Monday, 26 February 2018

Spot signs of distress in teens and how to ensure their psychological wellbeing.

Spot signs of distress in teens and how to ensure their psychological wellbeing.

Teenagers have a lot of pressure to perform academically while their bodies undergo many changes.

Today our youth experience stress on a very large scale - even from the early age of 10 years old. This is due to many reasons, including higher academic workload, pressure to perform in sport-, cultural- and other extracurricular activities, as well as social requirements. 

As a parent, you want your children to be happy and healthy. However, some parents tend to underestimate the amount of pressure their adolescent children experience. It is a parent’s duty to make sure their children know they are loved and that they are equipped with techniques on how to deal with stress. Maureen Killoran explained that, “Stress is not what happens to us, it’s our response to what happens, and our response is something we can choose.” See also our previous blog post ‘7 Techniques to help young children deal with stress’ for advice on the matter.

Remember that every child handles stress in his or her own way. Not all forms of stress is bad, but if the cause of the issue isn’t addressed it can have many negative impacts and lead to distress. Distress is considered to be extreme anxiety, which can lead to unhappiness and misery, and eventually depression. 

Some reasons why adolescents experience distress:
  1. Academic and extracurricular pressure.
  2. Not getting along with friends or being bullied – often forms of abuse (verbal or physical) is also prevalent.
  3. Pressure from friends, peers and social media platforms to be cool, popular, beautiful, smart, etc. 
  4. Not being able to get into a good university, due to lack of skills and abilities, low grades or lack of funds.
  5. Taking on the role of a parent – when living with a single parent or when both parents are constantly working, the eldest child may feel pressured to take on the traditional role of a parent and raise their siblings, and ultimately growing up too fast.
  6. Worried about the family’s financial state.

Almost all major causes of distress are rooted in fear. These fears can cause teens to over analyse their problems and experience it disproportionally bigger than what it actually is. They fail to see their circumstances in perspective and therefore fail to see the simple solution. This doesn’t mean that their fears are unfounded or unimportant. What it means is that in spite of the causes of these issues, there are always things you can do to prevent the after effects from damaging them mentally and physically in the long term. 

The easiest way to spot signs of distress is to really know and understand your child and then to look for behavioural changes outside his or her norm. If you feel worried that your child might be suffering from distress, look out for the following behavioural changes:

Physical changes.
  • Constantly worried about their physical appearance. When adolescents go through puberty their bodies change quickly – sometimes too quickly for them to feel comfortable in their own skin. It is normal that these changes will have an effect on them and it is normal for them to be concerned that they develop correctly. But, becoming obsessed over your body or appearance is unhealthy. Teens can develop Body Dysmorphic Disorder and/or other eating and exercise related disorders. Obsessing over their appearance can also distract them from what is really important, like paying attention in class. Their obsessions can damage their relationships with friends and family. They might end up doing things to their body that they will later regret.
  • Eating patterns are disturbed. They either eat a lot more or a lot less than usual. Teenagers tend to over eat when they find temporary relief in comfort food. This is harmful since when they pick up weight they are not only at risk of physical health issues, but they might also get a lower self-esteem. Distress can also cause teenagers’ appetite to disappear. It is equally unhealthy when teens don’t eat. They require healthy nutritious food in order to grow and function during the day.
  • Change in exercise patterns. Distress can cause adolescents to exercise either a lot more or a lot less. They might start to exercise obsessively, because they feel like it is the only way for them to have control over themselves when in their minds everything else is chaos. When they start being a lot less active than they would have normally been, it might be from severe stress that cause fatigue, fear, anxiety, low motivation, low self-esteem and/or depression.
  • Sleeping patterns change. They don’t sleep well or constantly want to sleep. Stress can keep teenagers awake during the night. They lie in their beds worried about their problems. When they don’t sleep enough they never fully recharge. This can influence their performance in academics, sport- and cultural activities, and also negatively influence their relationships. On the other hand, stress can also weigh them down. It may cause exhaustion and fatigue –which leads them to sleep the whole day and when they wake up they still feel tired.
  • Recurring nightmares. Teens under severe stress may be prone to having nightmares. Nightmares are also common after exposure to traumatic events. It is usually a normal reaction to stress – as a means for your brain to help you work through these negative experiences. However, if it recurs, it can become a debilitating sleeping disorder known as Nightmare Disorder (formerly Dream Anxiety Disorder). These nightmares can be very vivid and terrifying. When it starts to disturb the sleeping patters of adolescents and even cause daytime distress, it can impair many important aspects of a normal teen’s life.
  • Headaches and stomach aches. These aches which are often brushed off as being less critical temporary pain are clear signs of distress among teenagers if it occurs regularly. Their distress has manifested as physical pain in their bodies. Headaches and stomach aches can cause a lack of appetite, nausea or even the development of stomach ulcers. It can easily keep them from performing well in their school work or doing things they usually enjoy.

