As I write this, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and love is in the air.
For many people. Not for all people. Some folks have a difficult time connecting with feelings of love, for themselves or anyone else. Others are processing the feelings surrounding a breakup, or a relationship that is in crisis, or their inability to find someone to partner with. Which can make this time of year a little more painful. And those feelings are valid, if difficult to sit with.
But whatever our relationship status, whatever our feelings about this holiday, we can use it as a reminder (which arguably is the whole point of holidays, but I don’t want to digress too far).
Because as wonderful as it feels to have that love connection with another person, getting all the oxytocin and endorphins swirling around, the most important love connection we can have is with ourselves.
In truth, loving ourselves makes us better partners:
We’re better able to communicate effectively
We have more resilience and so are less prone to losing our cool
We’re more likely to hold meaningful boundaries making us less co-dependent
And while I 100% disagree with anyone who says "you can’t love someone else until you love yourself" (in part because we sometimes need another person to show us how lovable we are) actively engaging in self-love is a powerful form of self-care. It builds confidence, gives you more energy, and can even make you feel more motivated.
With that, here are my top 10 ways to love on yourself:
1. Practice gratitude.
I know, everyone says it. But getting into a grateful state of mind can actually change your body chemistry. This is a big deal, y’all. Look around you and name 5 things you’re grateful for. Even just the air you breathe that gives you life. The sun that nourishes the food, that nourishes you. Then feel the warm glow within you as your body responds.
2. Use kind words when you speak to yourself.
This also has a powerful impact on your body chemistry, and as a result your feelings of stress and overwhelm. Most of us developed an inner critic that tells us everything we’re doing wrong; this is a survival mechanism that is woefully outdated. You’re actually more likely to be productive and successful if you champion yourself rather than cut yourself down.
3. Celebrate your wins.
When you do good things, take a second to really honor them. It’s an extension of using kind words and championing yourself, but an important distinction in that it activates the reward centers of our brain and supports us in duplicating good behavior moving forward. Plus it feels good to be celebrated! And what’s not loving about that?
4. Take a deep breath.
This brings more oxygen into our body, which is essential for our brain to function at its best. But did you know that just bringing awareness to your breathing can reduce cortisol levels and feelings of stress and overwhelm? Plus if you get in some good belly breathing, you can give yourself a mini core workout. Breathing is love for body and mind.
Most of us have a “should” about drinking water. But “I should drink water” is less motivating than “I feel so much better when I’m fully hydrated,” or other similar language that focuses on the positive
feelings we experience after we’ve had enough to drink. Water is essential to our well-being, so is a great way to give ourself love!
6. Taste a rainbow.
When we eat food that has a bunch of different colors (like red beets, purple berries, yellow squash, leafy greens) we get an abundance of key nutrients that the majority of us are missing. This is another thing we have “shoulds” about, but here’s the thing—it doesn’t have to be every meal, it doesn’t even have to be every day! At least not when you’re starting out. Just periodically love on yourself by eating something bright and colorful, that didn’t get that way in a lab. And remember that it’s not a punishment; it is a gift you’re giving your body so it can truly thrive. If you can make it delicious, you’re more likely to reap the benefits.
7. Move your body.
Ideally in a rhythmic pattern like walking, cycling, jogging, swimming, or best of all dancing. This is the last of the “shoulds” on the list, but I’m telling you, our bodies crave movement. It doesn’t have to be excessive, and it’s best when it’s not painful. But there’s a reason we get rewarded with serotonin and endorphins when we are active—it’s because our body needs it. And how could improving strength, lung capacity, and heart health not be an act of love?
8. Play with no rules.
There are some fascinating studies about unfettered play, and the impact it has on our sense of well-being. Reclaiming that sense of wonder we had as kids, when a stick could be a magnifying glass handle, or a musical instrument, or just a tool to dig into the ground and see what’s there. I’m not saying you have to go outside and get muddy, although I’m not not saying that—just connect with yourself and see if you can redefine what fun means for yourself when there are no rules that need to be followed and no “shoulds” involved.
9. Ask for help when you need it.
It can be scary to ask for help. What if they say no? What if they think less of you, and your skills and abilities? But as we develop shared trust with the people in our lives, we can start reaching out for support. And as they reach back, we cultivate truly meaningful community. People who we can count on to love us even when we struggle to love ourselves.
10. Let yourself rest.
There are times when we need to push through. When there’s a deadline, or a heavy weight to be lifted. Pushing ourselves can help us grow stronger—but the strength doesn’t come from the push itself, it comes from the rest after the push. When our body has the opportunity to replenish and restore. This is true for our physical strength, but it’s true for our emotional and mental strength as well. It’s the balance of pushing and resting that builds resilience. (BTW for most people, 6 hours of sleep is not enough—and less than 4 can lead to insanity and even death). Truly, the most loving thing we can do for ourselves is rest.
If each day you picked one of these items to focus on, how much better would you feel about yourself? Stronger, more confident, and better able to be loving to those around you.
Set a challenge for yourself to see just how loving of yourself you can be. You deserve it. Xoxo