Is Low Self-Esteem Making You Anxious?

Four signs and how to work on each

Posted Mar 11, 2019

People who come to me because of their anxiety are mostly focused, understandably, on the distressing symptoms. They may feel constantly bombarded by upsetting thoughts and at the mercy of intrusive negative thinking. They may be left ill-at-ease, jittery and have difficulty sleeping. Although these symptoms are primary simply because of how distressing and immediate they are, there is often something deeper underlying them. Frequently the deeper issue is not one of anxiety but of a self-esteem deficit. Once you improve your sense of yourself, your capacity to manage life and its ups and downs will grow. 

Here are 4 signs that suggest low self-esteem is at the heart of your anxiety and how to work on each.

1. Getting Stuck On Rejection: Do you notice that your mind scans for instances of or the possibility of rejection? This habit can make you feel anxious and worried about being excluded or disliked. You may find yourself trying to gain acceptance from people who devalue you and that you de-emphasize the people who care and love you for who you really are. Consider if you may be focused to your detriment on obtaining the unobtainable. As a result, you may go in and out of self-defeating, cyclical, relationship patterns. This can make you feel anxious, worried and hyper-vigilant about your perceived flaws when what you really need to focus on is accepting yourself as you are and learning to love that self. Surround yourself with those who love you not those you have to win over.

2. Not Taking Chances: Are you reluctant to take on new interests, work endeavors, friendships? Low self-esteem usually means you are afraid to take risks and do novel activities that would likely increase your positive sense of self. This means you miss out on fun and excitement and even achievement, but you stay safe (although often depressed) in your comfort zone. Over time the prospect of expanding your comfort zone makes you more and more anxious and even panicky. Anxiety can stop you from taking risks and doing the exact things that are going to help you to believe in yourself. You have to put the anxiety to the side and recognize that taking those risks is exactly what you need.

3. Perfectionism: Do you emphasize what’s wrong with you and your life and deemphasize what’s going well? Feeling as if there is always a problem can make you anxious and leave you with a sense of constantly needing to  ‘fix’ things. Once you get all of your wrongs fixed another wrong comes along and you go into fix-it mode all over again. Your time would be better spent considering that the nature of life is change. The idea that you should (or could!) have all of your duck’s in a row at all times is a delusion. Working to accept this frees up your reserves. Take that new energy and concentrate on taking on endeavors that bring you real happiness and meaning.

4. Internal focus: Do you replay upsets from the past or ruminate about future possible mistakes? Internally reliving what you did wrong or imagining what you may or may not mess up in the future creates anxiety. Instead of being stuck in your head, refocus on the present moment. Every time you notice your thoughts plowing down those same old unfulfilling paths, pull yourself back to the present. Predicting and replaying negativity will not prevent you from experiencing setbacks, heartbreak and the judgment or criticism of others. It’s okay to let go and just be. The more you believe in yourself, your abilities, and your capacity to manage whatever comes your way the less anxiety you will face and the better you will feel about yourself. In my book Be Calm: Proven Techniques to Stop Anxiety Now, I describe cutting-edge techniques that can help reduce anxiety on the spot.