How to get self-esteem back when you’re depressed

Sazuna6 asks: Recently I’ve been struggling a lot. Without getting into specifics, college applications didn’t work out, a relationship that I was super invested in didn’t work out, (the fact that I am still in love with that person isn’t helping), a lot has been going on in the family, and I’m also clinically depressed so I feel like I’m in this downward spiral. I know most of the sadness or hopelessness comes from the depression itself, but if we were to take that out of the equation for a while, how do you think I can get myself back up? I don’t want to be drowning in self-pity right now. College is starting, I want to be able to have a positive outlook, but everything that’s happened just tore my self-esteem to shreds and I’m not sure how I can put the pieces back together. Any word of advice would be super duper helpful <3

Hi Sazuna6 –


I don’t know a lot about what you’re asking in particular – for example, you say that college applications didn’t go well, but then you say that “College is starting” – but I sure do know about self-esteem, and it makes sense that you’re going through a time where yours has taken a beating.  So I can offer a few thoughts to maybe help.


The first, and most important thing, to be aware of is that self-esteem has nothing, and I mean nothing,  to do with reality.  Every day we see people who brag about themselves when they’ve accomplished relatively little, and people who’ve done great things feeling bad about themselves.  Sure, accomplishing things helps self-esteem, and is the best and easiest way to get it, but if your self-esteem relies on success, it’s not real self-esteem.  What we want is for you to feel good about yourself, that you’re “good enough,” no matter how well or badly you’re doing at different activities.


And especially that the three downers you point out are all not your doing.  A relationship didn’t work out – that might be 50% your fault, but no more than that.  College applications didn’t work out – well, lots of schools regret people they pick, and hopefully you learned some things to help you do better next time.  And your family is having problems – well that is SOOO normal, and that doesn’t reflect on you at all!


And then you’re actually clinically depressed.  Or at least you’re saying so.  Have you been diagnosed?  And if so, do you have a doctor working to help you with it, maybe with some medications?  (If not, please do so; it might save your life!)


Okay, so now that we have all that straight, what can I recommend?  Here goes:


  • First, start with your body. Eat well, get sleep, and get exercise.  One of the easiest ways to help depression is to move your body as much as you can.  People who are so depressed they can barely get out of bed can be helped enormously by just walking down their street for one block.  But if you can do more than that, please do!  Go for a hike, or a run.  Or swimming is just wonderful.  This will help the chemicals in your brain, but also might help improve your looks.  And are you eating lousy junky comfort food?  Get onto some vegetables and fruits.  I know that ice cream feels great (and I love it soooooo much!), but your overall mood and outlook will do better if you get more hummus and carrots in there instead!


  • Second, start a project.   If you’re starting classes now, that’s great, but if not, whatever you find interesting will work.  Take up painting or an instrument, or write a memoir about this lousy year.  If you even try to get better at Sudoku or Crossword Puzzles, just improving at them will give that self-esteem a great boost.


  • Third, socialize. Okay, you’re still in love with this guy who’s not there.  I’m sorry, I know that’s awful.  But call ten friends, and get out there doing things with them, since you can’t do them with him.  Do you like restaurants or movies?  Or maybe they’d go to the gym with you or join you for a hike.  But get with them, talk about meaningful things and total nonsense, and LAUGH!  Laughing is one wonderful, healthy thing you humans have that we don’t.  So take advantage of that fact!


  • Fourth, I know it’s a bit cheesy, but give yourself some affirmations. At least for a little while.  Maybe write “You’re Beautiful” on your mirror so you see that every time you look at yourself.  A post-it on your desk saying “You’re Lovable” might be good.  Or pinning a note onto your favorite dress, in your closet, saying “You look so hot in this!”  Just anything to counter-act those stupid lying voices that Depression sticks into your head.


  • And fifth – oh you know me well enough to know what I’m going to say here… Can you get a dog?! We are the best antidepressants ever created, and are always willing to tell you how great you are, in ways no one can ever deny.  When you walk in the door, we’ll tell you, perfectly honestly, that it’s the high point of our day.  When you sit inside too long without exercising, we’ll harass you to take us out for a walk.  And when you’re feeling really bad, we’ll feel it and give you the best love and comfort anyone can.  We also are fantastic role-models for such things as, oh, not doing well with college applications or being in a failed relationship.  We’ll show you exactly the best way to deal with them.



So those are my main suggestions.  But you’ve already done the single best thing anyone with Depression can do, which is to reach out to someone else.  In this case, you reached out to me.  After all this time.  And I don’t have words to tell you what an honor that is!


Stay in touch!


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