We’re all familiar with the effects of self-esteem. With a healthy dose, you feel more confident in anything you do. People perceive you as being more likable. Lower that, and you’re prone to feeling lonely, anxious, and vulnerable. It can cause you to withdraw from relationships and suffer poor performance at work or other tasks.
The drivers of self-esteem tend to be social. It’s why appearances matter. We dress to look our best, consult an Invisalign treatment provider instead of wearing braces, and study body language to improve our posture as we mingle with others. Make an effort, and people around you will respond positively.
Yet during the age of the pandemic, social factors tend to be weakened as our in-person interactions decrease. Without peer feedback, we’re more likely to rely on our own thoughts, experiences, and general health to feel good (or not) about ourselves.
And because the pandemic drives stress, anxiety, and poor health, we’re prone to feeling a dip in self-esteem. Fighting this effect may be the key to thriving amid such uncertain times.
Chronic stress in modern times
There’s no doubt that healthcare workers, first responders, and anyone who has lost a job, a loved one, or been afflicted with Covid-19 will experience stress. But for the rest of the population, weathering the dangers of recent times seems to be a simple matter of staying at home and waiting for a vaccine.
In truth, it’s really not that simple. You may be fortunate enough to escape the direct impact of the coronavirus. Working from home and limiting your travel experiences might be a minor inconvenience compared to what others are suffering. But you’re still prone to feeling chronic stress and even burnout.
Change and uncertainty aren’t inherently bad for people. They can create either acute or chronic stress. The former can lead to growth and motivation. The latter leads to the negative effects we typically associate with the word ‘stress’ itself.
The pandemic favors the build-up of chronic stress because it makes us live through each day facing dangers and factors we can’t control. We don’t have a specific timeline for a working vaccine. We don’t know if our loved ones will stay safe. Our job situation may change at any moment.
We’re not just waiting out a storm. We’re actually living a chronically stressed life, and without being aware of its effects, our mental health could suffer.
The role of self-esteem
The good news is that a high level of self-esteem is known to counteract those sorts of effects. Stress research has shown that cognition plays a critical role in the stress response.
There are two variables involved in this mechanism. The first is our own gauge of self-esteem, which is implicit. Many of us aren’t even aware of this to begin with. The second is our sense of how we live in line with our values.
Frequent and positive interactions with other people normally provide a constant boost to our self-esteem without our noticing it. The isolation enforced by the pandemic erodes at this source of strength.
That leaves us looking to our daily lives for inspiration. And if you value things such as travel, socializing, or making a real difference in the community, the monotonous grind of working from home creates dissonance with those values.
Knowing this, the daunting task of caring for our mental health during a pandemic can be made simple. We need to start intentionally boosting our self-esteem.
Actionable steps for self-esteem
The first two steps towards this goal are things that everyone can practice. Show yourself some compassion. And accept that many things right now are bigger than you and thus beyond your control.
With the drop-off in face-to-face communication, social media can be a dangerous substitute. It can be difficult to find sincerity in a medium where messages tend to be mixed, anonymous, and asynchronous. Give yourself a pep talk about things you can actually do, and don’t be hard on yourself.
Focus on the positive actions you can take. Those include being able to learn a new skill in the spare time you have at home. If you’ve lost a job or feel like your career has stalled, give the job hunt extra effort. And you can try to help others in your community by organizing some form of online relief or speaking out for an advocacy.
These things may not be easy, but they emphasize your agency. Reclaim that sense of being able to make decisions that matter. It will improve your confidence even in the absence of the usual social drivers of self-esteem.