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Self Image and Anxiety

This page created 10 November 2012

By Robyn (ADAVIC Volunteer)

A person’s self image is a mental image of themselves, incorporating objective details (such as height, weight, and hair colour) and subjective details (which can include being intelligence, humour, and loyalty). It is basically how a person sees themselves and what they think other people think of them. This portrayal may or may not be accurate. The way we respond to situations is highly influenced by how we see ourselves and thus our self-image greatly effects how we experience the world.

A lot of people don’t consider their anxiety levels in relation to their self-image, however, one can very much influence the other. For instance, if a person creates a negative self-image by belittling themselves to others or to themselves, they can   raise feelings of self-doubt, which can then lead to fear and anxiety. When you talk about yourself in a negative light, your  subconscious responds, trying to protect yourself from danger. This activates your fight/flight response, and your body increases your vigilance and anxiety levels to alert you. This anxiety can then perpetuate a negative self-image, which creates a vicious cycle.

So how can we break this cycle? Self-images are fairly stable, however, they can be changed over time. In the same way a person’s self-image is lowered, it can be raised, but it does take time.

People often set very high standards for themselves, and when they don’t live up to these, it can shake their self-confidence and affect their self-image. It’s important to remember the difference between pushing and torturing yourself. A certain level of critique can help push you to achieve more, but when this pressure is too much, it sets unrealistic expectations, which feed into a negative self-image.

Here are a few strategies that can help raise your self-image:

  • When you recognise a negative thought, put a stop to it. Rather than beating yourself up over something small, try to let it go.
  • Accept your flaws and mistakes. Everybody makes them. If you make a mistake, address it, and move on. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Change your self-criticism into something positive. Instead of thinking “I failed this test, I’m so stupid,” try to think “maybe I could get a better mark if I started studying sooner.” Change thoughts like “I’m such a failure, I didn’t get everything done on time,” to “maybe next time if I set enough time aside, I could get all these tasks done.”
  • Don’t feel responsible for everything, especially for things out of your control. You can’t be everything for everyone. If you place too much pressure on yourself, you can unnecessarily raise your anxiety levels.
  • Focus on what you can do, and not on what you can’t. Instead of getting bogged down with the negative, embrace the positive and remember your strengths.

Another strategy is repeating affirmations so you remember not to be so hard on yourself. Here are some examples of  affirmations:

  • I love and accept myself unconditionally
  • I release the need to prove myself to anyone as I am my own self
  • I am not responsible for the way other people act or feel
  • I take responsibility for myself and allow others to do the same
  • I forgive myself for being imperfect like everybody else. I am living the best life I can

Remember that the way you see yourself can influence your anxiety levels.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember to treat yourself kindly. Increasing your self-image will help to keep your anxiety levels in check.

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