Building Self-Esteem: Do-At-Home Activities

Smiling woman holding journal and thinkingMuch of the body image work I do with clients who experience eating disorders comes back to building up self-esteem. What follows are a few activities I’ve found helpful in exploring this topic with clients. These can be used as homework between sessions or as an activity with a therapist guide.

Make a Self-Esteem First Aid Kit

Find a shoebox or similar-sized container. On the outside, create a collage using magazine clippings of all your favorite things: the people, places, and things that you hold most dear.

Begin a collection of items to put inside that make you stop and feel good about yourself. Use your creativity! Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

• Make a list of every compliment you ever remember receiving.
• Have friends and/or family write their five favorite things about you and leave them as a surprise for you in your box.
• Keep special cards or love letters.
• Include photos of good times you have had and of people you love and who love you well
• Include any special recognitions you have received, such as awards, great report cards, or performance appraisals.
• Make a list of things you set out to do and accomplished: your victories!
• Include inspirational and uplifting stories, poems, and sayings.
• Make a list of all your strengths and best qualities, inside and out.

Take your box out each night at bedtime and close your day with a mood lift, or, on days when your confidence is suffering, use the box to remind yourself of the amazing person you truly are.

Try Guided Imagery

When it is hard to come up with a list of what you really like about yourself, try it from someone else’s point of view. Belleruth Naparstek has a powerful guided imagery meditation called “See Yourself with Kinder Eyes” in her book Staying Well with Guided Imagery. This exercise provides an opportunity to look back at yourself through the eyes of a benevolent other who knows you best and loves you most.

Examine Your Support Network

Write down a list of the people you interact with on a regular basis. Think about how you feel after you spend time with each person on your list. Place a plus sign (+) beside each person who you feel better after having spent time with, a minus sign (-) beside the people where you walk away feeling worse, and an equals sign (=) when there is a neutral feeling.

Take time to journal about this: What is it about each person, or the interactions between the two of you, that earns that particular mark? How might you limit your contact with or better insulate yourself from those who earned a minus sign? Especially during the times your confidence is suffering, focus on spending your time with those who earned a plus sign (+) and are most positive and affirming. Surround yourself with healthy relationships.

Nurture Yourself!

Author SARK says, “Women are very good at shining kindness outward, yet if you ask how kind they are to themselves, they often cry.” Make a promise to have more fun with and do nice things for yourself on a regular basis. While vacations to the Virgin Islands, long massages, and shopping sprees may all be great fun, the presents you give yourself don’t have to come at such high price tags. They might be so simple as:

  • Curling up by the fireplace with a cup of hot tea
  • Getting up before anyone else and watching the sunrise
  • Asking someone to brush your hair
  • Taking a rainy day nap
  • Buying a ticket to a community play
  • Going to the park and watching the squirrels chase and play
  • Rereading your favorite book
  • Making a CD of your favorite songs
  • Calling an old high school friend
  • Picking yourself a bouquet of flowers
  • Giving someone a big hug and letting them hug you back
  • Coloring a Mandala
  • Doing something you’ve always wanted to do
  • Having an adventure

SARK adds, “Women deserve adventurous lives. . . a tiny adventurous moment, close to home. It changes your perspective, reminds you that the world is deep and rich and full of colors and miracles. . . . Fill your life with tiny and large adventurous moments. . . perfect peaches, lilting street musicians, a butterfly landing on your shoulder, happy dogs on the beach, people praying together outside, children wearing pajamas in the daytime, old women on benches, laughing. . . . These are all signs of adventure.” What fun!


  1. Copeland, Mary Ellen. (2001). The Depression Workbook: A Guide for Living with Depression and Manic Depression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
  2. Naparstek, Bellaruth. (1995). Staying Well with Guided Imagery. New York, NY: Warner Books.
  3. SARK. (1997). Succulent Wild Woman. New York, NY: Touchstone.

© Copyright 2010 by Joy A. Davis, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment

    June 3rd, 2010 at 2:03 AM

    I have the habit of trying and accomplishing at least one good task/deed each day.Although this may not always be big,it is often little things like helping someone find their way or guiding an older person/helping them cross the street.I reflect back on my day’s good deed before I put off the lights and this way I go to bed each night with a smile on my face and with a sense of having done something good.

  • Alita

    June 3rd, 2010 at 4:46 AM

    I just have a hard time with this do it at home stuff because I think that in many people with eating disorders the problems that they have all stem from things that may have happened to them in the home. Perhaps they were teased by others in the family or made to feel bad about their weight or who they are. Sometimes I feel like too much pressure is put on them to build their own selves back up and while I think that it is a good thing for many to take control of the situation I also know that so many who suffer from disorders with eating are also very fragile and susceptible to falling off the proverbial wagon. I definitely feel that only a good residential program and counseling can help to turn eating disorders around and that they should not be expected to do it on their own.

  • Joy

    June 3rd, 2010 at 6:10 PM

    Hollie: Love this idea! Good for you!

  • lisa H.

    June 3rd, 2010 at 6:14 PM

    I have no problems like a lack of self-esteem but I do tend to encounter a lot of my friends feeling that way and whenever I do come across such a person,I ask them to think and concentrate on the things that they have done well,on things that they are proud of. And sometimes,I even take a friend out and do something substantial with the friend.That way, it helps the person feel a sense of pride of having done something good and the feeling of lack of self-esteem goes away more often than not.

  • Joy

    June 3rd, 2010 at 6:24 PM

    Alita: Please understand that these activities are not recommended as the “self-help” solution to recovery from an eating disorder. Just a piece of the work!

  • kennedy

    June 4th, 2010 at 4:54 AM

    Developing a great network of support is so critical when it comes to resolution of issues like serious eating disorders. In other words you have to have people surrounding you who have got your back. You need friends and family looking out for you and encouraging you every step of the way. Although this is true in every situation this is especially true for those who struggle with issues related to food and eating because it is so easy to get off track with your recovery without that care.

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