Notes to Self

Thoughts on psychology, spirituality and soft skill development for personal improvement


How to Cope with Stress

"We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same." - Anne Frank

Feeling stressed out? Tired? Bored? Here's a few simple tips to cope with stress and help you become more energetic and alert:

  1. Take a Stroll: Studies show that spending time outdoors provides a mood boost by reducing stress hormones and lowering blood pressure. Sunlight can also increase the body's production of serotonin, which lifts mood and increases energy. A weather where there's a lot of air and water movement in the atmosphere (like in a thunderstorm) may also increase the body's oxygen intake and serotonin levels, says Michael Terman, Ph.D., director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at New York–Presbyterian Hospital.

  2. Obsess Less: When your mind is in overdrive, your body secretes stress hormones, such as cortisol, which over time can wreak havoc on the body. It can also make falling asleep difficult by suppressing the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for lowering body temperature so that you can shift into sleep mode. For a quick fix, "Ask yourself, 'Am I in imminent danger?' It may sound irrational or melodramatic, but that's the point. You bring yourself down to earth by reminding yourself that your worries aren't crises. This will relax your body’s adrenal 'fight or flight' system and help you feel in control."

  3. Drink Fluids: Your body needs water to transport oxygen to your cells. Deprive yourself of sufficient liquids and you may feel tired or get headaches. While there's no magic number for the amount of liquid to consume in a day, experts say you should try to drink at least four tall glasses of water. Caffeine gets a bad rap, but used judiciously, it can give you a lift. Try to limit yourself to one cup of coffee in the morning and, if you must and it doesn’t interfere with falling asleep at night, a half cup after lunch. Consider switching to green tea, which contains caffeine but also theanine, a calming substance that counteracts the jitters from caffeine.

  4. Do Things That Lift Your Spirits: Fun people, rhythmic music, and funny movies can boost your energy level, researchers have found. Listening to music invigorates the body by activating several areas of the brain at once, building new nerve connections. It also increases oxygen flow to the heart, which perks you up as well.

  5. Eat Consistently: Eating consistently - three small meals with snacks in between - keeps your blood-sugar level even, so you don’t experience the highs and lows that occur when you go too long without food, says Molly Kimball, a registered dietitian at the Ochsner Clinic’s Elmwood Fitness Center, in New Orleans. Ideally, all your meals and snacks should contain complex carbohydrates (produce, whole grains) to provide fuel, and protein (nuts, cheese) to give you endurance. Try an apple and a piece of cheese or carrot sticks and edamame. Snacks of refined carbs, like cookies and pretzels, provide an initial rush, but the body burns them quickly and your energy soon flags. To satiate a sweet tooth, try dark chocolate. It contains the chemical phenylethylamine, which increases energy by improving mood and attention span.

  6. Exercise: Regular workouts boost energy stores by conditioning the body to make optimal use of oxygen and glucose, its two primary fuel sources. There's good evidence that simply walking regularly can boost energy.

  7. Breathe Deep: Shallow breathing prevents the body from getting enough oxygen. Many people fail to breathe deeply when they feel tense, which is one reason they may feel zapped at the end of a stress-filled day. "The general principles of correct breathing are to make it deeper, slower, quieter, and more regular," says Andrew Weil, M.D. Doing so helps you force more oxygen into your cells, which slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation, ultimately providing more energy.

  8. Move Around: The more active you are, the better your circulation will be. And good circulation is essential for energy because blood transports oxygen and nutrients — fuel for the cells — to the muscles, brain, etc. If you have a desk job, get up throughout the day — once an hour is ideal — to give your body breaks from activities such as typing and staring at the computer. Also, stand up when you’re on the phone or pace around the office. When you’re stuck seated, like on a long car ride, do neck rolls and shoulder shrugs and circle your feet to keep blood circulating.

  9. Don't Slouch: Good posture opens the chest cavity and increases oxygen intake by as much as 30 percent, making more energy available to your mind and muscles. If you’re a sloucher, trade in your chair for an exercise ball, which forces you to sit taller, says Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Healthy Aging.

  10. Try Something New: Recent research confirms new experiences give you a rush. "We've known that when people do something novel, the brain's reward chemical, dopamine, is released," says Gregory Berns, M.D., a neuroscientist at Emory University, in Atlanta, and the author of Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment (Henry Holt, $24, But novelty has an added benefit. "What we’ve discovered in the last five years," Berns says, "is that dopamine is also a motivating chemical that gears us up to do more." In other words, take a trip or learn Spanish and you may also feel inspired to start a new project at home or work.

Related » Overcoming Failure


"The most difficult phase of life is not when no one understands you. It is when you don't understand yourself." - Author Unknown

If you are not happy or satisfied with your life for reasons you can't pinpoint specifically, it's probably because your self-esteem might be in the low phase. Low self esteem can make you blame yourself for things that aren't your fault; underestimate your abilities, and make you a pessimist. Self-esteem plays a role in almost everything you do.

What is Self-Esteem?

