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How Low Self Esteem Can Affect Anxiety

Jill Johnson

Reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP

Written by Nicholas Gibson

Updated 02/04/2023

Anxiety is a common feeling that affects us all from time to time, whether it’s before a big exam or during a busy, stressful social event.

For many people, anxiety goes beyond an occasional unpleasant feeling and becomes a major issue that can interfere with daily life. In fact, more than 31 percent of US adults are believed to suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder at some point in life.

Although experts aren’t exactly aware of what causes anxiety disorders to develop, feelings of low self-esteem — a poor perception of your own worth and abilities — have long been identified as a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder.

Below, we’ve talked about what self-esteem is, as well as how anxiety and low self-esteem are linked. 

We’ve also explained what you can do if you have low self-esteem and anxiety, including ways to manage your anxiety symptoms, overcome negative thinking about yourself and change the way you view yourself to emphasize your positive qualities.

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is a term that’s used to describe your perception of yourself, particularly your own value and competence as an individual. Put simply, it’s how much value you place on yourself, particularly from a psychological and emotional perspective.

If you have high self-esteem, you likely have a positive view of yourself, meaning you think of yourself as a capable, valuable person. People with healthy self-esteem often retain a strong belief in themselves, even in challenging, potentially stressful situations.

If you have low self-esteem, on the other hand, you may have a negative view of yourself and doubt your abilities and value.

Self-esteem is a critical aspect of mental health, and it’s strongly associated with better overall well-being in life. Research shows that high self-esteem is linked to better relationships and job satisfaction, as well as numerous other important quality-of-life factors.

It’s common and normal for your self-esteem to fluctuate during your life, especially after major events or during your psychological development. Many people experience an increase in their self-esteem as they grow older, with self-esteem often peaking during middle age.

In other words, like many other aspects of your mental health, self-esteem is dynamic. It grows as you accomplish things and develop as a person, with natural dips and peaks during difficult periods or moments in which you make progress as an individual. 

The Link Between Low Self-Esteem and Anxiety

Experts in mental health have long studied the association between self-esteem and a person’s risk of depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.

Anxiety and low self-esteem are closely linked, with several studies showing a clear association between low levels of self-esteem and an increased risk of anxiety. 

Put simply, if you have a negative perception of yourself, you may be more at risk of developing the symptoms of anxiety and being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. 

This link between poor self-esteem and anxiety appears to be especially strong in young adults, who often face unique challenges such as academic stress, negative reactions from friends and pressure to “fit in” with the crowd. 

For example, a study conducted in Norway found a strong link between adolescent self-esteem and a person’s risk of developing adolescent depression or anxiety.

In this study, which featured data from a sample of more than 200 teenagers, researchers found that higher levels of self-esteem were associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression or attention problems in the same individuals three years later. 

A separate study that involved more than 2,400 Chinese college students, which was published in the journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management in 2022, found that people with low self-esteem were more likely to report higher anxiety levels. 

This study, which measured students' self-esteem and anxiety levels over four years of college, also found that the effects of low self-esteem on anxiety became stronger over time. 

In addition to increasing your risk of developing anxiety, low self-esteem is also associated with other mental health disorders and behavioral issues. 

For example, research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry found a link between low self-esteem and academic stress, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation (thoughts and/or ruminations about suicide) in Vietnamese students. 

Low self-esteem has also been linked to an increased risk of substance abuse in young adults, which is itself a significant risk factor for anxiety and depressive disorders.

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How to Develop Healthy Self-Esteem

A diverse range of factors can all have an impact on your self-esteem, including your family life, your physical well-being, your socioeconomic status, and certain patterns of thinking, perception and behavior. 

Some research, such as studies that involve twins, suggest that your level of self-esteem is at least partly also influenced by your genes.

Because of this, no one has total control over their self-esteem. However, establishing healthy thinking patterns and behaviors can often help to improve your self-esteem and achieve more positive life outcomes.

If you’re concerned about your self-esteem, try to change the way you think about yourself by using the techniques below:

  • Taking part in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of talk therapy that involves identifying and changing distorted, negative or mistaken beliefs. It’s often used to treat depression and anxiety disorders.
    We offer therapy online, allowing you to connect with a professional counselor and take part in private therapy sessions from your home. 

  • Learn techniques for dealing with stress. Research shows that low self-esteem and stress are closely linked, with one study of healthcare workers finding that higher levels of job stress were associated with reduced self-esteem.
    If you feel stressed, try to use relaxation techniques to manage your feelings. Our guide to handling stress shares methods that you can use to calm your mind, from techniques for relaxation to regular exercise. 

