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How to Boost Your Confidence When You Have Anxiety

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A lifelong GAD conquerer, Em talks to her therapist daily to manage her anxiety and live her best life.

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Last year I was in a funk. I wasn't feeling very good about myself and my anxiety about my appearance was rising. And, when my anxiety suffers, my self-esteem suffers. It's a whole cycle of low self-esteem colliding with anxiety and then the anxiety causes worse self-esteem and so on. I can't tame my anxiety without boosting my confidence. I can eliminate every anxiety trigger in my life, but if I don't feel good about myself, I'll still feel anxious because so much of how we see ourselves is tied to our mood.

With the help of my therapist I took these steps to deal with my confidence problem and ease the anxiety caused by it:

Things I Do to Boost My Confidence Even With Anxiety

  • Eat well and stay hydrated
  • Get enough sleep
  • Do nice things for other people
  • Create a routine to care for my skin and outer appearance
  • Get rid of clothing that no longer fits me or represents who I am now
  • Learn a new skill
  • Improve my inner-monologue

Eat Well and Stay Hydrated

One of the greatest factors I've found in keeping my anxiety under control is to eat enough, eat well and stay hydrated.

How to Do It

  • Set a water alarm! I use an app called Daily Water (iOs) to remind me to grab a glass every hour.
  • Keep cold water close. Working from home, it's not hard for me to fill up my cup but keeping two glass carafes of water in my fridge makes it easy to reach for cold water. If I'm feeling extra fancy, I'll throw in a sliced up lime or cucumbers. When I feel like I'm taking care of my health that gives me confidence!
  • Eating well doesn't mean you need to follow a particular diet or dump a bunch of money on a premade smoothie subscription (though you can if you'd like!) Eating well can mean grabbing hummus cups and baby carrots instead of pretzels and Nutella for your afternoon snack. Little shifts make a big difference. It also means eating when you're hungry and eating guilt-free. I like to follow an intuitive eating diet (which isn't a diet at all).
  • Label your fridge and pantry. Sometimes I'm so burned out from keeping up with work deadlines and classes that I just end up mowing down half a baguette and a bottle of Gatorade when my tummy starts growling. Labeling the compartments in my fridge and shelves of my pantry makes it simple for me to eyeball what I'm actually craving at lunchtime - Yogurt? Check. Low carb turkey wrap? Check.

Get Enough Sleep

Not having your basic physical needs met, like getting enough quality sleep is a huge trigger for anxiety and therefore confidence!

This one should be obvious but for anxious people like you and I, getting enough sleep can be a battle and we're not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 60 million Americans deal with disorders that affect their sleep habits. Besides staying up to worry or waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep because I'm worrying about life, I also tend to "wake up" more towards evening and end up bingeing all of my chores and errands at the end of the day when I should be winding down.

Being in a vicious cycle of insomnia that is worsened by anxiety about having incomnia can take a serious toll on your self esteem and the only solution is a decent night's sleep.

How To Do It

  • Buy an eye mask. I bought a cheap mask off from Amazon to put on before I go to sleep. I used to wear one in high school but it got lost in the shuffle of life and I must not have realized how important this silly little scrap of fabric was to a good night's sleep for me. I live in an area where street lights shine into my windows at night and keep my home from getting completely dark. The sleep mask adds a slight comforting pressure while blocking out light so I'm not up with the sun when I don't want (or have) to be.
  • Ask your doc about melatonin. Another thing that's helped me regulate my sleep schedule is melatonin. For a while I was just grabbing a box of Unisom whenever I was having trouble falling asleep but I always wake up feeling groggy and hungover and it takes me a solid 3 or 4 hours after waking to feel functional when I use a sleep aid. Melatonin, on the other hand, is a hormone that your body already creates to help you know when to start falling asleep. Some people need more than others. I do best with only 1-2 mg. You can find this smaller dose in children's melatonin gummies which I've found work better for me than the higher doses in the adult version. Whenever my sleep schedule is off track or we have a season change, I take melatonin for a week to help my body readjust to a healthy sleep schedule with no gross feeling come morning.
  • Give myself an 8 PM curfew. I've gotten to the point where I know that anything I do after 8 PM needs to be relaxing which means I put away the homework, sign out of my work apps and turn the lights out so I can have an hour or two to watch TV, read or take a bath before bed. Being relaxed and taking my mind of responsibility in the hour or two before bed helps slow my mind down instead of perpetuating that pattern of worry when I should be resting.
  • Tidy up for 15 minutes before my curfew. One thing that makes me so anxious before I go to sleep is the idea of waking up to a messy house, especially because I have to start my workday pretty quickly after breakfast to stay on track, leaving little morning time to clean up my apartment. Because I'm already prone to anxiety, I'll look at my messy home and panic thinking about all of the potential people that could drop in unexpectedly, (My cousin! My landlord! OMG MY MOM). So, before I turn in for the nigh I set my oven timer for 15 minutes, throw on a peppy playlist and pick up dirty laundry off the bathroom floor, fold up couch throws, load the dishwasher and make sure my cat's litter box isn't a disaster.
Don't let summer sunrises or late-night street lights steal your sleep.