Changes in emotional stability.
  • Unable to control anger or sadness.  As parents we still need to let our teens experience these emotions without judgement.  It is not only emotions associated with young kids. If they feel that they can’t express themselves, they will alienate you and become distant.
  • A deep sadness surrounds them or they express feelings of hopelessness.
  • Irrational reaction or irrational outbursts. 

Changes in performance.
  • Drop in grades, even though they still devote the same amount of time and effort to their studies.
  • Bully others or are being bullied.
  • Pressure to perform well on the sport field can lead to injuries, since they push themselves harder than what their bodies are of capable of doing.

Changes in hygiene.
  • Doesn’t bath or shower regularly and they don’t “feel like cleaning up” – even though personal hygiene and appearance has never been an issue before.
  • Sweating abnormal amounts during the day for no apparent reason – not due to sport or exercise activities. This type of sweat is known as ‘stress sweat’. Sweating when sleeping is also common.

Change in outlook of their values.
  • Withdraws from family activities.
  • Doesn’t spend time with friends any more.
  • Lost interest in extracurricular activities and hobbies.
  • Talks about suicide.
  • Argues a lot with parents.
  • Shows aggressive behaviour.
  • Starts using drugs or alcohol as a way to cope.

When your teen is under distress over a long-term period, it could lead to a breakdown of the immune system and likelihood of depression. Take caution not to dismiss your adolescent child’s emotions, fears and stress as being less important or serious than that of an adult. Ensure that they feel loved and treated fairly. Tell them that they can speak freely about any stress and anxiety they experience.

In case you feel unusually worried about your child, seek professional help from a doctor, psychologist and/or psychiatrist.  You can also contact the following helplines:

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group
For counselling queries e-mail:
Counselling line:  011 234 4837
Suicidal Emergency:  0800 567 567
24hr Helpline:  0800 12 13 14

The South African Life Line
National Counselling Line:  0861 322 322

Monday, 19 February 2018

7 Techniques to help young children deal with stress.

7 Techniques to help young children deal with stress.

Stress from schoolwork and external factors has many negative effects on developing children.

Sometimes the young life of a busy schoolkid can be overwhelming – school work, sport, culture, other extracurricular activities, family, friends and everything in between… We feel stressed out and we just want life to give us a chance to take a breath. Yet, life doesn’t stop for anyone! It is our responsibly to find ways how we can cope with stress and still be our happy and unique selves.

William James said: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” We are in control of our thoughts and we can definitely control our stress levels when they get out of hand. Here are 7 easy techniques to help you deal with stress.

1. Manage your time.
Most people tell children and teenagers to “manage their time”, but no one really shows them how. Our third blog from January 15th, 2018 - ‘4 Tips to help you set up a schedule for a successful school year’ tells you everything you need to know about setting up a schedule. Other than setting up a schedule for your school work, study time and extracurricular activities, you also need to set out a time to rest. This can be anything from a 15 minute break to a full day over the weekend to do nothing but to recharge. 

Manage your time by getting well organised. Keep a journal where your activities (and the required time) is written out. If you realise that you have too many activities in a week, it may be a wise decision to cancel one or two activities. It isn’t worth it to make yourself sick over stress from not being able to do everything, because you will eventually end up doing nothing!

When you manage your time, remember to only focus on the things you really can control. Sometimes we can stress so much about the uncertainties and then play out stressful scenarios in our heads over everything that can possibly go wrong, and then we forget why we want and need to do it in the first place. Choose to release those thoughts and only focus on that which you have power over. You have the power over many things – such as your productivity and what you waste time on.

2. Take care of your body.
Physical exercise is one of the greatest stress relievers in the world. That’s because the hormone endorphin is produced when you exercise. Endorphin is a feel-good hormone that makes you happy. When you are happy you automatically feel less stressed and will perform better regardless of the heavy workload. Stretching or Yoga is also wonderful for stress relief because you loosen the tension in tight muscles. Try this simple stress-relief stretch: Lie flat on your back and lift your legs to rest against the wall to form an L-shape with the wall and floor. This helps relief tension in your hamstrings and lower back (where you store a lot of stress during the day when you sit at your desk).