  • Accept that no one is perfect. Sometimes, low self-esteem may develop as a result of setting unrealistic standards for yourself, such as achieving all of your goals in a certain year or making unrealistic comparisons between yourself and other people.
    Try to accept that no one, including yourself, is perfect. Instead of aiming for perfection and obsessing over failures, pay attention to your successes and the real progress you make each year as a person. 

  • Practice self-care. It’s hard to have a positive opinion of yourself if you never take time to care for your needs. Sometimes, simple things such as taking five to relax or sticking to a regular sleep schedule can do wonders for your feelings towards yourself.
    Our list of self-care tips for women shares simple but effective techniques that you can use to prioritize your needs and improve your well-being. 

  • Consider joining a support group. Taking part in a support group gives you a chance to talk to other people with similar self-esteem and anxiety issues, all with the help of a licensed therapist.
    If you live in a mid-sized or large city, you may be able to join a local support group. You can also connect with other people and get support online using our anonymous support groups.

Developing healthy self-esteem takes time, and it’s often a step-by-step process that occurs as many small accomplishments add up. However, as you learn to identify and overcome negative beliefs about yourself, you may gradually notice your self-esteem and confidence growing.

How to Get Help if You Have an Anxiety Disorder

It’s normal to feel anxiety sometimes, especially during stressful periods in your life. However, if you have persistent anxiety or depression symptoms that don’t go away when your stress levels are lower, it may be a sign that you have a mental health disorder.

If you think you may be depressed or suffer from an anxiety disorder, it’s important to reach out for help from a mental health professional. 

You can get help by letting your primary care provider know how you feel and asking them for a referral to a mental health provider. You can also access mental health care from your home via our online psychiatry service

If you have an anxiety disorder or symptoms of depression, you might be prescribed medication to help you control your symptoms. Your mental health provider may also suggest taking part in therapy, either locally or online.

Just like improving your self-esteem may help to reduce your risk of developing anxiety, treating anxiety can often help to improve your self-esteem and confidence in yourself.

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The Bottom Line on Anxiety and Low Self-Esteem

There’s a significant association between low self-esteem and anxiety, with research suggesting that people with low self-esteem have a higher rate of developing anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse disorders and other mental health issues than their peers.

If you’re concerned about your self-esteem and have symptoms of anxiety, you can access help by taking part in a mental health consultation

You can also learn more about successfully overcoming anxiety in our detailed guide to natural and medical anxiety disorder treatments

10 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Any Anxiety Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder
  2. Henrikson, I.O., Ranøyen, I., Indredavik, M.S. & Stenseng, F. (2017). The role of self-esteem in the development of psychiatric problems: a three-year prospective study in a clinical sample of adolescents. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. 11, 68. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5747942/
  3. Orth, U., Robins, R.W. & Widaman, K.F. (2012, June). Life-span development of self-esteem and its effects on important life outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 102 (6), 1271-1288. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21942279/
  4. Liu, X., Cao, X. & Gao, W. (2022). Does Low Self-Esteem Predict Anxiety Among Chinese College Students? Psychology Research and Behavior Management. 15, 1481-1487. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9199909/
  5. Nguyen, D.T., et al. (2019, September). Low Self-Esteem and Its Association With Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Ideation in Vietnamese Secondary School Students: A Cross-Sectional Study. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 10, 698. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31611825/
  6. Yan, F., Costello, M. & Allen, J. (2020, October). Self-Perception and Relative Increases in Substance Use Problems in Early Adulthood. Journal of Drug Issues. 50 (4), 538-549. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7978475/
  7. Raevuori, A., et al. (2007, November). Genetic and environmental factors affecting self-esteem from age 14 to 17: a longitudinal study of Finnish twins. Psychological Medicine. 37 (11), 1625-1633. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2084483/
  8. Chand, S.P., Kuchel, D.P. & Huecker, M.R. (2022, September 9). Cognitive Behavior Therapy. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470241/
  9. Lee, J.S., Joo, E.J. & Choi, K.S. (2013, February). Perceived stress and self-esteem mediate the effects of work-related stress on depression. Stress and Health. 29 (1), 75-81. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22610597/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Jill Johnson, FNP

Dr. Jill Johnson is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner and board-certified in Aesthetic Medicine. She has clinical and leadership experience in emergency services, Family Practice, and Aesthetics.

Jill graduated with honors from Frontier Nursing University School of Midwifery and Family Practice, where she received a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialty in Family Nursing. She completed her doctoral degree at Case Western Reserve University

She is a member of Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the Emergency Nurses Association, and the Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association.

Jill is a national speaker on various topics involving critical care, emergency and air medical topics. She has authored and reviewed for numerous publications. You can find Jill on Linkedin for more information.

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