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The Surprising Connection Between Stress and Self-esteem

can reducing stress help self esteemStress and self-esteem are intricately linked in the same way that stress is linked to our physical and mental health. Not only does low self-esteem make us more vulnerable to stress but chronic stress of all kinds -physical, emotional, environmental, social, personal and someone – can impact a client’s self-esteem.

The Stress/Self-esteem Cycle

Let’s look at how stress can subtly undermine self-esteem. While it’s often hard to pinpoint where the cycle can begin, imagine from your own experience, separate from your client’s world view.  Let us say you’ve had a very stressful day. It may seem like everything has gone wrong. You smacked your shin on the bottom step, you spill coffee on your jacket, or your boss dumped a project on you that will make the next two months extremely difficult. You imagine many long nights ahead. You must miss lunch. A colleague tells you that you “look terrible”. Then when you get home at the end of the day, you scrap your plans to go to the gym and you order a pizza and eat the whole thing. Then, you feel guilty. You feel bad about skipping your exercise, about giving in to junk food, about eating way too much.  You feel so guilty that you make yourself an ice cream sundae and stay up late watching Netflix. You dismiss your KP duty, forgetting the dishes.

In the morning you wake up puffy and lacking energy. The messy kitchen greets you, you go to work exhausted, and you’ve got all the same stress you have the day before. So, the cycle will continue. You keep overeating, under sleeping and not doing anything about the things that are causing you stress, whatever they are – maybe because you don’t have the energy and maybe because your client has no idea what you could do to help them about their stress. Instead, your client begins to feel worse and worse about themselves because they are tired, overwhelmed and unable to exercise the right the right amount of willpower needed to be back stress. Now imagine how a client would get to this same place – the worse your client feels about themselves, the more they are likely to continue in this distractive pattern.

Of course, this is just one example of a client. Stress from a chronic condition like arthritis, multiple sclerosis or chronic fatigue syndrome can take a heavy toll on one’s self-esteem. Your client might wonder why they can’t do the things that other people can easily. Your client might be so weary of feeling badly that they don’t enjoy themselves any longer. Self-satisfaction seems a distant memory for clients in this scenario. Likewise stress that doesn’t allow clients to have personal time makes them feel like they are not important enough for this personal time or that everyone else is more important. Stress that keeps your mind racing and scattered can make one feel like they are not capable of focusing.

So, what can a client do about this cycle? Solutions for this are often difficult to come by, especially since the problems don’t seem to be coming from anywhere specific. How does one jump in and slam on the brakes? By jumping in and slamming on the brakes that’s how!

Build Self-esteem by Eliminating Excess Stress

The first step and breaking the stress/self-esteem cycle is to isolate something your client can do about it.  It doesn’t have to have anything to do with self-esteem really. It’s important to start your client with just one thing (task or action item), since one of the characteristic conditions of stress is a lack of focus. If your client has so many things going on in their life that they feel overwhelmed, they should probably know what it is like to wander around in a daze, unable to do get any of them done efficiently.  Maybe your client does a little of one project but then gets distracted by the pressing deadline of another project, so they do a little bit of one and once again are distracted by something else that needs their attention. Before they know it, another day is gone and nothing has been finished.

The best way to coach this client into action is to help the client break the cycle – by choosing one single item that they can do something about, something they can finish. A lot of other tasks need finishing – but they are going to get finished anyway – if your client feels the way they feel, being stressed out most of the time. Your client probably already knows this is true – the only way to make a difference is to focus. This is part of your job as the coach – to help the client understand this and streamline focus.

The way your client chooses their focus is up to them. It might require getting just one thing accomplished from a to do list – but accomplished all the way. Or it might involve some personal time for the client. Meditation might be what it takes to stop the horrible incessant buzz in one’s head that interferes with their productivity and making them feel rotten about themselves due to unfinished tasks.

What your client chooses to do also depends on the kind of stress that is overwhelming them. Let’s take a look at some of the options for conquering stress in a way that, at the same time, specifically help your client to fortify their self-esteem. Will also look at how each strategy might be used most effectively by the coach.

Self-esteem Building Strategies: Point A to point B

The act of eliminating excess stress in one’s life builds self-esteem simply by elimination of stress makes one feel better. Therefore, all the stress management strategies in this manual have the potential to build self-esteem. Working through the strategies with the specific purpose of building self-esteem can make client results come even faster. Remember, your goal is to get your client to finish one project or task. This will help boost self-esteem. We must start our client at point A and work all the way to point B without stopping or getting distracted. None of these strategies take more than 30 minutes, so your client would not have any real excuse to not complete them. And any client can typically spare 30 minutes out of a busy day in the name of feeling better and becoming more efficient.  Helping your client to feel better about who they are and how they are spending their life is worth at least 30 minutes of their day.

