and my personal favorite "you did this to yourself".

When we get stuck on these thoughts we are training our brain that this is what normal thinking is like. While the brain doesn’t necessarily like it, it just goes along with it anyway. The brain is like that one friend you have who is down to do just about anything they is told (like hey I know it's 1 am but we are going out). The problem with this is each story line we have in rumination and each painful memory that it brings up is stored away. The brain remembers them even if you don't.

Our memory is a slave to our mood. When we ruminate we unlock a box of anxiety and depression that holds every other rumination and painful feeling we have had. We get access to it and our brain doesn’t want to close it. Studies have shown that after 10 minutes of thinking the same thought the law of diminishing returns kicks in and any repetitive thought is no longer helpful. So my rock bottom made sure that box stayed open and those thoughts stayed accessible to me for the next miserable few weeks.

One way I was taught to think of it is like a test. Remember when you were told that if you don’t understand a question or a problem move on and come back to it or else you will never finish the rest of the test. Rumination is getting stuck on problem #1 and screwing us over to even have a shot at passing the test (or life however you want to think about it).

So what do you do?

I find myself most prone to rumination when I am 1) alone and 2) doing nothing or have no plans to do anything. While I am just sitting and watching TV or doing the dishes or even walking Stella these thoughts and loops can come up for me – often in the form of “I will never get better” “This is miserable so I am miserable” or “I am not good enough and therefore I feel like crap”.

CLEARLY, none of these are helpful so I think of it in two ways – the first is like a pop-up ad. These thoughts are the little shits that pop up when I am trying to watch my illegally recorded TV shows on the internet or that little box that wants me to put my email in before I can shop on a website. In real life, you don’t sit there reading the “sign up here!” line over and over. No, you click X and move on with your dang life!

If that doesn’t work the second method, I found helpful is to change my thinking in the smallest way. When I am having a thought I can’t shake or don’t like I say to myself “I am having the thought that ______” so instead of thinking “I am such a bad person” I say “I am having the thought that I am such a bad person”. It makes it less concrete and easy to acknowledge and then X out of quicker.

I know this was a lot but this really have been one of THE most helpful tips and tricks I have learned. The more I practice this the more my anxiety drops and I am able to handle day to day situations and life! Even people without anxiety or depression can benefit from eliminating rumination in their life! But if you can take one thing from this post let it be this: just because you have a thought doesn't mean it is true, if fact if it is negative I can almost promise you it isn't. Don't be a slave to these lies like I was - it will get better!



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A Lesson in Rejection

How I Learned From Rejection

It happens to the best of us. When we least expect it and sometimes for unfair reasons and no reasons at all. My whole life has been teaching me a lesson in rejection whether it be from the boy I dated in high school or the modeling agent who told me I would never be tall enough at 13 – they all had one thing in common.

I have found that rejection says more about the person or group you cannot be apart of than you, yourself as the human that you are.

That was a hard lesson to learn and a hard thing to accept but this past, quarter when I did my outlook started to change. Being rejected stings. It hurt when a boy likes someone else more and it hurt when a group of girls are just plain mean,

but one thing never changed through those situations (ok, well a little but for the most part) … I stayed the same. Their rejection wasn’t because of my looks, or because I wasn’t nice enough or even because of this blog. Their rejection was because of something they deemed was more important whether it be another’ looks, some else’s personality or even jealousy (yikes, I know but stick with me).

I spent a long time when I was 13, my sophomore year of high school and this year trying to figure out what went wrong. Was I not good enough? I let my thoughts and anxiety spin and spin and live in a vicious circle which did nothing but confirm my biggest fear – no one actually wanted me.

Until one day I realized it walking to my car… This wasn’t about me. This had nothing to do with me at all. I constantly try to do the best I can – be nice, be friendly, be ambitious etc. etc. but just because my best wasn’t good enough for them doesn’t mean it can’t be good enough for me.

The point of this post is to sit here a few weeks after another sting and tell you something that I wish I could’ve saved a lot of tears, anxiety and sour patch kids over. If the next time you do the best you can – the best that you are proud of – and are rejected remember one thing: this says more about them than it does about you.

And with that I say I hope you all are having a wonderful week, month, year whatever it may be and that no matter what you are going through in life there is always a lesson to be learned.



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