Massages help to release trapped stress and other toxins in your body. You can either go for a massage with a trained massage therapist or even just give yourself a hand, neck or foot rub. Your feet store a lot of stress since it has pressure points where the nerves connect. Take a golf ball or any small ball and simply place one foot over the ball and press gently on it. Roll your foot over the ball in circles to start to relieve the pressure.

It’s not only important what you do on the outside for your body, but also what you put inside your body. There are many foods and drinks that relief stress. We have listed some below, but it is certainly not limited to only these:

Asparagus, Avocado, Blueberries, Almond and Cashew Nuts, Oranges, Salmon, Spinach, Garlic, Oatmeal, Chamomile Tea, Dark Chocolate (it regulates levels of the stress hormone cortisol and stabilizes your metabolism), as well as other foods rich in Magnesium and Omega 3 Oils.

Get enough sleep. Growing children need at least 8 hours of good sleep for recovery after a busy day, for their growth and for their brains to function. Take care of your sleeping patterns. Go to bed and wake up the same time every day.

3. Learn to breathe.
Taking the time to breathe deeply when you’re in stressful situations can lower your stress levels. When you breathe-in deep breaths you allow more oxygen to your brain. This helps your brain think clearer and better thoughts. It also calms down your respiration and allows your heart rate to slow down. Next time you feel stressed, try this breathing technique:

Sit quietly on the floor or your bed with your legs crossed. Begin to inhale deeply – don’t let your shoulders rise, keep your upper body and chest still. Focus only on your breathing. Let your belly fill up with air and pull your diaphragm down. Inhaling should only expand your stomach. While you inhale count slowly from 1 to 4 then hold your breath for 3 counts. Now exhale. Slowly breathe out all the air from your body with an even exhalation. Remember to keep your upper body still. While you exhale count slowly from 1 to 5. Repeat this exercise for a minute and you will already start to feel relaxed.

4. Talk about it.
Sometimes when we feel stressed we tend to close off from our loved ones. It is very important to be able to talk about the stress you experience with someone you love and respect. Tell them what makes you feel stressed. Ask for a hug and for help if your relationship allows it. You can also start writing in a journal about your experiences. This helps your mind to release any cropped up feelings that you are trying to suppress. Simply writing or speaking about it in a safe environment helps to lower your stress levels.

5. Seek the sun.
Spending time in nature will reduce feelings of fear, anger and anxiousness. When you sit in nature for a couple of minutes each day, or even walk with your bare feet on the grass, your physical well-being increases dramatically. It lowers blood-pressure, calms your heart rate and releases tension in muscles and decreases stress hormones.

When you come into contact with direct sunlight your body produces serotonin. Serotonin helps to regulate and balance your mood, appetite and digestion, sleeping patterns and memory. Sunlight also gives your body a vitamin D boost that helps build up strong bones. Be cautious of the sun though – 15 to 30 minutes sunlight will have a great effect on your stress levels, but always remember your sunblock!

6. Smell the Roses.
Aromatherapy has proved that certain smells will have a calming effect on people under stress, for example: 

Lavender has calming properties and helps control stress, release tension, headaches and depression.
Eucalyptus helps counter mental fatigue and increases energy.
Peppermint relieves pain, increases energy and relaxes the nerves.
Jasmine acts as an anti-depressant, as it produces feelings of confidence and renewed energy.
Cinnamon stimulates concentration and focus and also fights mental fatigue.
Citrus revitalises, reassures and calms the nerves.

If you enjoy any of these smells, get yourself nice smelling bubble bath liquid soap or a scented candle to help you deal with stress.

7. Take a break to do something fun!
To do something fun could mean many things! You don’t always have to be surrounded with friends at a party, spend a lot of money on games or travel far away to have fun! To do something fun could mean to do something you haven’t done before. It could mean to discover hidden talents or to do something you have always wanted to try. Maybe something fun could mean to help out at a dog shelter or seeing family you haven’t seen in a long time. Really listen to your heart and do what is right for yourself. 

These 7 techniques will help to reduce stress tremendously. Stress isn’t healthy for you and can have many negative effects later on if left untreated. Always remember to seek professional help if you require it!