Don't let summer sunrises or late-night street lights steal your sleep.

Do Something Nice for Someone Else

It's science! Helping others helps us.

How To Do It

  • Start small. Your acts of service for others don't have to be huge, sweeping gestures that overwhelm you. Be at peace with the small acts of kindness that groound us in the bigger idea that we're all in this together - hold a door open, clear your own tray at McDonalds instead of leaving it at the table and throw a shovel of salt over your neighbor's front porch steps during the holidays.
  • Make small, annonymous donations when you can. Give five bucks to your Facebook friends GoFundMe.
  • Serve a friend without expecting anything in return. Treating your friend to dessert after a long work day or offering to watch your brother's kids so he can go on a job interview are all nice things that help ease other people's anxiety and in turn, yours.

Create a Vanity Routine

It's not actually vain to take care of your appearance, it's self care! For everyone that means something different. For me, that means doing my nails once a week (at home, but if you can afford it go to the salon or a spa!), doing a hair mask on Sunday mornings and putting makeup on every morning before I start my workday.

When I feel good about my outer appearance, no matter how bummed I'm feeling inside, it automatically boosts my self-esteem and gives me the motivation to take care of myself in other ways too. It's a happy little snowball of confidence!

How To Do It

Identify areas of your physical appearance that you want to improve. Often, when our self esteem is low this might be the whole area from head to toe so start with just one or two things and go from there. Nail biter? Work on keeping your fingers out of your mouth and straightening your nails. Stressed about your maskne? Create a nightly routine that combats acne. You get the gist,

Reassess Your Wardrobe

Likewise, wearing clothes that don't fit great or don't make you feel like, well, you, can make you feel bad about yourself.

Last fall after noticing that my anxiety spiked whenever I went to get dressed, it dawned on me that it's not that I was unhappy with my body, I was unhappy with how my clothing, which hadn't been updated since my junior year of high school, was stirring discontent.

How to Do It

Not everyone can afford to just buy an all new wardrobe, me included, but I went through each item that I already owned, tried it on and kept just an armful of classic items that could get me through another year or two. The rejects went to Goodwill or got sold on Poshmark and I used the money to buy a few more things that made me feel more like my 20-something self.

My closet may have less in it, but what's there represents who I am now—a strong and intelligent woman, not the nervous and let's be real, terrified 17-year-old I once was.

Learn Something New

Another confidence-stealer is feeling like you're just a one-trick-pony but learning something new serves as a solid reminder that you're open to growing and growth is empowering.

How to Do It

Start with an app and the possibilities are endless from there. Here's some tried and true apps for learning a new skill:

  • Duolingo - a Language app that harnesses the power of play to teach you anything from Dutch to Arabic.
  • Notes Teacher - Learn to read music so you can get down with that electric keyboard that's been tucked under your childood bed since you gave up lessons two decades ago.
  • MasterClass: Learn New Skills - Zoom in on your passions with instructors who rival the best in their niche. Featuring teachers as prolific as Marc Jacobs to Helen Miren, MasterClass offers immersive study in acting, writing, business, cooking and more.

Say Nice Things to Yourself

Would you ever tell a friend that they're a lackluster loser with no self control and an ability to plan properly for the future? I sure as heck hope not. Friends are supposed to instill confidence and stand as a supporting figure in each other's lives.

And since you have to be your own best friend sometimes, quit the crap talk and kill that awful inner monologue. You're a beast. You've overcome a lot and you'll overcome more because you're just that awesome. Now go get it!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: My girlfriend has bad anxiety and always slouches and it's unattractive, how can I remind her to sit up straight without hurting her feelings?

Answer: I wouldn't say anything about it until she's standing or sitting in a less slouchy way. Then say something like, "Wow, you look so elegant when you stand with your shoulders back." Positive reinforcement will work better as a subtle suggestion than outright pointing out her poor posture. When someone has anxiety it's always best to approach them with the intention of building up their self-esteem rather than providing criticism, even if you're trying to be helpful or consider it constructive.

© 2019 Em Clark