Feeling good about yourself when you have juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)

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As a teenager, you go through a lot of changes in your body, which can be tough to deal with. You may also have to deal with physical changes due to JIA, which can make things hard to manage. Your self-esteem and body image can affect your ability to cope with these body changes.

Self-esteem and body image

Self-esteem is all about how much you value yourself or how worthwhile you feel. Self-esteem is important because feeling good about yourself can affect how you act. If you have high self-esteem, you will feel happier. You will find it easier to deal with mistakes. You will be more likely to stick with something until it succeeds.

Body image is how you feel about your own physical appearance.

For a lot of teenagers, body image can be closely related to self-esteem. This is because teenagers tend to care more about how others, like their friends, see them.

Influences on your self-esteem

There are a lot of things that can influence your self-esteem. Some of these include:

Puberty

During puberty​, there are physical changes which, when combined with the desire to feel accepted, can cause you to compare yourself to others. You might have gone through this experience. Have you compared yourself to other people around you or celebrities on TV, in movies or in magazines? If you catch yourself doing this, remember, it doesn’t make sense to compare yourself to others because the changes that happen with puberty are different for everyone. Some young people develop early, and some later.

Changes that occur with puberty can affect how you feel about yourself. You may feel uncomfortable with the changes or you may wish that you were developing faster. Girls may feel the pressure to be thin, while guys may feel like they don’t look muscular enough.

Outside influences

Factors like media images can negatively affect your body image through repeated exposure to images of skinny women and bulked-up guys. You might also experience negative comments or teasing about the way you look from classmates or peers at school. Although these comments often come from ignorance on the part of the person making them, sometimes they can affect your body image and self-esteem.

Success

Doing things that you can complete or do well at is great for your self-esteem. This might involve playing in a band, swimming, going to school or writing a blog. Finding something that you love and are good at can help build your self-esteem.

Changes in your relationships

As you and your friends mature, you may find that your relationships are changing as well. New relationships develop. Sometimes old friendships end when people grow apart. This can be challenging but it is a normal part of growing up. Changing friends and relationships can affect your self-esteem. If you feel sad about it, talk to an adult you trust.

Having a chronic illness

Sometimes having a chronic illness like JIA can affect how you feel about yourself. Have you ever felt “Why me? Why do I have to have JIA?” This may be especially true if you look different from your friends because of side effects of taking steroid medication. You might also feel this way if there are things you cannot do because of JIA, such as participating in sports or other recreational activities.

You might also worry about how JIA might affect things in your future such as going to university or college, getting a job, getting married, or having children.

Depression and JIA

What is depression?

Sometimes people with JIA can develop low self-esteem or poor body image. This can lead to depression or feeling down. Some signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • loss of interest in normal daily activities like hanging out with friends
  • feeling sad or down
  • feeling hopeless
  • crying spells for no apparent reason
  • problems sleeping
  • trouble focusing or concentrating
  • difficulty making decisions
  • unintentional weight gain or weight loss
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • being easily annoyed
  • feeling fatigued or weak
  • feeling worthless
  • thoughts of suicide or physically harming yourself
  • unexplained physical problems, such as headaches, tummy pain, or total body pain.

Some of these symptoms may be related to JIA or your medications. If you have one or more of these symptoms get help from your doctor and someone like a parent, teacher to help manage them. ​

Tips for maintaining a healthy body image and self-esteem

  • When you catch yourself having negative thoughts, try to find a way to approach the thought that is more positive, or that isn’t a put-down. You can even try using some of the distraction techniques, like thought stopping, that you learned about in Session 9.
  • Accept that you will make mistakes because everyone does. No one is perfect. Mistakes are a part of learning!
  • Experiment with different activities that will help you explore different talents you may have. Then you can take pride in the new skills that you develop.
  • If you are unhappy with something about yourself that you can change, then work towards changing it. For example, if you want to get fit, make a plan to exercise every day and eat nutritious foods.
  • Think about what you would like to accomplish in the short and long term. Then make a plan for how to do it. Stick with your plan and keep track of your progress.
  • Exercise can help to ease JIA symptoms. It can make you healthier and happier! Spend time with friends and family you care about and doing the things you love. Have a good time!
  • Participate in a community charity event, volunteer your time in a hospital, or even help tutor a classmate who is having trouble. Feeling that you are making a difference and that your help is valued can do a lot to improve your self-esteem.

Sometimes low self-esteem and body image can be too much to handle. If you are feeling this way, it can help to talk to a parent, guidance counselor, social worker or even your doctor. They can help you to put your thoughts into perspective and give you positive feedback. You can also contact Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) and speak to a counsellor.

Last updated: January 31st 2017