Share with us how you deal with stress. Do you light up sweet smelling candles to calm down? Do you enjoy a long walk in nature to relieve stress? If you have a friend or someone that’s close to you that is struggling with stress, share this article with them – you might prevent them from burning out!

Monday, 12 February 2018

Valentine's Day ideas for your kids.

Some great ideas how you can show your kids you love them this Valentine’s Day.

“All you need is love!  But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
~ Charles Schulz 

This week is Valentine’s Day! We’re sending warm wishes for a wonderful week, filled with love and happy moments. Valentine’s Day means spending time with the people you love!

Here are some great ideas how you can show your kids you love them this Valentine’s Day:

1. Make Valentine’s Day Cards
There is nothing old fashioned about a handmade card to say that you care about someone! Decorate Valentine’s Day cards together with your children. Cut out paper heart shapes and be creative with other decorations. Write a special message inside or even compose your own poem.

2. Leave a Secret Note
Write out a small note and leave it in your children’s school bags or pencil cases to tell them they are loved. Tell them you are proud of all they have accomplished and that they make you as a parent extremely happy. 

3. Creative Lunch Box
Heart-shaped sandwiches are easily made, yet adorable Valentine’s Day lunch box snacks. Make heart shaped whole-wheat sandwiches with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Your kids will definitely feel loved and be thinking of you at school. 

4. Sweet Frozen Treats
Take your kids for an ice cream, frozen yogurt or ice lolly! No kid can ever feel unloved when having ice cream! You can even be creative and make your own healthy ice lollies with delicious fruits.

5. Heart Shaped Cookies
Bake heart shaped cookies with your kids when they get home from school. It is a fun activity for them to add the toppings. 

6. Watch their Favourite Movie
After your kids have completed their homework, watch their favourite animation movie with them. How about Lady and the Tramp or Beauty and the Beast?

Enjoy your Valentine's Day with your family and loved ones.

5 Tips to build your confidence in and out of the classroom.

5 Tips to build your confidence in and out of the classroom.

Self- confidence plays an important role in your drive to perform academically.

Do you get nervous to give speeches? Do you stress before a big sports event? What about talking to someone you like or asking someone for help? Have you ever felt so insecure in your own skin that you wanted to run away from a situation? Everyone has felt that way at some point in their lives. 

In order to perform well and succeed in many areas of our lives we are required to uphold a certain level of self-confidence. How do we become self-confident? 

Before we go any further, we want to make a clear distinction between self-confidence and self-esteem. Self-esteem and self-confidence walk hand-in-hand, but isn’t the same thing. Self-esteem has a lot to do with your internal values and self-respect. In last week’s blog ‘How to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem’ we discussed the many ways how we can increase our self-esteem. 

Self-confidence on the other hand is based on the trust we have in our own abilities, capabilities, qualities and talents. Self-confidence can be determined by the way you feel about yourself when performing certain tasks. Are you mediocre, adequate or exceptional at performing that certain task? Do you enjoy doing it, and if so, does it make you want to work harder at this skill to perform even better? OR, do you loathe doing it? Are you completely incapable of doing it and therefore try to avoid it at all costs? Do you get teased for doing it completely wrong and it makes you feel inferior? As we have mentioned before, your talents and capabilities (or lack of these skills) can influence the way you perceive yourself. It may influence your self-esteem in the long term, but it remains two different concepts and both can be improved separately. 

The question is, if self-confidence is based on the trust we have in our own abilities and talents how do we increase that trust in ourselves? We can hack our self-confidence through changing our surroundings, the way we think – and funny enough – by adjusting our own bodies. “With confidence, you can reach truly amazing heights; without confidence even the simplest accomplishments are beyond your grasp.” - Jim Loehr.

Here are our 5 best tips to help you build your confidence so that you can reach amazing heights!

1. Positive thoughts and positive actions.
Our minds are the greatest super-computer ever built - capable of performing miracles. Our minds control our bodies – and thus our performance and success. Lucky for us, we control our minds! That’s why thinking positive thoughts about any situation will lead to positive actions. 

Writing exams is stressful, but going in with a positive mind-set already takes some pressure off. When you start writing that test thinking “I’m going to fail no matter how hard I try,” then guess what – you’re probably going to do very bad in that test! Flip the switch on that negative mind-set and rather say “I prepared very well for this test, I have the wisdom to solve any problem.” Your positive thoughts will lead to positive actions and that will lead to a positive life.

