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Be your best friend not your own worst enemy to preserve mental health

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Hands up if you’ve said something negative to yourself today? Chances are that you were far harsher in how you spoke to yourself than you’d ever be to someone else.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of honest self-criticism to prevent us from becoming arrogant or making false assumptions about situations and other people. But when we start routinely using abusive language to blame ourselves for doing something wrong or not living up to expectations of how we’d like to be, then we can become a serious threat to our own wellbeing.

This is something that Mental Health Awareness Week (13 to 19 May) attempted to tackle this year by focusing on body image.

The theme looked at how vicious self-talk can sabotage our self-esteem to the extent where we lose perspective about what’s good about ourselves. This can mean we don’t socialise or lose confidence in applying for jobs we might be good at. We may even spend a lot of time and money trying to look a certain way.

At the extreme end of having a negative body image is a condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) where people focus compulsively on what they believe to be flaws in their appearance that the outside world doesn’t notice. The result can lead to depression, self-harm or even suicide so it’s vital that sufferers get help. If you’ve found yourself thinking obsessively about how you look to the stage where you’re deeply unhappy and limiting your activities based on these thoughts, it may be helpful to see your GP.

Thankfully, most of us don’t have BDD but it’s still worth considering the effect of having a negative running dialogue with ourselves that constantly tells us we’re unattractive and worthless.

If low self-esteem is causing you to feel miserable, the tips below might help:

  1. Stop talking yourself down. For instance, if you need to lose weight, instead of screaming at yourself for being fat, imagine what you’d say to a friend who is struggling with the pounds. You wouldn’t constantly criticise them for being ugly or lose your temper if they didn’t always eat the right things. Set realistic goals and be kind to yourself as you work your way towards achieving them.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to other people. We don’t all find the same things attractive. For every person who looks great to you, there’ll be someone who disagrees. Focus on being the best version of yourself, not a copy of someone else.
  3. Be realistic about what you can change. You may never be tall, for example, but you can look your best. Focus on enhancing what you have, not what you’d like.
  4. Remember that other people don’t dwell on your appearance. Most people are more concerned with their appearance to think about yours. In any case, there are many, many qualities that most people value in each other apart from ‘good’ looks.
  5. Focus on what you’re good at, not what you think is wrong with you. No one needs to be physically perfect to make a positive contribution. Good looks (which are a matter of opinion) don’t qualify anyone for being successful in sport, music, the Arts, science, medicine, engineering, parenting, being a friend or loving someone.
  6. Don’t put off living well today because you hope to be different tomorrow. Make your focus about having a healthy lifestyle so you feel fitter and more able to enjoy life. If you end up looking better as a result, that’s great. But it’s important to enjoy what you have right now rather than putting your life on hold until you feel good enough to take part. You’re good to go, just as you are!

Download a copy of this article on being your own best friend.