The Relationship Between Anxiety and Low Self-Esteem
Anxiety is a common emotion for low self-esteem sufferers. Negative emotions often stem from feelings of failure, whether that means displeasing someone we love, or disappointing someone we respect. Because many of us judge our own self-worth based on other’s perceptions of us, we personalize those negative experiences — leading to feelings of anxiety or depression.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a stress alarm that goes off whether or not an actual threat exists. We may feel worried about something in our future or in our past. We may be uneasy about a new situation. We may generally feel anxiety due to uncertainty about our lives. Blood pressure may rise, the heart may begin to beat faster, and the muscles may tense when we become anxious. Because anxiety is related to our capacity to identify and respond to stress, when our stress levels are on overdrive, so too are our anxiety responses.
For some of us, anxiety sends us over the edge. We are compelled to act, quickly if not rationally, in an attempt to make the stress we feel dissipate. We may engage in compulsive behaviors as an anxiety stress response, such as cleaning, eating, or exercise. While cleaning and exercise may seem like healthy behavior, when they are done frequently in response to anxiety without attempting to identify and address the root cause, they can manifest in unhealthy ways.
Our job is to identify how our low self-esteem may be contributing to our anxiety. How is our anxiety related to our self-worth? What fear of failure or disappointment may be creating this negative emotion? We must learn how to separate ourselves internally from what happens around us, and stop personalizing our negative experiences. One mistake in front of your boss does not mean that your boss thinks you are a failure — this is one example of a pattern of unhealthy thinking that creates our low self-esteem and feeds our anxiety habit.
How to Cope with Anxiety in a Healthy Way
Our anxiety is like an alarm that we did not intend to set. In order to cope with these feelings, we must learn to rest our anxiety alarm. This can be done chemically with medication, or cognitively by making a change in our core anxiety-inducing behaviors. When we are overwhelmed by anxiety to the point where we cannot function because our stress levels compel us to act in self-destructive ways over and over again, medicine may be the temporary answer. Some people cannot begin the inner work of separation until their brains are in a more receptive state to stress reduction. Once anxiety does not rule our life, we can begin to decide to change how we react to it.
The first step to overcoming anxiety and its root cause, low self-esteem, is to address our lack of control over external forces. We cannot always control what happens in our lives, but we do have control over one thing — our reaction to the day-to-day events we experience. To begin, we must cease to internalize every negative thing that occurs in our lives.
Too often, sufferers of low self-esteem are anxious about the fact that something bad happened to them or because of them and they cannot accept that, perhaps, a bad thing simply happened. In order to move forward, we must learn to accept that the world is indifferent to us — it moves on without us, and often events that occur are impersonal manifestations of time ticking by. The trick to doing this is to not simultaneously devalue ourselves. That is, even though the world may be indifferent to us as a person, that does not mean that our everyday actions do not matter to someone else in the world — or many other people, in fact. We must decide that we have inherent worth and value in an indifferent world. And that is not an easy feat.
Conquering Anxiety: Deciding We Are Worth It
There are many steps to understand how to cope with anxiety. They include avoiding and defusing our anxiety triggers, or events that consistently activate our stress anxiety response. Elsewhere on my blog, you can find a whole post on how to avoid anxiety triggers. In order to not only cope with but to conquer anxiety, we must first decide that we are worth it. We are worthy, despite what we have done or not done, simply because of who we are. Our actions can certainly contribute to our feelings of self-worth, but that is only after we know that our lives are worth living — free of anxiety, fear, depression, and yes, low-self-esteem.
Sufferers of low self-esteem can get stuck in a cycle that says “I am a failure; therefore, I must not act lest I fail. I feel anxious about any time I am forced to interact with the world in a public way.” We are not failures. You are not a failure. I want you to repeat this to yourself every day, as many times as you need to, to remind yourself it is true. Once you believe this, you must move on to “I am worthy.” We are worthy, you are worthy — of love, of life, of living free from self-doubt. Your anxiety cannot control you once you believe in your own worth.