There are so many quotes that allude to the importance of loving yourself before loving someone else, or taking care of oneself before helping others. They’re said so often they feel hackneyed, but the importance these quotes hold will never go away. In fact, there’s research to support the claim that kind thoughts about yourself, is imperative to your health. A study by the universities of Exeter and Oxford with 135 healthy university students, found that “self compassion” exercises slowed down heart rate and the body’s natural response to threat, preventing damage to the immune system. The problem with approaching new relationships, whether it be as a volunteer, as a friend, as a romantic partner, without fortified pillars of self-worth holding you up strong, you approach giving and kindness in a very “complete me” or “fill me up” way that relies on external validation for personal happiness. Think of it like sand on the beach; don’t expect someone to fill your large gaping hole with sand, find folks to build sand castles with. Now, what does this even look like in real life? Kindness to oneself comes in many forms. Here, I’ll outline 3 that I try to practice every single day.
- Watch how you talk to yourself
Your thoughts are like small flies that zip past you without noticing. They are sneaky and can prick you when you least expect it. Speak to yourself with kindness, not just out loud but even in your thoughts. This is an aspect of mindfulness. Take note of your thoughts. Are you making a lot of “I am” statements that are negative? Why? I can’t say that spiraling negative chatter is something you can eradicate tomorrow. And to some degree, you might not ever be able to completely get rid of it; it’s human. It’s nature’s funny way of reminding us sometimes that we’re infallible, and we’re imperfect creatures that are a mere specks in the grand scheme of the universe. However, this does not mean that you should define yourself with negative, limiting beliefs like “I am not worthy of love” or “I am not smart enough to get this job.” In a popular novel by Don Miguel Ruiz called The Four Agreements he says that when you make these statements about yourself, you are making agreements with yourself that this is in fact, what you are. When you frame it like this, you’ll begin to realize how toxic this is for your sense of self. If you can notice and weaken your tendencies towards self-loathing thoughts, it’s a powerful start to letting those thoughts become habits, then actions, then impacting your overall health and wellness.
- Nourish your body
Feed your body what it needs. Do not deprive yourself of food. It’s heartbreaking to see toxic diet culture take over parts of social media. Practice intuitive eating and listen to what your body needs. If you’re craving, say, alcohol, that might be a signal that your body needs Potassium. Make sure to listen to practicing and licensed dieticians or consult one yourself in order to get expert advice on your body’s unique needs. There is a TON of misinformation about optimal diets, what to eat, what not to eat, that it’s hard to discern what advice to listen to.
Another way to nourish your body is to move in some way everyday. Exercise is not, and should not be the same for everybody. Get in a little bit of cardio each day; that might be a jog, a walk, or going to a gym with a swimming pool and do a few laps. Whatever exercise gets you the most pumped, try and do a little bit everyday.
- Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have
This is very hard to do in the moment. We are losses loom larger over species, so losses always feel way worse, when in reality, the gain was way bigger, and you didn’t really lose much in the long scheme of things. A helpful thing to have is a gratitude journal, or a mindfulness journal to document at least 3 things you’re grateful for and a few things that are on your mind. Research by Richard Emmons, psychologist from UC Davis, shows that keeping a gratitude journal where you regularly write things you’re grateful for everyday, can boost overall well-being. Think about it: the fact that you’re even reading this online, is already an indicator, that you have been dealt with a great deal of luck! There are so many people in the world that don’t even have access to a computer.
Remember: When you are in service to your needs, you can help other people from a place of strength.