By Amy Marturana Winderl
Despite your best efforts to build a rock-solid self-esteem, outside forces (see: social media, “reality” TV, unsolicited comments from strangers, and conversations around the dinner table) can have a very real effect on your confidence. So we partnered with Wondermind to ask Alexis Conason, PsyD, clinical psychologist and author of The Diet-Free Revolution, to give us advice for self-esteem that can actually hold up in real life—without just slapping some toxic positivity on it.
Know self-esteem saboteurs are, unfortunately, a part of life.
While you can’t erase all those unrealistic images and unsolicited comments from existence, you can get better at calling them out for what they are: annoying obstacles that don’t deserve a whole lot of your time or attention. “The first thing I encourage people to do is recognize where those messages are coming from and how much effort, money, and other outside forces are at play in having us feel bad about ourselves,” Dr. Conason says. “The first step of healing or building self-esteem is starting to recognize that those messages we’re getting are not the truth—they’re not accurate representations of how we should see ourselves.”
Practice being mindful instead of being positive.
Try to be more mindful of your thoughts so that you can notice trends in the way you talk to yourself (and if that fluctuates based on what you’re doing, who you’re with, etc.). “A mindfulness practice can be really powerful in terms of building foundational skills for catching and observing the critical thoughts about yourself as they’re happening,” Dr. Conason says. The next time you catch yourself in a negative thought spiral, accept that these thoughts exist and that they’ll most likely pass.
Focus on compassion and gratitude.
Try treating yourself with the same kindness you would extend to other people you care about. “You can love your body even if you don’t like your body,” Dr. Conason says. “We can foster a sense of compassion toward ourselves and treat ourselves with a deep love—like a child or beloved pet or friend—even if we don’t like what our body looks like.”
When in doubt, extend some gratitude to your body. “Research shows journaling for even a brief period of time each day and writing down three things you appreciate about your body can lead to improvements in body image.” These can be really simple things, like, “I carried all my groceries home,” or “My arms gave my children a hug,” or even simply, “I woke up and am breathing today,” Dr. Conason says. The key is to not focus on how your body looks.
Cleanse your social media feed.
If social media is really messing with you, Dr. Conason recommends liberally tapping that unfollow button. “Unfollow influencers, celebrities, or even people in your everyday life who are posting content that makes you feel bad about yourself.” After that detox, refill your feed with diverse bodies, people who look like you, and people who just seem happy with themselves, Dr. Conason suggests.
Become a boundary-setting queen.
By boundaries, we mean telling your mom or BFF, “Hey, I’m trying not to talk so much about my body, so can we not focus on that and talk about something else?” when something body-related comes up. Or maybe you head to the bathroom at a happy hour when a triggering topic is being discussed, or you find a new lunch crew at work if your current one is just a never-ending chorus of diet talk and negativity. How you handle things will depend on the person, Dr. Conason says. And, hey, give yourself a break—this all takes time, but you got this.