Building self-esteem in a pressurised world

For International Women’s Day, Mental Health UK alongside our partners Bill’s Restaurants hosted an event focussed on building self-esteem in a pressurised world. Here are some of the highlights of what was discussed.


We had two fantastic guests to discuss these topics facilitated by Kat Allin, Head of Media at Mental Health UK.

Helen Williams Is the England co-ordinator for the delivery of Bloom, Mental Health UK’s young people’s resilience programme. Helen is also a Director of Rose and Butterfly, her own coaching business, where she supports people to build confidence, understand their current position, and their future potential. She previously coached at the Young Women’s Trust and has worked at other leading mental health charities including The Mix, Young Minds, and Beat.

Louise Jones is a Copywriter at Anthony Nolan, the charity saving the lives of people with blood cancer. Having previously worked and written for The Mix, Asthma UK, Beat, and Helen’s own Rose & Butterfly, she is well versed in championing young people and empowering them to make the best decisions for themselves. When Louise isn’t encouraging people to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register, she is blogging at Biscuits & Blisters, her award-winning blog of 10 years where she writes openly and honestly about her own experience with her mental health as a young woman.

Self-esteem is about gratitude. If we start to observe the things around us and appreciate them, we feel much more part of our own lives. The value of practising this is really important. It shows things up to people about their world that they wouldn't otherwise see.

– Helen Williams, Bloom Manager and Director of Rose and Butterfly.

Living in a pressurised world

‘Busy’ is often a default response when asked how we’re doing. Everyone has different pressures on them, including their work, health, family, money, I’m sure we could all write our own quite extensive lists! I don’t think this is unusual that we feel can feel under pressure to be “always-on” and to have our lives together (spoiler: no one really does)! What might these pressures that we face on a daily basis look like, and how can we manage our to-do lists?

Helen: Think about how to prioritise what you can influence and not to concern yourself with what you cannot change. If you’re completely worn out by saying yes to everything how can you show up and really be your best self?

Louise: Be around positive content on social media and in other areas of your life. Don’t focus on what other people are doing, there is always pressure to do more if you focus on that. Prioritise what you enjoy!

Helen: I also see our working lives extending all the time. As someone who runs my own business, I have to manage my interest in the influx of posts on social media vs my need to build my business. There have definitely been periods when I have needed to keep a clear head and so I have come off social media for a time. My behaviour when I come back on has been different because I’ve been clearer on where my alignment is.

Louise: Remember that you can curate your own space on social media. There is so much content out there but trying to strip things back to what makes you feel good makes a big difference. Deleting Instagram for a while meant I could enjoy the little things in life more, even things like washing up and hoovering, because I could feel present and in the moment!

Helen: I also try and be mindful around overachievement. Starting to say no to things has made a big difference to me. Sometimes we get pressured into thinking we always need to be always going for the next thing – I try not to think about always going up the ladder and focus on what I can learn instead. I try and see what value I can add to the work that I take on.

Louise: Absolutely, I find it important to allow myself to change my goals and make them smaller if I need to. It’s not shameful to move the goalposts!

Confidence means something different to everyone

Is female lack of self-confidence something you think we are told to believe? And how do you talk to young people you coach about what self-esteem is and what it can mean to them?

Helen: A big thing I have had in conversations with young women is that if we’re not doing well in our career, it’s because of confidence. Often it’s really down to society instead. We have the skills and the confidence but we are not aware of them. I try and base my confidence on evidence rather than how I feel about doing something. In fact, you don’t have to feel confident to do something. Just launch yourself into something terrifying and see how you show up for it. It’s often with hindsight that you can see you do have the confidence within yourself.

Louise: I totally agree! If other people believe you can do something, that means you can do it. It doesn’t matter about how you feel about whether you can do it. Sometimes we are more cautious than you need to be.

Helen: Self-esteem is about gratitude. If we start to observe the things around us and appreciate them, we feel much more part of our own lives. The value of practising this is really important. It shows things up to people about their world that they wouldn’t otherwise see.

