Most people start with negative internal self-talk. We learn to hold ourselves to account, to work hard, and to avoid bad habits by telling ourselves that our natural urges and feelings are bad. The natural self-confidence of every child is replaced with a constant internal monologue of personal criticism. Knowing how to tell yourself to shape-up and act right has its uses; it’s a skill everyone should have. But too much self-negativity leads to poor emotional and mental health. Being too hard on yourself can lead to stress and constant unhappiness.
But the human mind wasn’t designed to be critical and stressed all the time. You need to be able to relax to balance your emotions and maintain positive mental health. And to relax, you have to go a little easier on yourself. This is where self-love comes into the picture.
What is Practical Self-Love?
Most of us hear the phrase self-love as a joke, as if loving yourself is a laughable concept. We’re so practiced at being self-critical that the idea of applying love to yourself is hard to take seriously. But how can you achieve inner peace and mental clarity if your inner voice is bringing you down all the time?
Self-love is like the difference between having a running coach that calls you slow vs. one that says, “I know you can run faster next time.” It’s the difference between a parent that punishes you for a C in math and one that tutors you on the stuff that didn’t make sense. Only as an adult, you’ve become your own coach and self-parent. And how you treat yourself influences your emotions, your energy, your mental stability, and your perception of your own capabilities.
Practical self-love is being that encouraging coach and supportive parent that we all need, whether or not you had good examples in your youth to fall back on. Anyone can learn self-love; all it takes is practice.
Be Your Own Best-Friend with Positive Self-Talk
Everyone needs that best friend that tells you to rock your best shirt, aim high for that big promotion, and or try white-water rafting on your next vacation. We all need someone telling us to be our best selves with confidence that we really can be. The best place to start is inside your own head. You can be that best friend for yourself, if not all the time, then when you really need it.
Positive self-talk is about giving yourself that best-friend pep talk at the right time. When you’re stressed about finishing a project at work, and you feel tired, positive self-talk is when you tell yourself, “you can do this, just focus and keep going” instead of telling yourself that you’re tired or that you’re not doing well enough. Positive self-talk is changing the way you talk to yourself, focusing on encouragement instead of discouragement, and focusing on what you can do with your two hands and your capable human brain instead of what you’re afraid of or can’t do.
Dare yourself, cajole yourself, and tell yourself you rock from time to time. Just this one change can significantly lower your stress and improve your mental stability by taking out your one biggest enemy – yourself.
Take Care of Your Body Like You’d Care for a Loved One
When you’re stressed and not feeling great about yourself, the most common response is to neglect your body. It’s easy to get dehydrated, skip brushing your teeth, or rush through your showers. You might throw on dirty socks or grab a meager breakfast on the way out the door, but these decisions only lower your morale even further. When you feel bad, you can easily make yourself feel worse with physical self-neglect.
So go the other direction. Self-love is also taking care of yourself as if you were someone that you love. Consider how you’d take care of your spouse or partner if they were sick and feeling blue. You’d draw them a bath and make them their favorite healthy meal. If your child was sick, you might wrap them in a blanket and brush their hair gently to make them feel loved. If your mother was sad, you might make her a cup of tea and hold up a cheerful conversation. So take care of yourself with that same care and attention.
Really enjoy your hygiene rituals. Drink orange juice and eat healthily. Take time to enjoy your meals. Go for a run if you’re feeling low. Brush your hair and teeth and take care of yourself the same way you’d take care of someone you love.
Don’t Feel Bad About Being Happy
Many of us were taught to feel guilty about being too happy, or too relaxed. It’s bad to slack. It’s lazy to sleep in. It’s immature to holler when you’re joyful or even to sing along to your favorite music. But that’s not really true. What our parents and teachers meant to teach was how to control your joy when it matters, but it’s always a good thing to be happy.
One important approach to self-love is to stop feeling bad about being happy. You can really twist up your emotions and your mental health when things that make you happy immediately make you feel guilty or repressed. So let yourself be happy. When something makes you smile, relax into it and really feel that joy. When you like a song on the radio, sing along. Love yourself by letting yourself be happy the same way you’d encourage a good friend to enjoy themselves when they’re feeling stressed.
Take Time to Relax and Luxuriate in the Moment
Last but not least, take time to relax. Relaxing is one of the hardest things in the world if you’re used to being critical with yourself. You may find that every time you lean back and close your eyes, your list of things to do is the first thing that pops to mind. Or maybe that guilt at enjoying yourself is the problem. But if you can’t relax, you can’t de-stress, which leads to long-term mental and emotional troubles. If you’re struggling with stress, self-love takes the form of allowing yourself to relax and truly relaxing during that time.
The key is to schedule your relaxation, taking care of all your obligations before that critical relaxation moment. Take a bath at the end of the day or enjoy a cup of tea on the porch. And during that time, close your eyes and embrace your opportunity to unwind. Close your eyes and purposefully relax every muscle you can feel. If you’re in water, let yourself float. If you’re in a chair, lean back and let your head fall backward. Pull air fully into your lungs and let it out slowly. Even let go of the tension in your mind, letting yourself think nothing or anything at that moment. Without relaxation, you can’t achieve mental and emotional balance. So love yourself and allow yourself to relax.
Self-love is the best way to release stress and embrace your best self. Speak to yourself positively instead of negatively. Take care of your body with the same love and care you’d show a sick family member. Encourage yourself to be happy like a good best friend. And let yourself relax so that the stress doesn’t build up and drive you crazy. Even a little self-love can go a long way in balancing your emotions and your mental state. The better you get at self-love practices, the more you can conquer your own happiness and inner peace.