2. Take care of your physical body.
Your physical heath plays a tremendous role in your self-confidence levels. If you are in good physical health, you will have more energy to complete tasks and will automatically perform better. You will feel more in control of your body and thus trust your body to do the things that you are capable of doing. You will even do better in any new activities that you haven’t done before, because you’ll be confident enough in yourself and trust your body (and your skills) to try it out. 

Taking care of your physical health through exercise does not only improve your overall body image, but exercising also has many psychological benefits. When you exercise your body produces endorphins which make you feel good and also relieve stress. Feeling stressed out hinders you from giving your best. If your body is continually placed under stress, it will create other health problems in the long run. Exercise also increases your concentration abilities – which is great to improve academic skills like reading, writing, learning, memorisation and solving problems creatively. You will be able to focus more clearly on practising a musical instrument or keeping your train of thought when giving a speech. These are all very important factors that contribute to being confident. 

Good physical health also ensures a good immune system, which means that you won’t get sick very often. You can rather spend your time productively, working on bettering your skills and reaching your goals - instead of lying in bed and having thoughts of self-doubt and self-criticism. 

We can also take care of our bodies by grooming ourselves. A good haircut, brushing your teeth or even taking a long bubble bath can also give your confidence a good boost! You will feel much better about yourself and be less conscious about your appearance when you are well groomed. Personal hygiene is also good for your health as it keeps bacteria, viruses, and illnesses away. You shouldn’t become obsessed over your hygiene though. You shouldn’t worry about all of the latest fashion trends and you certainly don’t have to look like a supermodel in order to be confident, but you should take care of yourself! Be the best you! You have one body. This is the only body you have that can help you reach your goals – so you might as well treat yourself and your body with respect!

3. Eliminate self-doubt.
Self-doubt normally comes in when we are not fully prepared for the task that lies before us. Be fully prepared! Eliminate uncertainties by means of practise. Practise! Practise! Practise!

For example, if you have a speech to give, practise the speech until you know every word. The only way to know that you won’t forget your words or stutter and get stage fright is if you know the speech like the back of your hand. You have to understand every word and completely understand the topic you are talking about. Even if you change up a word or jump ahead you will know where you are and will be able to talk yourself back on track without having to start anew. 

When a test comes up, study hard and be fully prepared for any question thrown at you. It has been proven that self-testing is the only way to ensure that you are fully prepared for a test. You have confirm that you are competent with the work if you pass a practise test. The best way to practise and prepare yourself for tests or exams is by using your ASP-SchoolProjects subscription for practise exam papers. The questions are asked in the same way and set according to the same standards as required in a proper exam. When you work through the questions and learn how to answer each question you will quickly build your confidence in that subject. Writing exams is as much a technique as it is about actually being smart and knowledgeable – it is something you can learn how to do! 

When you experience doubt in any class room or extracurricular activities – don’t be afraid to ask for help. That is why your teachers are there – to help you! Don’t struggle in silence, ask your teachers, friends and parents for help.

Remember that everyone makes mistakes, so if you fail – get back up. There is a Japanese proverb that says “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” This means that it doesn’t matter how many times you fail, you need to try again one more time.

4. Control your body language.
What does posture or body language have to do with confidence? It turns out a lot! Amy Cuddy is a researcher at Harvard University and she studies body language, posture and the way hormones can impact our confidence. It is widely known that your confidence has a significant effect on your body language. For example, when you feel confident you are more likely to open up your body posture, stand wider and taller, and open your arms. You feel relaxed. So your confidence influence your body language. However, Cuddy now proved that it is also the other way around – your body language can influence your confidence too! This is great news for anyone that has ever experienced self-doubt, because now we have a technique we can use in order to make our minds believe we feel more confident than we actually are. We can adjust our posture and change our body language. 

Here are three ways you can boost your confidence by adjusting your body language:
  • Power pose.
    A power pose, Cuddy explains, is a pose that will raise your testosterone (a hormone present in all dominant and powerful primates) and lower your cortisol (a hormone related with stress). This is the typical “Wonder Woman” pose. Stand legs shoulder width apart, place your hands on your hips, straighten your back, tighten your core and lift your chin slightly. Stand like this for about 2 minutes and your testosterone will increase, your cortisol will decrease and you will start to feel more confident. Do this for 2 minutes in the morning before a test in your room, or quickly in the bathroom before you give a speech in front of a lot of people and it will work really great right before a hockey match or rugby game. This will yield remarkable results.

