6 ways I learned to practice self-love, even when it's really hard
Taking care of yourself sounds easy, right? It’s not like curing cancer or winning a triathlon. It’s something that everyone, after a certain age, has to do. But figuring out how to love yourself, and have respect for your mental, physical, and psychological health, no matter what, is one of the hardest and most important things that you’ll learn to do as an adult.
Self-love is something I have to constantly work for because I am really hard on myself. I have an almost unhealthy need for perfection and a horrible habit of comparing myself to others. For a long time, my love for myself was based on what I did and what others thought of me. I would get down on myself because my grades were lower than I wanted them to be or because I wasn’t getting along with a friend.
I learned that there are no shortcuts. It’s easy to beat yourself up when you don’t feel like your best self or when you’re doing something you know isn’t good for your mind or body. But self-love doesn’t mean that you have to chastise yourself or feel ashamed. It just means that you reflect on the way you feel. The relationship you have with yourself is ongoing, and it will always have its ups and downs. It might surprise you how much practice loving yourself truly takes. Here are some tips I learned from pursuing a more positive relationship with my body, mind, and heart:
Ask yourself: Why am I making this choice?
This isn’t some sort of trick to get you to commit to a fascistic diet or to second guess every impulse you have. It’s a way to get to know yourself better. Hey, if you want the frozen pizza instead of the kale, go for it. The idea is to just be more aware of what you’re doing and why. Are you staying out because you’re having so much fun, or do you just dread tomorrow’s work day? And if you dread the work day, why? Is there anything you could be doing to change that? The goal is to be genuinely happy with the decisions you make. Otherwise, it’s so easy to get stuck in routines without ever bothering to try and break free of them.
Go to the doctor when you aren’t feeling so good.
Value yourself enough to check up on your health. It seems so obvious, but healthcare is a bureaucratic minefield and most young women I know are quick to put school, work, family, or friends first. We take a few over-the-counter remedies for the insomnia, we assume the blue moods will just go away on their own. But good health doesn’t just mean being free from a serious illness. It means staying healthy. If you’re always exhausted or you can’t shake that lingering winter cold, seek out a doctor or acupuncturist or therapist who might be able to help. It may seem like a hassle in the short term, but in the long run, you’ll literally feel better.
Create a ritual (aka treat yo self).
This can be as big or small as you want it to be. It can be a way to unwind before you go to bed at night or a way to start the day off right in the morning. Some examples: take a bubble bath, go for a weekly mani/pedi, join a yoga class, organize a movie night, eat breakfast by yourself at a restaurant once a week before work, get a monthly massage. Sometimes it’s essential to do a little something that makes you feel good, that allows you to indulge and relax, regardless of whatever else is going on in your life.
Identify stressors in your life and think of ways to reduce or manage them.
Sometimes the only thing we can control is the way we feel about the stressors in our lives, and sometimes we bring this stress upon ourselves. In either case, make a little list of things that have you chewing your cuticles, whether it’s the unfinished paint in your bedroom or the job that demands 60 hours per week. Tackle the small things. Consider how worthwhile the paycheck is. Ask yourself if some of this is just your own anxiety. Then you can draw up a plan of attack.
Don’t chastise yourself if you can’t fix something right away.
Having goals is important. Self-improvement is important, too, but even more important is realizing what you can and cannot change about yourself. If I’m prone to comparing my achievements with those of my friends, it’s not like one day I’m going to wake up and not care if one of them is taking a three-week hiatus to travel around Argentina. But owning up to our complicated feelings and flaws is better than sublimating them or justifying them with other emotions, like anger. Be patient with yourself, and in doing so, I guarantee you’ll be more patient with other people, too, be it your frustrating classmate or your ridiculously fortunate friend.
Plan a vacation.
Life is too short not to travel, whether it’s a beach weekend or a European vacation. And studies show we’re never happier than when we’re looking forward to something. So even if we’re talking nine months down the road, research, organize, and book it. Every moment of insanity leading up to it will be assuaged just by thinking, “I’m going to Tulum.”
Self-love isn’t something we magically achieve. It isn’t a finish line. It’s never over. It’s a process, kind of like learning to be your own best friend. Obviously, we still need the support of our loved ones, the edification of our careers, and the affirmations of others, especially on those days when we don’t think we did the best job or aren’t feeling very good. But self-love means we’ll believe in ourselves enough to trust the good things said about us, to recognize them as things we would say about ourselves.