Believing in yourself and your ability to control important aspects of your life may protect your health, according to a new report in the journal Women & Health.
Researcher Nicole Etherington, from the University of Western Ontario, investigated the links between social status, psychosocial resources and robust health in a sample of 869 women, using information from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics. The data gathered for the study allowed Etherington to compare the health of black women and white women at several levels of academic achievement and socioeconomic status.
Her results confirm what many other studies of black women’s health have found: Disparities in the health status of black and white Americans persist even among blacks with better access to health care, higher levels of income and education.
Etherington found that as income and education levels improved in black women, they gained intrapersonal rewards such as higher self-esteem and self-efficacy, but they did not experience the degree of health benefits that economic and social advancement brought to white women.
Closing the Gap
The study did reveal that black women who reported high levels of self-efficacy and self-esteem were more likely than black women with less self-esteem to be in better health. High self-esteem did not erase the black-white disparity, but it appears to have made a difference in the health of the black women studied.
Etherington’s research is not the first to identify a connection between strong self-esteem and better health. Some studies have found that black women and men have better health when they not only have strong self-esteem, but also a strong racial identity. Additional research from the University of Michigan also reported a link between good health and self-esteem in African Americans.
Strengthening Your Self-Esteem
Protecting and shoring up your self-esteem also hold benefits for healthy aging, achievement and getting the most out of life, so here are a few suggestions to help you feel good about yourself in good times and bad.
▪ Be your own best friend. No one is perfect, but remember that each person is valuable and has unique gifts. Do not engage in negative self-talk such as “I never do anything right,” or “no one will ever love me.” Focus on the positive aspects of your personality and your life. Develop your own list of positive affirmations, highlighting your best traits — your amazing skill at math, your heart-stopping brown eyes, your lovely singing voice — and post them where you can see them each day.
▪ Troubleshoot challenging situations. Take some time to identify situations or people that seem to harm your self-esteem. Make a list and leave room to jot down your thoughts about each issue.
Think about your approach to each circumstance. Work to adapt positive beliefs about difficult scenarios. If you are being abused at work, for example, do not focus on feeling trapped; concentrate on your skills and ability to find a more supportive way to earn your living. Hold onto encouraging rather than negative thoughts, and set positive goals to blunt the impact of such events on your self-esteem.
If your problem is a particularly toxic person or relationship, it may be time to confront the person and demand better behavior or remove them from your life.
▪ Work toward balance. Avoid “all or nothing” thinking. Taking a black and white view of situations can often leave you feeling powerless and depressed. Step back from your thoughts, and try to see all sides of a scenario and possible solutions. Free yourself from unnecessarily negative interpretations of other people’s actions.
▪ Invest in looking good. Go easy on your budget, but dress well and stay well groomed. Do not succumb to ridiculous and discriminatory European standards of beauty, select styles (such as gorgeous, natural hair or African dress) and colors that make you feel comfortable and positive about yourself and your best features.
▪ Take care of yourself. If you do not work out, establish a plan and begin. Trim the fat from your diet, and emphasize healthy foods. Take stock of your checkups, and make appointments to see your doctor, dentist and vision specialist on a regular basis.
Make yourself your No. 1 priority. The payoff will be better health and a more fulfilling life.