Learning to love yourself
Self-compassion as a form of self-care
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding time for self-care can seem hard. Work disruptions, homeschooling, prolonged isolation – it can take its toll on your mental health and self-esteem. The boundaries between home life and work life might blur, leaving you feeling drained at the end of the day. You might also be feeling “not good enough” if your energy is lagging compared to how you felt pre-pandemic.
Self-love and self-compassion are two vital tools you can access anytime to help you practice self-care and restore your sense of well-being. And these tools don’t have to take up much time. In fact, when practiced consistently, they can become a part of your natural routine.
What are self-love and self-compassion?
Self-love is healthy personal regard for oneself that serves physical, psychological, and spiritual growth. It can serve as a basis for self-compassion, which is simply compassion directed inward. Self-compassion – as defined by Dr. Kristen Neff – is composed of three primary tenets: kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness.
Kindness means just that – being kind to yourself. It seems like it’s almost always easier to be kind and loving towards others than to ourselves. We would never say, “You’re a loser,” when a friend has a hard day, right? But many times we use that same negative talk on ourselves. Kindness means being understanding and loving when we fail or don’t live up to our expectations.
A sense of common humanity helps us to remember that we are human, that mistakes are natural, that perfection is not the goal, and that we are not alone in our foibles. This makes it easier to be more resilient in the face of our “imperfections.” In fact, they are what make us who we are.
Mindfulness means being present to one’s thoughts as they arise in the moment. Without judging or pushing away thoughts, they become information for what’s really going on underneath the emotional surface. It’s important not to overly identify with the thoughts, but simply notice them as they arise.
What are the benefits of self-love and compassion?
Self-love can help one feel integrated by cultivating an honest appreciation of who one is. It could be considered an important part of one’s overall well-being. Self-compassion is associated with helping to build resilience and recover from stressful events, such as divorce. Self-compassion is also associated with reducing the ‘fight or flight’ response – linked with stressful events – and helping to increase the parasympathetic response.
In times of stress, one’s “inner critic” – or the voice that criticizes and negatively affects self-esteem – can take over the mind. It becomes a negative coping mechanism when trying to make sense of an uncertain world. Negative thinking is associated with mental health conditions, such as depression. Early research shows it might even be associated with cognitive decline, though more research is needed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new level of stress to many people’s everyday lives. However, with self-love as a foundation and self-compassion as a moment-to-moment practice, you have an anchor to help you better cope with life’s difficulties and potentially feel a better sense of control in the midst of the current uncertainty.
How can you incorporate self-love into your self-care practice?
The best way to start any self-care practice is to do just a little a day. Stay consistent until it becomes a habit. Choose something that physically and emotionally excites you. That way you are more likely to stick to it. Here are a few options.
- Develop a mantra – Pick a word or phrase that empowers you, helps you feel more confident, reduces stress – anything that gets you closer to your goal. Examples can include “Be kind to yourself today” or “I am worthy.” Repeat it to yourself every morning for a few minutes. Or, say your mantra anytime you start to notice your inner critic getting louder. You can even help your kids come up with a mantra to help them build emotional resilience and confidence.
- Get comfortable with mistakes – If you notice your inner critic beating you up when you fail, change your inner narrative. Instead of saying to yourself, “I can’t believe I did that. I’m so dumb!” try asking, “What can I learn from this so I can do better next time?” Staying mindful and getting curious about what’s happening can help you start to feel more comfortable when things don’t go your way.
- Nurture yourself emotionally – Maladaptive coping mechanisms are associated with chronic physical pain. Meditations that focus on positive affirmations can help nurture you emotionally and physically. You can also practice self-respect. Say “thank you” and “well done” after doing something good for yourself. There are online meditation and self-care apps – many of them on Wellvolution® – that can help guide you into these kinds of practices.
- Set healthy boundaries – Critical self-talk can sometimes be a reflection of the negative things some people say to us. If there are people in your life who aren’t respecting you, let them know how you would like to be treated. Even if there is no one like that in your life, everyone needs a little emotional and physical space sometimes, especially caregivers. Taking a few hours a week for personal time is not selfish – it’s vital for your health and can help your overall well-being. Also, if your home is now your office, you might find that your work life and home life are starting to blend. Set a personal boundary to clearly separate work time from family time. For example, you can close your work laptop at 5:30pm and promise yourself you won’t look at it until the next morning.
- Identify what makes you happy – While social distancing helps stop the spread of COVID-19, it means missing out on the things that make many people happy. But there are still ways to find joy in what you love, even if you have to get creative – such as virtual book clubs or dance parties. Plus the start of spring brings opportunities to spend more time outdoors with others (with six feet of distance between everyone and masks on, of course).
Self-care shouldn’t have to be something you get around to when you have the time. It can become a daily habit that helps you ride the waves of stress with more resilience. With self-love and self-compassion tools, you can start to cultivate a feeling of warmth and gratitude for yourself and ease the emotional burden that many of us are carrying right now.
Self-love starts with taking care of your mental and physical self. Wellvolution has personalized programs for better health and well-being. Connect with programs that can help you reach our health goals for no added cost (or for $0 added cost)
Wellvolution is a registered trademark of Blue Shield of California. Wellvolution and all associated digital and in-person health programs, services, and offerings are managed by Solera, Inc.