By Dr. Nadia Noori
“Self-love means finding peace within ourselves — resting comfortably within the depths of our being.”
— John Amodeo
Self-love is critical for a truly healthy lifestyle. Studies have found that people who treat themselves compassionately have better health habits and outcomes. Loving yourself means you’ll be more in tune with what’s going on in your body and mind, more likely to realize when there’s a problem, and more likely to seek care. Self-love also leads to a happier, less stressed life.
Self-care and self-compassion are two big components of showing yourself. It can include activities like treating yourself to a long bath or a massage, but it also applies to how you treat yourself daily, in a broader sense. It’s about making decisions that benefit you, even when they are difficult or inconvenient. Self-compassion doesn’t mean you set low expectations or standards for yourself; it means you don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake, miss an opportunity, or something doesn’t go your way.
Think of it as treating yourself with the care, attention, understanding, and kindness you’d give to your closest friends and family. Not sure where to start? Here are 6 ways you can practice self-love.
1. Meditation and mindfulness
From the ability to lower blood pressure to helping people manage anxiety, depression, and pain, mindfulness meditation has many science-backed benefits. In simplest terms, this practice involves sitting, focusing on your breath, and noticing when thoughts or feelings arise without getting caught up in them. It can help you relax in the moment, but also carries over into how you process and deal with the stresses and challenges of everyday life.
Meditation is a great self-love practice in part because you’re actively carving out time that’s just for you, even if it’s 5 or 10 minutes a day. In our hectic world, that can be powerful.
If you’ve never meditated before, or you’re looking to cultivate a regular practice, technology can help. Apps like Headspace ease you into meditation from the ground up, and can make sticking to a practice easier. There are also great guided meditations on Insight Timer, plus a basic timer for those not looking to do a guided practice.
2. Set boundaries
Knowing when and how to say “no”, not overextending yourself, and not making commitments that are harmful to you, are important parts of self-love. This means acknowledging which situations and people have a negative impact on your well-being, and minimizing your exposure to them.
Boundary-setting can be difficult and guilt-ridden if you’ve always been the one everyone else counts on, or are used to giving of yourself without limits. An important part of setting boundaries is reminding yourself that you have a right and obligation to put yourself first, because you are the only person who can take care of you in the best ways.
Pay attention to which environments and people make you feel stressed or exhausted, and which give you positive energy, or feelings of calm and safety. Avoid the exhausting, stressful ones as much as possible, and make a conscious effort to immerse yourself in those that make you feel good.
3. Avoid comparing yourself to others
We are bombarded with messages — from the media, society, our social circles — about what others have and accomplish, and can start to believe that if we don’t do or have those same things, we’re lesser. Whether it’s a celebrity’s “summer body”, a friend’s successful startup, a sibling’s “perfect” nuclear family, we’re constantly nudged in the direction of comparisons that negatively impact our well-being.
Fight the urge to use anyone else as a measuring stick for who you should be or how you should live your life. Everyone is unique, and it’s through that uniqueness that you’ll make your impact on the world.
Take stock of your strengths, the things you’re good at, and work to make those central to your day-to-day life, career, hobbies, and relationships. Get involved in activities that interest you, learn things you’re curious about, do what makes you happy and whole.
4. Practice gratitude
Maybe you’ve come across some variation of the phrase, “It’s not happy people who are thankful, it’s thankful people who are happy.” Gratitude is another powerful way of loving yourself. Similar to when you take stock of the positive aspects of who you are, taking account of the good things in your daily life can boost your mood, and make you more resilient in trying times.
There are many ways to practice gratitude, including keeping a gratitude journal where you write a few things for which you’re grateful each day. You can also take gratitude notes on your phone if you prefer, or make the notes entirely mental ones. Another great option, especially for those who want to go deeper with their gratitude, is to do a guided gratitude meditation. The point is to pause and reflect on the positives in your life, however large or small.
5. Eat a healthy, nutritious, balanced diet that makes you feel good.
One of the best ways we show ourselves love is through the food we eat and how we consume it. If we’re constantly putting things into our bodies that leave us feeling lethargic or weighed down, and we’re inhaling food while doing three other things at once, we are sending ourselves the message that we aren’t worth the time and energy to fuel ourselves with good things in a deliberate and present way. And of course, diet has a huge impact on our overall health.
It’s important to be mindful about what you eat, really paying attention to how certain foods make you feel. You can start by keeping a food/feelings diary, where you record what you’ve eaten, and also track how you feel. You might start to see patterns emerge over a few weeks or a month. Maybe you feel better physically and emotionally on days when you eat certain foods. and feel tired or have stomach troubles on days when you eat others. Or maybe you’ll notice that you’re really skimping on vegetables or fruits. It can also be a good idea to have your doctor run tests to determine whether you have any food sensitivities or allergies you may not be aware of, which is one of the key tests I run for patients.
A great way to get into the swing of things regarding a healthy diet is to ask for help. Sometimes a little guidance and structure is all it takes!
6. Schedule your needs and take care of them
Oftentimes, our calendars fill up with things we have to do for people and situations outside of ourselves: kids’ sports practices, grocery shopping, work meetings, friends’ birthdays. Before we know it, we’re booked up and spent, with no time or energy for ourselves.
Part of self-love is taking care of your needs, not just your wants or responsibilities, and committing to choices that benefit you down the line. That sometimes means doing things you’d rather postpone, like getting an annual checkup, or even seeing a doctor when we feel sick. Neglecting your needs sends the message that you’re not worth it, which is the opposite of self-love. So, make that doctor’s appointment, set a reminder, and go to it.
Schedule big tasks, but make sure you also set aside time for all the everyday practices that make up self-maintenance. Block out time for exercise, meditation, play, and whatever else helps you feel cared for. Recognize when you need some “me-time”, and make it a priority.
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