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Understanding the Vicious Cycle of Stress and Low Self-Esteem

It can be said that stress is the ultimate universal experience. Whether we live a relatively calm life or one packed with constant action, everyone on earth has felt the worrisome pangs of stress. The same can be said for an individual’s perception of their own abilities, skills and overall qualities, otherwise known as self-esteem—we all have one!  So how are these two universal qualities connected?

The relationship between stress and self-esteem is one that is inextricably linked. They feed off and act on one another in more ways than one.  Low self-esteem can lead to psychological effects that cause a person to be more susceptible to stressful situations. Consistent stress can gradually lessen a healthy self-esteem over time as well. Conversely, high self-esteem can act as a sort of protection against high levels of stress, and a context of low-stress can provide a great environment for individuals who could benefit from a higher self-esteem.

The pure definition of stress is the feeling of pressure and/or worry.  A large determinant of the level of stress is not just the actual facts of a situation, but the individual’s perception of his or her situation. One person may view an office relocation as an exciting opportunity while another sees it as an insurmountable burden. This is often determined by the individual’s level of self-esteem, which, again, is defined as an individual’s perception of their own abilities, skills and overall qualities that guide his or her behavior.


The relation between Stress and Low Self-Esteem

This interaction between self-esteem and stress is often more dramatic and destructive in people with lower self-esteem. Such individuals tend to feel helpless, powerless and incapable of overcoming the obstacles placed in front of them. These feelings make any task seem more arduous and can cause even routine challenges to appear impossible.

Another aspect of the connection between stress and self-esteem is that a lack of assertiveness is one of the common effects of a lower self-esteem. This can turn into a vicious cycle in which low self-esteem leads a person to accept more work than he or she can truly handle. This, in turn, causes increased stress. Self-esteem and stress can form a harmful feedback cycle in such cases.

Learning to say no is an important step to take in order to heighten self-esteem and manage stress and mitigate harmful stress feedback cycles.  A strong social support system is another major tenant of maintaining healthy levels of stress and self-esteem.  People with adequate social support systems report lower stress levels than their less-connected peers. Other recommendations include relaxation techniques, time-management programs and other tools for coping with stress can reduce the impact of stress on self-esteem.



Dalessandro, Rachel, Amy Ingmire, and Vanessa Hill. “Stress, Coping, and Self-Esteem.” – Applied Social Psychology (ASP). N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

Juth, Vanessa, JOSHUA SMYTH M., and ALECIA SANTUZZI M. “How Do You Feel? Self-esteem Predicts Affect, Stress, Social Interaction, and Symptom Severity during Daily Life in Patients with Chronic Illness.” Journal of Health Psychology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2008. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

“Positive Psychology Resources, Confidence, Overview.” Positive Psychology Resources, Confidence, Overview. Centre for Confidence, n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

“Self-Esteem.” CMHC Self Esteem. University of Texas, n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

Uba, Ikechukwu. “The Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Abuse Among Adolescents.” International Journal of Social Science and Humanity (n.d.): n. pg. Web.

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