  • Posture.
    School kids sit for many hours a day in classrooms and behind their study desks after school. Many adults also sit for hours on end behind computers at work. It is a necessary part of our modern society. Sitting itself isn’t harmful, but unfortunately sitting in the wrong position for so many hours can have some negative side effects not only on your back and neck, but also create bad posture – that will eventually reflect negatively on your self-confidence. 

    We have become accustomed to make ourselves smaller when we sit. We slouch and cross our arms, legs or ankles or by touching our necks or chest. What you may not be aware of is that these are actions we naturally do when we feel vulnerable or in need of protection. If you make yourself smaller your body sends signals to your mind that makes you believe that you are in danger. This then heightens your cortisol levels. As we have already mentioned, this is bad because cortisol is related to stress.

    One of the easiest ways to improve your confidence is through a slight adjustment to your sitting posture. Start by reminding yourself to sit up straight, relax your shoulders and open up your chest and back. You will feel less tense in your muscles if you are relaxed and thus your stress levels will be lower – which is great for your physical and mental health. Your confidence will quickly improve.

  • Smile.
    You might think this is one of the silliest hacks, but forcing yourself to smile or laugh - even if you don’t feel like it or find something funny - has a significant impact on your confidence. The Facial Feedback Study by Strack, Martin and Stepper proved that when you place a pencil between your teeth while pretending that you are smiling, has the exact same impact on your hormones as actually smiling. When you pretend to smile you produce dopamine, the feel-good hormone, which is exactly the same as when you smile naturally. When you make use of this small trick during times of stress, your body will increase in dopamine and actually reduce your body’s stress response, regardless of whether you actually feel happy or not.

Amy Cuddy explained that we don’t normally feel relaxed and confident in times of stress and panic, but with these simple tips we can “fake it till we make it.” When we continue to hack our bodies to influence our minds we can even “fake it till we become it!” Muhammad Ali said it the best: “To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you are not, pretend you are.”

5. Visualise.
Visualisation is one of the greatest confidence boosters ever invented. It has been recorded by major sport athletes, presidents and scientists. Visualise yourself achieving the results you want. These successful people raised their confidence by visualising themselves performing their tasks with perfection and visualising the feelings they will experience when they achieve their goals. Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney once explained that the night before a match he lies in his bed and visualise himself scoring goals. “You're trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a ‘memory’ before the game.” Some call it “rehearsing the experience” – to ease your mind into reality – a reality where you can see yourself scoring goals, giving speeches or writing tests. Other great athletes that use this technique include Muhammad Ali, Michael Phelps, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Andy Murray and Conor McGregor. 

Bob Proctor said: “If you can see it in your mind, you will hold it in your hand.” See yourself as the confident person you want to be. Give yourself that pep talk, tell yourself you are beautiful, intelligent and ingenious – and very soon you will become it!

Have you tried any of these techniques before and do you think it has improved your confidence? We would love to hear your story about gaining confidence and how you did. If you think a friend could use a confidence boost, why don’t you share this article with them? You just might change someone’s life!

Monday, 5 February 2018

How to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem.

How to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem.

Positive self-esteem is the key to your success.

As you grow up your self-esteem changes and develops based on our life-experiences. You find out what your talents are and what you enjoy doing. You also become aware of the areas in which you don’t perform well in and don’t like doing. You grow and learn. Your ideas about the world and your interests change. People come into your life and open your eyes to new things. Unfortunately some people will also try to bring you down. This is part of life – a reality that is inevitable. All of these experiences make you who you are and determine how you view and feel about yourself. Your self-esteem greatly impacts the decisions you make, the relationships you have and ultimately the person you are. It is therefore necessary to understand yourself. You have to actively evaluate your self-esteem and if perhaps you have a low self-esteem, you have to work on it and find ways to boost your self-esteem if it affects your daily life negatively. Often a low self-esteem is a distorted view of yourself. All you have to do is change your mind and perception on how you think you are and ought to be. These negative views hold you back from reaching your potential. Your imperfections and lack of abilities have very little to do with what you can and cannot accomplish. 

