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How accurate is our mental image of ourselves?

Influences on Mental Image
Poor self-image can have a negative impact on relationships, while unhealthy relationships can negatively affect one's self-image.
Poor self-image can have a negative impact on relationships, while unhealthy relationships can negatively affect one's self-image.
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A recent poll conducted by the American Psychological Association found that one-third of Americans are extremely stressed out. Finances and work were the top stressors, leading to increased health problems, bad relationships and reduced productivity. Forty-one percent of people under such high levels of stress recognized a negative impact on their self-image [source: APA].

Positive self-image may help people manage work-related stress loads. Employees with good self-esteem and emotional stability generally have more motivation to perform well at work. On the other hand, research has shown that people with a negative body image have poorer work performance, lower quality of life and worse relationships [source: Judge, Erez and Bono].

Speaking of relationships, they can also significantly affect how we see ourselves and measure our self-worth. From birth, messages we receive from parents or guardians can go a long way to reinforce a positive sense of self or tear us down. Women in psychologically abusive romantic relationships exhibit more signs of lower self-esteem, for instance [source: Pipes and LeBov-Keeler]. Numerous studies have highlighted the diminished sense of self that sexual abuse victims undergo as well.

At this point, it should be pretty clear that an accurate, healthy mental image of yourself has positive results in your life. Your health and physical fitness are tied to that, but there are other factors everyone must deal with. So how can we adjust our mental lens to reap those benefits?

First, you have to be honest with yourself. Everyone has hang-ups and baggage that can skew our identities. To get to the root of those rough spots, it may help to talk to a counselor, psychologist or even a good friend to better understand how you think about yourself. From there, learn to acknowledge and appreciate your assets and assess your weaknesses. As we've learned, the mind and the body often function symbiotically, so taking proper physical care can also improve your mindset. Eating right, getting adequate sleep and exercising will help balance the chemicals and hormones in our bodies associated with stress and anxiety. By altering your self-image to honor your value as a person while treating your body with TLC, you'll be on your way feeling better in body and spirit.

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