Very simply put - how much you like yourself and feel lovable and capable..

Self-esteem is often confused with self-confidence. Self-confidence is the knowledge that one can succeed at something – relationship, career, goal etc. Self-esteem, on the other hand, is the capacity to like and love one self; and feel worthwhile, irrespective of all the ups and downs of life.

Someone with a healthy self-esteem simply likes himself or herself. A healthy self-esteem is not contingent on success because there are always failures to contend with. Neither is it a result of comparing ourselves with others because there is always someone better. With a healthy self-esteem, we like ourselves because of who we are and not because of what we can or cannot do or what others think of us.


Self-esteem is the foundation of our personality, a fundamental essence that defines everything about us. Self-acceptance and our personal identity together constitutes our self-esteem -

  • Self-Acceptance:

    Self-acceptance is not a denial of a need for change or improvement - it is simply a recognition of who we are. As Dr. David D Burns says, "We need to learn to accept and love ourselves as a flawed and imperfect human. We need to accept our strengths as well as our weakness without a sense of shame or embarrassment."

    It is foolish to deny our shortcomings since it helps us to empathise and connect with others. After all, for example, if you've never felt embarrassed or foolish how can you genuinely care for and understand someone who has? If you feel ashamed of certain feelings and avoid or try to repress them, how do you think you will react to those feelings from someone else? Our personal identity develops from self-acceptance. This is why self-acceptance is at the core, and the first and most important step we need to take to enhance our self-esteem.

  • Personal Identity:

    What we think about ourselves, our self-image or personal identity, is also very important to our core of existence. It is our cultural and personal values, beliefs and philosophy by which we define our personal worth; it influences how we evaluate ourselves and others.

As mentioned before, self-confidence is knowledge and mastery of skills. In today's westernized culture, self-confidence does affect our personal identity (and thus self-esteem). But self-esteem plays a more dominant role in influencing the other.

Self-esteem isn't constant; it fluctuates - it is not an either / or proposition. There is high self-esteem and there is low self-esteem, and many gradations in between.

Self-Esteem and Behavior

Low self-esteem fosters many unhealthy behaviors. Even though we might become aware of these behavioral problems, it's often a Herculean task to change them unless the root of the problem (the warped self-esteem) is not dealt with first.

An example: Perfectionists try to hold themselves to a higher standard than others because they fear criticism and seek approval due to which they often procrastinate, fear away from taking risks or are late in completing tasks.

Since their concept of self-esteem is based on getting 'outside' approvals (i.e. they feel good about themselves only when people whom they like and respect 'approve' them), unless they work on correcting this warped idea, they'll have great difficulty in changing their behavioral problems.

A study on self-esteem and sexual behavior in adolescents by Indiana University School of Medicine reports - "... 40 percent of the girls with low self-esteem in seventh grade had sex by ninth grade ... High self-esteem had the opposite influence on girls, who reportedly were three times more likely to remain virgins than girls with low self-esteem. Fifty percent of the boys with high self-esteem in seventh grade had sex by ninth grade, compared to only 29 percent of the boys with low self-esteem."

Self-esteem and Relationships

People who feel that they are likable and lovable (in other words people with good self-esteem) have better relationships. They are more likely to ask for help and support from friends and family when they need it.

How we look at our self also decides how we believe people judge us. This is why many with low self-esteem get stuck in unhealthy relationships - if we don't like or love ourselves, it's easier to believe that others will not too.

For example, an unhealthy self-esteem might make some people believe that their partner is much better than them and they're lucky to be with him / her. This might occasionally result in feelings of insecurity, jealousy and and actions like making unrealistic demands from the other person. Low self-esteem can manifest as you looking for signs that your partner has lost interest in you or prefers someone else or is only seeing you because they pity you. Or it can make us defensive and feel like we are being criticized when we are not.

Self-esteem and Emotions

All emotions are actually healthy – even those so called negative ones like anger, sadness, frustration etc. It's natural (and healthy) to feel upset when you fail, or outraged at an injustice. "If you are facing, or think you are facing, a negative event, it is not healthy for you to feel good about the occurrence of this event, nor is it healthy for you to feel indifferent about it. Rather, it is healthy for you to feel bad about it. Feeling bad about a negative event helps you to think clearly about the event, to change it if it can be changed and to make a constructive adjustment to it if it can't be changed", says Dr. Windy Dryden professor of psychotherapeutics at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

But a warped sense of self-image can cause these emotions to become destructive – sadness can become depression, healthy anger can become unhealthy, destructive anger. The more unhealthy our negative emotions become, the more it interferes with our ability to think clearly about it, we are less likely to change it in constructive ways if it can be changed, and if it can't be changed our adjustment is likely to be a poor one.