In the Bloom programme, we talk about celebrating small successes. The sense of cumulative success can be very powerful. If someone has experienced something tough, and can then talk about it in terms of their success coming through it, it can be wonderful for their self-esteem.

Pooky Knightsmith talks about 3 good things every day on Twitter. I try and do that too for myself, and to seek out her tweet. When I started to do this more regularly, it became a habit. I was coming up with 5 or 6 things really easily and not just 3.

Louise: I’ve recently been trying to show more gratitude towards my friends. It’s a very British thing not to be emotional when you say thank you to someone, but I love it! If your friend tells you they are grateful for you, accept what they’re telling you, think about it seriously and don’t just brush it off.

What do we mean by resilience?

We will all fail at certain things in our life, and things will fail us. We are so often told that we need to develop our own resilience so that we are able to pull through these more difficult circumstances. Resilience seems to be a bit of a buzz word at the moment, what does it mean to you?

Helen: Everyone in this room has a concept of resilience, but actually it’s a bit of a confusing concept. So much effort went into finding a universal definition for resilience when we were creating Bloom. Resilience is all about how you manage and cope as you move through life. It’s important to debunk the analogy of bouncing back. We are not elastic bands – we don’t just go back to how we were. When you come through something, there may be a kind of transformation, small or large.

Louise: You don’t realise how resilient you are until you go through something and then look back. It’s almost primal. If you try and bounce back too quickly, it won’t work.

Helen: The idea of superheroes is an absolute myth! Look at small steps that you want to take. A glimmer of light in a dark tunnel can make a difference. If I had been able to benefit from Mental Health UK’s Bloom programme for young people, which links resilience to wellbeing and mental health, it would have made a big difference to me.

Focus on your inner coach, not your inner critic

We talked about buzz words earlier, and it feels like ‘imposter syndrome’ is something that we’re talking about more and more. The fear that you’re not good enough, or that people are going to find out that you’re a bit of a fraud. More often than not our internal dialogue can be negative. What do we mean by imposter syndrome?

It’s particularly relevant at the moment where there is a focus on being kinder to others, but why do you think that this just doesn’t seem to come as naturally when speaking to ourselves and how do you suggest we can change this?

Helen: The way that we speak to ourselves can be pretty harsh. You have to ask yourself if you would speak to your best friend like that? It’s important to develop a compassionate voice for yourself. Champion yourself and notice when things are going well, but also observe mistakes from a place of compassion. It seems like such a simple thing, but it’s so powerful.

Louise: Imposter syndrome is a big issue for women. It’s really hard feeling like you are a fraud or not good enough. But in reality, feeling anxious about something means you care about it. I try and use this to turn my fears into a positive.

Helen: If you get a new job, you can find yourself feeling like you have to nail it in the first week. But the process of learning is really important. To do this, you have to be able to normalise mistakes and accept failures.

Top tips for building self-esteem.

Louise: Little changes to the way you speak to yourself and others can help to build your self-esteem. Try saying ‘excuse me’ when you move past someone on the train instead of saying ‘sorry’. This can make a huge difference to your confidence because you’re not apologising!

Helen: Get clarity by speaking something aloud. I am massive on visualisation. It’s important to think about what you will be like to turn up at your best.

Kat:  I try to remember what I remind people when I give media training: we’re all human. So often we run through the worst-case scenarios, but people can empathise that things don’t go right all of the time. You might feel self-conscious about speaking up or taking on a new challenge, and you might worry about going wrong, but generally people are in your corner and they should be supportive.

Louise: Also remember that on social media you only see the outcome of what someone’s been doing, you don’t see the journey. You don’t see the failure.


The night took place in Bill’s London Covent Garden restaurant, an intimate venue perfect to have an open discussion. A big thank you to Bills for hosting the evening and to all of the women who attended and took part in the discussion. We are proud to be Bill’s first-ever charity partner, and especially so because we were chosen by their customers in a public vote.

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