I struggle with confidence. I think I always have but I think that chronic illness has made that struggle worse. It’s hard to be confident in myself when I look around and see what others are accomplishing. I know I shouldn’t gauge my accomplishments on what are others are doing and I usually do a good job of reminding myself of that. When I see someone else doing something great there’s a part of me that gets jealous, a part of me that wants it to be me doing whatever it is (even if sometimes that accomplishment is something I know isn’t realistic). When that happens my self-confidence takes a hit.
I’m not the person I used to be ten or even seven years ago. Luckily, I’m not the person I was just five years ago either. I have to remind myself of that. I’m doing much better than I was just five years ago. That should make me feel good and give a boost to my self-confidence. But, it doesn’t always work. There are a few things I’ve found that do help my self-confidence.
1. Get Out of Bed – No matter what I’ve learned that I have to get out of bed. I don’t care how bad I feel. I have to get myself from the bed to the living room. Luckily, in the last three years I’ve not had many days where I’ve wanted to just stay in bed. But, when those days do happen (even if it’s right after surgery) I have to get to the couch. After hitting rock bottom I realized that staying in the darkened bedroom only hurts me. I feel worse, I feel more depressed, and I lose self-confidence.
2. Get Dressed – There are days when I don’t get dressed. Some days it’s by choice. I, personally, think we all need a pajama day occasionally. But, it can’t become the norm. Even if getting dressed means changing to a different pair of pajamas. Getting dressed helps me feel better and adds to my self-confidence.
3. Put on a Little Makeup – This seems so silly and the truth is that I rarely wear make-up. But, I definitely find that when I do bother to get dressed and put on a little make-up I feel better about myself. I feel like i look better so it’s easier to feel better. I’m not advocating we put on make-up and never leave the house. But, it might do girls some good to put on a little make-up and get out of the house once in a while. Speaking of which…
4. Leave the House! – I’m an introvert. I could easily go an entire week and never leave the house and not even feel bad about it (unless I’ve been forced to stay home then I’m going nuts in five minutes). But, I know that I do need to leave the house occasionally for my mental sanity and for my self-confidence. The truth is that for me too much of my self-confidence involves other people, and it’s hard to have other people around if I never leave the house.
I can hear you screaming. But, Julie! Did you forget that my chronic illness has me feeling so awful that putting on make-up and getting out of the house are serious luxuries? No, I didn’t forget. I’m not saying you have to do these every day. But, once in a while can go a long way. And, heck, sometimes just something as simple as having someone else paint our nails or put make-up on us can make us feel a lot better. It’s OK to get prettied up with no place to go. Don’t worry the rest of this list won’t require any physical actions.
5. Think Positive – Focus on what you have going for you. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in the negatives, in what your illness has stolen. It can be really hard sometimes to think positive, but the effect on your mental state and on your self-confidence is huge, which makes the effort worthwhile.
6. Cut out the Negative Thinking – I’ve been down the rabbit hole into the land of rumination too many times. It’s easy to get stuck there. But, it’s also easy to find your way out when you have the tools. The tools that I learned involved paying attention to my thoughts and catching the negative thoughts, then replacing them with positive thoughts. When I would catch myself having a negative thought, instead of letting it spiral I would note it in my journal then I would replace it with a positive thought. Instead of thinking “I’ll never feel better” I would change the thought to “I can feel better” followed by thinking about some action I could take to help me feel better.
7. Understand the Source – You can’t win a battle with yourself without understanding yourself. Often, our most deep-seated issues have a root in our childhood. I’ve always been a rather introspective type of person, which means that I’m quick to take a step back and ask myself where a feeling or thought is coming from (ok, not always so quick, but I try). Sometimes understanding where the thought is coming from can help me reverse my thinking.
8. Act Confident – Sometimes life is about faking it until you can make it. In this case that means faking confidence until it becomes a reality. You can do the same thing with positivity (trust me, I know). For confidence this means holding your head high and speaking up rather than speaking in a little voice or walking around with your head hanging down. Living with chronic illness we are already great actors, we just have to dial it up a notch.
