By Ellen McGrath, published on October 1, 2001 - last reviewed on December 2, 2010
One of the best defenses against depression is also one of the most elusive. A strong and positive sense of self immunizes against depression, but it is hard to build and maintain.
Research has shown that the more roles people fill, the more sources of self-esteem they have. Meaningful work has long been one of the important ways to feel good about oneself.
But where work has traditionally been a source of self-esteem, that link is now endangered. The one thing that is most likely to suffer damage in today's workplace is precisely what most of us hope to get there—self-esteem. The modern workplace presents some formidable psychological hazards.
There are many ways self-esteem now gets battered at work. The pace of work demands is so fast that no one stops to acknowledge even excellent performance. The demand for productivity has grown so significantly that no one feels they are doing enough; everyone looks at the undone workload and feels inadequate. We work an unprecedented number of hours. That encroaches on our downtime and deprives us of the most restorative of experiences—connecting with self, friends and family.
The added pressures have contributed to a genuine rise in aggression and rudeness in the workplace. Rudeness anywhere makes people feel devalued. In part rudeness is the behavioral fallout of the widespread loss of loyalty of employers to employees and vice versa that has accompanied rapidly changing market conditions. Also, many younger workers, not trained in social and communication skills, challenge authority inappropriately and assume an entitlement unfulfillable against the demands for increased productivity.
Job security is at an all-time low, compounding the fragility of self-esteem. The upshot is the workplace is no longer an arena in which people can count on fortifying their sense of self. Instead it has become a major source of stress and depression.
Maintaining self-esteem is a lifelong psychological process. Think of self-esteem as a mental muscle that must be developed and maintained through regular psychological workouts—or you will be vulnerable to depression and anxiety. It must be renegotiated at each stage of life and in each domain of experience. When we build up the self-esteem muscle deep inside us, we learn to like and respect who we are, no matter what is happening around us.
Here are four strategies for boosting self-esteem at work:
Then exercise your self-esteem muscle and convert the negative thought to positive solutions. "I'm so stupid" becomes "So I made a mistake. I'll learn from it." When your boss criticizes you, take a deep breath, give yourself time to regroup and move into action to correct the problem. Don't brood or avoid; those two behaviors kill self-esteem.