The Benefit of a Reflection Walk

This specific strategy is for people who 1: don’t get enough exercise on most days of the week and 2: tend to worry too much or mentally obsess about negative things in their lives – you know who these types of clients are; they will benefit from a reflection walk as a way to proactively take control of their physical and mental states at the same time, all for one short 30-minute period. If our client is allowed to worry all day sit at a desk all day or feel rotten all day, then they need a daily reflection walk and they need it probably in a very bad way. Your client should be able to pretend to be an active optimist for 30 minutes. Your client may have to pretend more at first but eventually, the effects of doing reflection walks will begin to take hold for your client.

As you know, exercise helps to relieve stress and a reflection walk can therefore help relieve stress and make your client feel better about themselves at the same time. So, this is what they do: first, put on comfortable walking shoes and comfortable workout clothes that will work for moderate exercise and make your client feel good about themselves. In other words, let your clients apparel criteria be to dress so that if they happen to meet someone they know, they will not feel self-conscious about what they are wearing.  This might mean that your client brushes or combs their hair, washes their face, puts on some sunscreen and if it makes them feel better, some make up.  Have your client go to their front door and take five deep full breaths. Then, have your client say out loud “I am ready to reflect upon all the good things in my life for the next 30 minutes “

Then, your client executes the reflection walk by just starting it! Instruct your client to walk for 30 minutes as a moderate pace – just fast enough to feel as though they’re getting some exercise but not enough to wear them out or make them feel frustrated for having sore muscles. As your client walks, encourage them to continue taking deep breaths and most importantly, begin queueing up their mental list of all the things that are good about their life. Here are some questions they might consider:


  • What is working?
  • What parts of life need to change to make them feel great?
  • Who are the people in their life that make them feel better?
  • Who do they love?
  • What do they like about yourself?
  • What are some of their fondest memories?
  • Where do they love to go?
  • What are their favorite things to do?
  • What foods make them feel really good?
  • What is their favorite book?
  • What is it that they love about their home/pets and their job?
  • And what areas of their life are successful now?

Clients can get as general as “I love my kids “or be as specific as “I set up a system for paying my bills on time that works really well for me “. If your clients have trouble focusing on thinking through things, have your client set a goal, such as adding one item to their mental list for every 25 steps or for every five breaths they take. If your client gets stuck, have them stop until they think of something, then move on to walking once again.

The challenge of the reflection walk is to put aside all of the things that aren’t working – the negativity, the things your client thinks they should be doing, and put them aside for 30 minutes. After the walk is over, your client can get back to work, but put all your stressful thoughts aside for the time being. They will still be there for your client when they finish the work, but they may not seem quite so overwhelming once they have put them in perspective. After a reflection walk, your client’s life will probably look a lot better to them in terms of having a positive outlook and they will feel a lot better about themselves too.

What if we tell our client to “Clean your kitchen sink?”

If your client is housecleaning challenged, and if the state of messiness in their house is often directly related to their level of stress, then you may want to give your client some very specific advice:  use a cleaning service!  This can transform the life of anyone who feels that they are incapable of getting their house cleaning under control – which is something that can severely undermine a client’s self-esteem – but which is also a real condition of life for thousands of people in the real world. If your client is one of these people, consider recommending a cleaning service.  Professional cleaners use employees with a complete system for getting a house clean – helping get your client’s life in order.  One of the most important clean-house rules is to keep your kitchen sink empty, clean, and sparkling.

A clean sink is a metaphor here, as it has incredible stress relieving power. And “as the kitchen goes so goes the rest of the house”.  The kitchen is the heart and soul of the house and if one’s house is symbolic of one’s life (as it is in Feng Shui), keeping the heart and soul and perfect order will resonate into all areas of your client’s life.

If your client is like most people, they may discover that the kitchen is a clear and direct reflection of how your client’s life is going. When it’s clean and sparkles, your client can feel great about themselves and everything in their life is probably working well for them; when it gets to the point where they don’t want to anyone let anybody drop in, then their life is most likely in disarray as well. The kitchen is also a ready-made jump-in spot in the stress cycle.  No matter how busy your client is – no matter how far behind or overwhelmed they are – if they take just a few minutes to go into their kitchen and put everything in order (clean, tidy and everything in its place) they will not believe the impact it will have on their self-esteem.  When this is done every day, the affirming effect of waking up and walking into the kitchen to face a bright, shiny sink – as opposed to a sink piled high with dirty dishes, will astound your client. This really works, and it may seem small but if your client needs help with their living space being overly cluttered, then we should include this in their stress management plan.

What a Wonderful World: Seeing Green

When it comes to natural beauty – meaning forest, mountains, flower gardens, and other such greenery – some people can take it or leave it. Other clients find that being in or even just looking at natural beauty has a profound effect on how they feel about their lives the world and themselves.

If your client is interested in Ayurveda and has already discovered that they happen to be a pitta type, your client may already be aware that they are probably one of these people who enjoy nature – but even if your client does not know anything about Ayurveda, your they most likely know already whether natural beauty has a deep effect on them.