9. Prepare Well – If you aren’t prepared for what life throws at you it’s difficult to be confident. Granted, we can’t be prepared for everything, but we can be prepared for the things we know about. Until about a year ago the last thing I wanted to do in any class was give a presentation. I don’t struggle with speaking in public unless it’s in a classroom setting. Going back to “understanding the source” I know exactly when this problem began – it began with a college speech class. It wasn’t until last year when I faced that fear and took another college speech class that I finally got over that fear. What I’ve learned is that as long as I’m prepared I will always do well (and to remember that I always know more about my topic than my audience).
10. Be Giving – I don’t think I’ve ever met a person with chronic illness who wasn’t giving, yet they rarely realize just how wonderful and generous they are. Giving to others makes us feel good, and gives us a small little boost of self confidence that we rarely even notice. Yet, if giving to others didn’t make us feel good we wouldn’t do it (at least most of us wouldn’t). So, be giving, be generous. You may not have any energy to serve others, but you can be giving in so many ways, even if it’s just reaching out to someone online, or spending time on the phone with a friend in need.
11. Keep Learning – Knowledge builds confidence. The more you know the more you can engage with others and you won’t be left feeling out of the conversations going on around you. Most of us with chronic illness have more time than we have energy. We may not be able to get out and do CrossFit but that doesn’t mean we can’t use our time to learn. Even if you can’t focus on reading, take the extra time you have to watch some documentaries, or a few TED Talks on Netflix. Or, just take the time to talk to others and learn from them.
12. Focus on Achieving Small Goals – It’s amazing how many small things we don’t give ourselves credit for. We think we’ve spent the day doing nothing when we’ve actually washed three loads of laundry and put the dishes away. Start giving yourself credit for the small things. Put those items on your To-Do list after you’ve done them, and don’t forget to cross them off. When you look back at the end of the day you’ll feel so much better about it.
13. Focus on Small Changes – You don’t have to turn your life upside down to change it. You can change it in small ways that have a big impact. You may not be able to walk even ten minutes at a time yet, but start with just one or two and add to it slowly. Need to kick the coke habit? You don’t have to do it all at once, just replace one Coke a day with a glass of water (and keep track). In time those small changes will add up. Just don’t forget to celebrate those small changes.
14. Smile and Laugh – I think sometimes I’ve forgotten how to smile. I don’t fake it well. But, I haven’t forgotten how to laugh – as long as something is funny. It’s important that we find things to laugh at and smile about. Seek them out, whether it’s a funny tv show, a comedian, or just a good friend that reminds you to be silly. The more often we can laugh and smile the easier it becomes. And, it’s hard to feel un-confident when you are walking around with a smile on your face.
15. Clear Your Inbox – Nothing makes me feel like a bigger failure than an inbox with 50 messages in it. I mean really I can’t even manage to answer my email? The funny thing is that typically when it’s that bad it’s because there are a bunch of things I’m hanging onto. They aren’t messages that need answers, just messages I want to do something with at some point down the road, or messages that need to be moved to other folders. Sometimes the best thing I can do for my self-confidence is to just wipe the slate clean. Answer what needs answered, and delete the rest (or move them).
16. Delete the To Do List – speaking of wiping the slate clean, that’s exactly what I often have to do with my To Do list. Sometimes it just gets so overwhelming, and I’m so far behind that I know I’ll never catch up. I can either stare at it and feel bad about myself, or I can just delete it and start over. Chances are if things are continually getting put off on my to do list they aren’t that important anyway. So, I just delete them and start with a fresh list of things that actually do have to be done that day. If they don’t need to be done that day then they don’t need to be on my to do list.
So, what do you think? What do you find most impacts your self-confidence? Has chronic illness affected your self-confidence? What actions do you take to help improve your self-confidence?