How exercise can help with self esteem
What is self esteem?
Self esteem meaning: your overall sense of worth or value. Your self esteem comes down to how confident you feel in your life, how much you believe in yourself, how deeply you trust yourself.
Self esteem is critical to the way you show up to your life. If you have high self esteem you’ll be able to:
- Relax in high-pressure situations
- Show up in confidence to social gatherings, meetings, work, and so on
- Assert yourself in a calm and graceful way
- Communicate your needs, desires and boundaries
- Say no when you want to because you don’t have the urge to people-please
- Achieve big things because you’re not afraid to take risks and to fail – your sense of worthiness is unwavering
- Choose relationships that serve your highest good
- Create amazing memories because you say yes to the things you know serve your highest good
- Create more time for yourself – because you’re comfortable saying no
What is low self esteem?
When we have low self esteem, we think little of ourselves. We lack confidence and a sense of integral self-worth. We might tolerate treatment and treatment we otherwise wouldn’t, or underperform in our lives, because we don’t believe we can achieve the things we want.
Low self esteem has a number of causes and varies immensely between individuals. It’s likely that it started in childhood. Whether or not we had the most supportive, loving parents we are all at risk of having our self esteem harmed in childhood. Even though our primary caregivers affected us the most, things we overheard and comments made by other family members, teachers or classmates can all have lasting effects on the way we think about ourselves.
For example, if we had parents that only celebrated us when we got top grades at school, we are likely as adults to also reduce our sense of worthiness, our self esteem, to academic or work-related accomplishments.
Or, if we were celebrated for a sport we did as children, and then when we got older and stopped playing that sport, we may have never felt that sense of self esteem since!
This is an unhealthy way to live. We all deserve and are worthy of an unwavering sense of self esteem regardless of what’s happening externally in our lives. Few of us were taught this as children but it is okay because we can teach ourselves!
How to build confidence and self esteem
When we believe something about ourselves, we think and act in a way that reinforces that belief. So if you’ve lacked confidence and self esteem for a long time, you would have been proving this to yourself for a long time too. This is good news because we can solve this by replacing the limiting belief that causes low self esteem with a positive one that reinforces confidence and high self esteem.
For example, maybe you held a belief that you’re just not sporty and very inflexible. So, you avoid sports and stretching, seeing yourself as a lost cause. Maybe you tried to go to the gym here and there but you ended up giving up, reinforcing those feelings of shame, and proving to yourself you’re just not meant to be a fit person. Instead, you could choose the belief that you haven’t made exercise a priority in the past and now you’re ready to embark on your fitness journey with consistency and dedication. You choose to believe that as long as you keep showing up you will see improvements and there’s nothing inherently wrong with you. So, you show up consistently, you get support, you do your research and before you know it you’ve set a new baseline for yourself of general fitness.
This is how we can build confidence and self esteem. Choose thoughts and actions that reinforce that we can do it and have got what it takes. Prove to yourself you have confidence and self esteem to last a lifetime! Get out there, do the thing, show up, don’t take yourself too seriously, try again.
To be clear, there’s a subtle difference between confidence and self esteem. Confidence refers more to ones belief in their abilities, while self esteem refers more to one’s sense of self. In many cases, they’re interchangeable but it’s worth noting the difference.
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How Exercise helps with Self Esteem
Exercise helps us with self-esteem because it is a way to strengthen ourselves mentally and physically in a relatively safe and stable environment. The repeated practice of challenging ourselves, getting through it and feeling that rush of endorphins helps us believe in ourselves more and more.
Endorphins are chemicals released by the pituitary gland to cope with pain or stress and are released when we exercise. Endorphins, known as “feel good” chemicals, have many health benefits including feeling happier and a higher capacity to feel pleasure.
It is likely that the release of endorphins while we exercise leads to improved self esteem as we associate the act of challenging ourselves with positive emotions.
And, there is research to show that increasing endorphins actually leads to an increase in our dopamine levels too! Dopamine also plays a vital role in our health and happiness.
These would be my go-tos for a client that wants to boost their self confidence and self esteem with exercise:
- Waving from downward dog, to a plank position and then back into a downward dog: I would advise inhaling into the plank and exhaling from the plank to the downward dog. This powerful full body waving motion requires strength and stamina and works the entire body. It feels graceful yet immensely powerful and you’ll quickly realise how much stronger you feel, especially in your core and arms.
- Isometric half push up hold: this is a holding position whereby you don’t move. It’s like a plank meets push up – as you try to get your elbows inline with your shoulders. There are a number of ways to modify this such as dropping down one or both of your knees. It’s very powerful and challenging. You can use this movement in a flow too for that powerful yet graceful sensation. The best way to describe this is by using Sanskrit yoga terms – chatarunga dandasana (which I refer to here as an isometric half push up hold), push your body up into an upward dog, then lift your hips back into a downward dog, before waving yourself forward into a high plank and starting again.
- Compound weight baring exercises: aside from an exercise routine founded on these bodyweight moves that address strength, mobility and flexibility in unique fluid movements I would advise complimenting this with weight training. Weight training is a huge endorphin producer, can be very euphoric and a sure way to boost your confidence as you see your strength increase week to week. It’s satisfying, feels amazing and is very effective (and safe, assuming you’re doing the exercises correctly and not overloading yourself). My favourite weight bearing exercises are sumo squats, lunges, and Romanian deadlifts. Always start light and if you’re unsure about the correct form, checking that should be your priority! It’s always recommended, if it’s accessible for you, to get professional advice from a personal trainer. And a personal trainer can offer you so much more than this too! You can learn more about this here
Exercise can be a way for you to show your brain that you can do hard things, that you can break glass ceilings left right and centre and that discomfort and even failure is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it’s something to embrace. The more discomfort and failure we can face, the more calculated risks we take, the more successful our lives will be. And you were born worthy of success, whatever success means to you. Exercise can be your daily reminder that you are unstoppable, that you show up for yourself and that you’re committed to your health and happiness. When you feel all these things deeply and truly your self esteem can only grow and its effects will seep into every area of your life. I doubt you can find one person that exercises regularly that will tell you that doing so has had no positive effect on their self esteem. It’s just impossible! Let exercise – this tangible and powerful practice – be a service to your body, your mind, and your life.
If self-esteem is something you’re working on, I would highly recommend starting a meditation practice too. Meditation is life changing for many people and you can find out more about it here
Written By Bea: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal