Lauryn Rozum, MS, CCLS
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
January means many things- new month, new year, new beginnings. This is the time of year that we hear a lot of talk about resolutions and the common phrase “New Year, New Me”. But what about the “old” you? The current you? That person deserves some love and acknowledgement too. That person has gotten you to where you are in this very moment. Self-love means accepting yourself as you are in this very moment for everything that you are. It means accepting your emotions for what they are and putting your physical, emotional, and mental well-being first. January is “Self-Love Month” and we all could use a little more of that, especially right after a busy holiday season at both work and home.
So, what actually is self-love? We cannot truly practice self-love without knowing what it is. The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation defines self-love as the following- “Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve.” (Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, 2020) As we often tell our patients and families when focusing on coping strategies and skills, what works for one person might not work for someone else. We each have our own strengths and interests that lead to feeling a sense of self love. Figuring out what self-love looks like and works for you is a crucial first step in self-love.
Dr. Elizabeth Jarquin, a licensed marriage and family therapist, states that self-love teaches individuals how important it is to put yourself first. There are also decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression when you work on managing your well-being and accepting yourself (Forbes, 2022). We often tell our patients and families to give themselves grace and that they can do hard things. Well guess what? So can you!
Engaging in self-love takes practice. It is a skill that we must develop just like any other skill. “Headspace” has many wonderful tips and suggestions for how to better engage in self-love. For starters, self-love begins with appreciating yourself. Headspace also mentions how self-love has benefits beyond ourselves. The kinder we are to ourselves, the more we spread it to others. This means that the more we practice self-love for ourselves, the better we will be able to support our patients and families at work (Headspace, n.d.).
An important thing to note though, being kind and compassionate to yourself does not mean you have to be positive all the time. It is important to be able to recognize negative thoughts and situations while being armed with ways to work through those events (Headspace, n.d.).
Below are 6 ways to practice self-love from Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app.
1. Embrace meditation and mindfulness.
When we meditate, we are cultivating self-love. But that’s still only 10 minutes of the day, or maybe up to an hour for seasoned meditators. Transferring that quality of mind into the rest of our day is where mindfulness takes over — the ability to remain aware, without getting caught up in our ancient patterns, without getting fazed by what’s happening around us. The mind we train in meditation is essentially the mind that learns to be mindful, not falling into old ways of thinking. Research shows an association between meditation/mindfulness and elevated self-esteem and happiness, as well as lowered anxiety — each of which makes it easier to practice self-love. What’s more, it becomes easier to recognize the negative thoughts and feelings that often get in the way of us appreciating ourselves. Three weeks of using the Headspace app has been shown to increase compassion by 21%.
2. Express gratitude to yourself.
When we express gratitude — for the qualities we possess or the day we’ve experienced — we are connecting with the things we value about ourselves. Self-appreciation is one route to self-love. Whether we say these things quietly to ourselves, or keep a list in a gratitude journal, the practice of acknowledging our strengths and achievements will help build that self-love over time and allow us to redirect our desire for external validation inwards.
3. Practice self-care.
Self-love blossoms when we take care of ourselves. This can be something as basic as attending to our basic needs — eating well, hydrating enough, exercising, and sleeping as much as we need — but it can also look like doing a little extra. We might carve out an afternoon to do an activity we love or pamper ourselves in some way. Self-love centers around how we think and feel about ourselves. Self-care is those thoughts and feelings put into action; however we choose to treat or spoil ourselves.
4. Set boundaries.
Nothing is more loving than recognizing our own limits and protecting ourselves from running past them. When we don’t love ourselves enough, we can tend to come from a place of people-pleasing and put the needs of others ahead of our own, in pursuit of validation. When we bring awareness to this trait, we can start to make changes and set healthy boundaries. Though it can feel challenging to do so, we show ourselves love by saying no to people, things, and experiences that don’t feel good and by asking clearly for what we need from our loved ones.
5. Let go of comparisons.
Comparing ourselves to the external success or achievements of others is a sure-fire way to cultivate negativity. Each of us has our own path in life, and we practice self-love by reminding ourselves of that when the desire to compare arises.
6. Forgive yourself.
Challenges are inevitable. Each of us will make mistakes or behave in ways we regret. We can practice self-love by extending compassion and kindness to ourselves in these moments. When negative self-talk shows up, we can notice it and acknowledge it without giving into the self-criticism. We can extend the grace and forgiveness we’d extend easily to a dear friend in the same situation.
So, while you are reflecting on the past year and looking forward to this year to come, make it a point to prioritize yourself. You are important, you matter, and you deserve all the love, from others and from yourself. Happy New Year!
Forbes Magazine (2022, August 12). 6 ways to practice self-love. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/how-to-practice-self-love/
Headspace (n.d.) How to practice self-love. https://www.headspace.com/mindfulness/self-love
Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (2020, July 9). Self-love and what it means. https://www.bbrfoundation.org/blog/self-love-and-what-it-means