Self-esteem isn’t always the same as having self-confidence. Self-confidence has a lot to do with the confidence you have in your ability to perform well in certain areas as well as the qualities and talents you possess. Self-confidence (or the lack thereof) can be illustrated in the following scenario: You are confident painting in the art class. You enjoy painting and do well in art class. However, you are doubtful of yourself and your abilities when it comes to sport. You aren’t athletic, you don’t have ball sense and lack hand-eye coordination. For some, the lack of confidence in their abilities on the sports field can cause them some temporary stress without causing self-esteem issues. Some accept that they aren’t talented in that area and they focus on what they are good at – such as painting and drawing – and they better those skills. Such individuals still live happily with a good self-esteem. Why is this? Self-esteem has a lot more to do with your internal values and self-respect that is rooted deep within you. 

Over a longer period a lack of self-esteem can influence your ability to perform well in areas that you used to be good in – which can negatively affect your self-confidence. Also, if you are continually placed in situations that expect you to perform well in those areas that you aren’t particularly good at, your self-esteem might suffer, because you are lead to believe that you aren’t good at anything. However, for the most part we want you to remember that you can work on your self-esteem and self-confidence separately. 

Now that you know the difference between self-confident and self-esteem, here are fundamental principles that will help you to shape a positive self-esteem:

Know that you are a miracle.
The odds of you being born in this particular time, place and circumstance is 1 in 400,000,000,000. It means that you are literally a miracle! Think about it. If that is the case, you cannot ignore the fact that you have a specific purpose on earth. This world would not be complete without you. Our Creator made you in this specific time and place for a reason. You have an obligation to find out what your purpose is in life and strive everyday towards reaching that goal. Your time is limited, so make the most of it. Acknowledge that you are a miracle and a unique human being. You are worthy of a beautiful and prosperous life! No one can or should make you feel undeserving of this life. 

Accept yourself regardless of your imperfections.
Self-acceptance is the key to a healthy self-esteem. Sometimes it can be very difficult to accept yourself as you might want to change something about your appearance, abilities or talents. Perhaps you want to run faster, perhaps you want to be less shy around friends or perhaps you still haven’t come to love your freckles. These are all normal thoughts every child and teen experience at some point in their life. Although you should always try to improve yourself in all aspects of your life, it shouldn’t become obsessive or hinder you from living your life. We all have our flaws and the world is full of flaws. Beauty, youth, strength and appearance are subjective qualities. Yes, of course it is important to take care of our bodies; to enjoy and foster our many talents; but remember that everything fades with time. It is therefore all the more important to love ourselves and be able to live with ourselves – learn to love each other with all our imperfections. Self-improvement should be motivated by your drive to fulfil your purpose on earth and doing what you were meant to do. Find that magical spark that burns within you and keep the flame alive. Lucille Ball said it best, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”

Live in the moment.
When you go about your day, truly experience life. Be aware of your surroundings. When you eat – really taste the flavours in your mouth. When you listen to friends speak – truly give them your full attention.  When you live in the moment you will stress less about the future and the past. Whatever you do in your daily activities, be fully present.

Positive thoughts about yourself will lead to a positive life.
Our self-esteem is shaped by our thoughts about ourselves. Talk to yourself the way you would speak to a friend. When you have a positive thought about yourself – write it down or say it out loud. When you have a negative thought about yourself – allow yourself to think that thought and then add “but” afterwards.  For example: “I’m not good at math, BUT I am learning about fractions and I’m actually making tremendous progress.”

Each evening, write down 3 things that you believe you did well that day. It can be something you have achieved or even something nice about yourself. Write anything, even if it is only a small thing.  Every day you should write something new.  For example:

Day 1
  1. Today I opened the door for a friend that were carrying heavy books.
  2. I made a really funny joke and my brothers and sisters laughed out of their bellies.
  3. I did better in my English test than I have ever done before, even if I only got 60%.
Day 2
  1. I stood up to a bully that made fun of me today.
  2. I smiled at a stranger and then she smiled back.
  3. I drew a nice picture of a motorbike – I think I’m going to do well in art class this term.
Focus not only on the big things that you do well, but also the little things. The science behind this is that when you keep focusing on the good things you have done that day, the next day your brain will start to search for more good things. Psychologically, you will adjust your mind for a higher self-esteem simply by acknowledging the little things you’ve done well.

Spread positivity as far as you go.
Lift others up. Look for the good in others. Don’t give them compliments simply for the sake of conversations – but truly notice the good that someone does, acknowledge it and tell them that you are proud of them. 

Start today by making little changes to your behaviour to build your self-esteem. You are worthy of happiness, love and success. You are a gift to this world!  It doesn’t matter what background you come from, this world won’t be the same without you and that you are needed to make a difference in the world. “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.” – Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross. Let your light shine from within!