Even if your client lives in the city, they can use natural beauty to help relieve stress and feel better about themselves. Surrounding ourselves with images of natural beauty can give us a lift that could last all day long.  Here are some ways to accomplish this:

Use a computer wallpaper and or screensaver that shows rotating images of stunning scenery.  Many websites offer free daily photos to use as computer wallpaper and screensavers, hundreds of which are of beautiful scenery, animals, and natural phenomena, such as storms and unusual cloud formations. Picking out a unique photo each morning can be like going on a mini vacation for your client – and it can be revitalizing just to look at them.

Each night, instead of indulging in the same old dull television line up, check out the Discovery channel, Animal Planet – or a nature show on public television. It’s good for your client’s brain, food for their soul, and they might just learn something new and interesting.

Recommend that your client spent 30 minutes just puttering around their own microenvironment. Even if their yard or the area around their home is small, it probably contains some greenery.  Recommend that your client relax and meander, examining each tree, flour, patch of grass or planted bed.  Just simply have them observe it all.

Have them get to know the trees on their property.  Some cultures believe that the trees around us are spirit guardians.  Have your client stop and look at all of the foliage in their space and reflect about the trees surrounding their home.

If your client has no microenvironment to speak of on their property worth examining, encourage them to walk or drive somewhere close by, for example, a park or a nicely landscaped neighborhood.   Suggest they walk around and look, look and look some more. If your client can fill their brain with natural beauty, there won’t be room for anxiety, at least not during the 30 minutes your client has reserved for this purpose.

Try recommending your client grow an herb garden or a small flower garden, either from seeds or by transplanting purchased plants in a large planter. Put the planter on the patio, deck, front step, or back step in the sunny window.  Help the client build a new habit by checking and tending to it daily.  This is like taking vitamins for the soul.

How about a visit to a local library or bookstore and browsing through a book that contains large color photographs of natural beauty. Maybe your client will feel transported by a photo essay from a tropical location, or maybe the Rocky Mountains are more their style. Maybe Europe, Africa, or the central American rain forests.  Encourage your client to let their imagination whisk them away for 30 minutes.

Do one task – completely

This idea is for all your clients who feel like the little things in life are out of control. If your client has so many things to do that, they can’t even seem to finish any of them, try encouraging them to take 30 minutes and complete just one of the short choices that are listed below.  Your client will get a feeling of accomplishment that they could never get from half-finishing 20 different chores.  None of these chores takes very long, but they are all tasks that a lot of people have a hard time getting too. When these tasks remain undone, they tend to weigh on our minds and add to our stress in the sense that your client feel that they are not able to keep things under control.

Try it! Doing just one thing on this list each day can make a huge difference in how your client feels about them self.  Have them try it for a week and they will see a difference.


  • Clean out the car. Throw out all the trash, return the recyclables, put everything back in the house that belongs inside and vacuum the floor mats with a handvac. Then, wipe down the windows with glass cleaner.
  • Clean out purses or wallets. Throw away all the junk not needed. File the receipts. Put everything in the right place. Flatten out money and stack it so that all the bills face the right way. Clean out all the loose change and put it in a jar somewhere safe.
  • Clean out the coat closet. Take out all the things that don’t belong in the closet and put them away properly. Hang up all the coats that fallen off their hangers. Store all the scarves, hats, mittens and gloves away if not needed for the season.  Give away all the items that don’t fit anymore – or those that nobody wants.
  • Balance the checkbook.
  • Call the dentist and make an appointment. And keep the appointment.
  • Drink a large glass of water, all the way. Finish the whole glass.
  • Dust all the flat surfaces in your living room. This should only take five minutes, but it makes a perceptible difference.
  • Make the bed.
  • Take a bath or a shower and put moisturizer on. Put a bathrobe and relax for 15 minutes
  • Sweep the garage. Don’t worry about the other items in there – just sweep out all the dirt.
  • Set aside 15 minutes – just 15 minutes to start. Experience some personal time. Go to a quiet room and set a timer for 15 minutes. Your client can read, listen to music, whatever. This only take 15 minutes, start to finish. Your client will be ready to continue with their day when it can start with a simple adult time out.

Have Your Client Commit to Themselves

It is all well and good to manage stress for the sake of others, but your clients have to commit to themselves as well.  Self-esteem, at its very basic level, is about recognizing that we are worth the self-care. And, of course, that means we can then be better able to care for others.
Then when stress should happen, which we know it will, your client will understand that the stress that happens outside of their control doesn’t change who they are, what they are worth, how precious an individual they are….. and worthy of self-love. No one understand our client better than themselves and yet if your client doesn’t try to understand themselves, they cannot expect others to, either.

Are you intrigued? Learn about becoming a Spencer Institute Certified Stress Management Coach.