Building Self-Esteem

The development of self-esteem is a lifelong task. From the moment we are born, we are all developing, refining and changing our sense of personal identity and self-acceptance. Here are some steps that can help us improve our self-esteem:

  • Focus on your strengths, not shortcomings - Using self hatred to 'motivate' yourself to change can be very damaging. Forgive yourself for your mistakes and focus more on your strengths than your weakness. Don't put yourself down and don't beat yourself for any lack of skill or any weakness.
  • Maintain a gratitude diary - Make a list of the things that you already have that were once goals - all the things in your day you can do, the activities and people of your life you are most grateful for, the resources you already have available to you. Add to this list ever day - write down at least one thing you are glad about every day.
  • Learn to identify cognitive distortions - The more our thoughts about ourselves are distorted / incorrect, the harder it is to like, love and accept ourselves and / or others. Cognitive therapy teaches us how to identify the distortions in our thoughts and beliefs, and correct them.
  • Compete with yourself, not others - People with healthy self-esteem compete only with themselves. The less self-assured person feels compelled to equal or surpass his colleagues' success because they equate their self-esteem with success, and hence feel threatened with someone more successful. They endlessly seek approval and applause, feel happy when they get it or devastated when they fail or are criticized.
  • Play self-esteem games: Play the self-esteem games every morning for 5 minutes. Research indicates that these computer games help us enhance our self-acceptance.

It helps to remember: Since ups and downs are a natural part of our life, we can have a healthy self-esteem and still have self doubts occasionally.

Related Notes »

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(This article is a work in progress.)

Overcoming Failure

"A good many failures are, ofcourse, nothing but mistakes, the result of greed, stupidity, thoughtless bandwagon-climbing, or incompetance whether in design or execution. Yet, if something fails despite being carefully planned, carefully designed, and conscientiously executed, that failure often bespeaks underlying change and, with it, opportunity."
- Peter Drucker

One aspect of confidence is the knowledge that you have the skillset to succeed at something. As Peter Drucker emphasizes, failures are necessary to identify skills you lack, learning which can contribute to your self-confidence. While increased confidence reduces fears of failure, some other things to keep in mind:

  1. Be realistic: Expect to face failure. There is no one in this world who hasn't failed at something at some point in life. Successful people haven't achieved their success because they have learnt to avoid failures; rather they have learnt how to cope with the defeats they face. And, like Marissa Ann Mayer said, learn when to quit.

  2. Don't 'lash' yourself: Many have a tendency to look down hard on themselves when they fail. Emotionally berating and putting oneself down does not help and this self-hatred makes things worse.

  3. Don't take failure personally: Related to tip 2, don't over-generalize your failures and conclude that there's something wrong with you or you are less competent than others. Some examples of over-generalizations: Someone turning you down for a date doesn't mean you are ugly or lack social skills. You not getting the job you want doesn't mean that you are incompetent. Failing a test doesn't mean you are stupid.

  4. Don't analyze when you are down: We are more likely to misinterpret and make erroneous conclusions when we are mentally and emotionally exhausted. And it's natural to feel sad, anxious, irritated, angry etc. when we fail at something. Think of it as emotional exhaustion - similar to the physical exhaustion one feels after a work out. Just as you need to rest your body after a physical activity, you need to rest and rejuvenate your mind too.

  5. Talk about your feelings: Express your feelings out loud to a trusted friend or family member rather than brooding on them alone. Tell them to be supportive, humorous and give you a good time first, and advices later.

Related » Make your Own Luck
» 10 Ways to Cope with Stress
» Secrets of Success
» How to Quit


"If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking."
- George Patton
Seek other people’s opinion before embarking on something. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to try to plan and do things alone. You can save a lot of time, energy and money by seeking advice from other people.
So, what's the best way to do this? Here's one brainstorming strategy that can be quite effective if you are at an 'idea stage'.
First, it helps to understand that a person can be an optimist, realist, or a pessimist depending on his mood. The optimist (or the 'idea builder') loves to work with ideas, to dream and build upon them. The pessimist (or the 'gloomy Gus') on the other hand will tend to find faults and predict depressing forecasts. The realists will be a mixture of the above two, with practicality.
So what happens when you throw around your ideas to people? Well, one those 'personas' will kick into action - The 'optimist' might share your enthusiasm and offer more great ideas. The 'pessimist' will focus on all the way your ideas will fail or won't work. The 'realist' will offer you a plan of action of how to implement the ideas, and also point to the potential pitfalls.
All this different advice and opinions might bog you down if you don’t find a productive way to 'process' this feedback. One way of going about this is to:
  1. First go to the optimist(s) to build upon your idea.
  2. Than go to the pessimist(s) to find faults in these idea.
  3. Next - Work on again with the optimist(s) to 'rectify' the faults found by the pessimist(s).
  4. Repeat Step 2 again if you feel the need. Else start working on a plan of action with the realist(s).
  5. Let the pessimist(s) find holes in the plan of action.
  6. Work with the realist(s) and the optimist(s) to better the plan in case holes are found.
  7. Repeat the process again if necessary.
I am sure you get the idea.
It also helps to remember that, while it is a good idea to seek advice from the people who are experts in their respective fields, don't immediately dismiss the layman's opinion. The lay person can sometimes offer you a very different perspective.
Related Notes »