Being a college applicant is stressful enough on its own, but throwing in low self-esteem makes an already-difficult thing a whole lot tougher. I know, because the college application process has definitely caused my mental health to suffer, and I have often felt on-edge, anxious, and even sometimes, self-pitying. Why would they even want me at their college? I think. I’m stupid, I’m unworthy, I’m — and it goes on and on. At least, until I do something to challenge it, and make things easier on myself.
College applications are stressful, but they don’t have to be insufferable. In my therapy program, we have a saying: Pain is a part of life; you have to feel pain sometimes, but you don’t have to suffer. This distinction between pain and suffering is really important. It is absolutely natural to have moments where you feel anxious, on-edge, and unconfident, but you don’t have to stay in that headspace. In fact, there are a lot of things you can do to get out of that headspace, and I’m about to name a few, tried-and-approved things I’ve done that have worked for me. Hopefully, they’ll work for you, too.
Method 1: Get a piece of paper. Write down three things that you’re good at. Go do one of them.
Pro-tip: Don’t skip the physical action of writing all three things down. This will help you cement in your mind that, in fact, you are a worthy, talented, intelligent being that brings positive things to the world. And the act of doing something you know that you are good at will further cement that idea. Go bake a cake, go running, write some poetry, or sing!
Method 2: Think of something that you’re bad at. Take one step, right now, to becoming better at it.
Pro-tip: The step doesn’t have to be huge. If you wish you exercised more but you’ve never gone running a day in your life, don’t go out and run five miles. But, maybe consider signing up for that neighborhood 5K in three months. Or take a short, 15-minute walk.
Method 3: Evaluate one of your negative thoughts. Do something right now that contradicts it.
Pro-tip: Sometimes I worry that I’m not kind enough to the people that love me. For me, this method can be as simple as giving my friend a meaningful compliment or expressing my gratitude to someone who’s taken care of me in a time of need. If one of your thoughts is that you are stupid, think of something that interests you and do some online research on it. Discover something new! Or better yet, take a drive to the library and do some reading!
Method 4: Think of someone in your life who knows you very well. Write down on a piece of paper three adjectives you think they would use to describe you to someone else who doesn’t know you at all.
Pro-tip: Imagine that your friend is writing you a dating profile. How would they succinctly summarize the kind of person you are to the world? Be honest; the friend I’m thinking of would definitely describe me as sensitive and softhearted. But, she would also describe me as loving and intelligent. This method might help you realize that the people in your life are in your life specifically because they see something valuable in the kind of person that you are. Let them be your mirror until you get on your feet again.
Method 5: Use a “half-smile.” Imagine that the corners of your mouth are being tugged upwards by an invisible string. Smile like this for a few minutes.
Pro-tip: This method works best when you believe that it will help. There is a biological, psychological response your body has to the sensation of smiling and smiling softly like this will allow you to maintain that response in a way that gets you feeling better. I’ve tried this one many times; it really works!
Method 6: Do the “Superman pose.” Stand with your feet spread apart, your hands on your hips, and lift your head so you are looking above the horizon line. Breathe deeply. Hold for as little as 1 minute and as many as 10.
Pro-tip: Do this in a quiet space, free of distractions, where it is unlikely if even possible that someone will see. Not that you should be ashamed (you’ll look pretty bad-ass), but just so you don’t have to think about it. And make sure to hold the pose steadily, and with confidence. This has helped me many times before a stressful presentation or a standardized test.
I hope that you find this article helpful. And remember: self-doubt is only as strong as you allow it to be. And while pain is a natural part of life, suffering is unnecessary. Don’t choose to make yourself feel worse; go try one of these methods (or all six of them!), and take one good step towards feeling better.