Start the New Year with Self-Care and Self-Love for Good Health
By: Mollie Lemberg, JD, FMCHC
Self-care and self-love have become buzzwords lately, but what do they really mean and why are they important to your health?
The science is clear that understanding and incorporating these 2 areas of awareness are critical to optimizing and recovering from any chronic health condition, and are necessary to thrive, rather than just survive. Unfortunately, many, many of our clients are lacking in basic tools, and aren’t even sure what these things mean.
When you hear “self-care,” you may think of pedicures and facials, but self-care encompasses much more than the occasional spa treatment. The World Health Organization describes self-care as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”
The International Self-Care Foundation outlines seven pillars of self-care:
- Knowledge & Health Literacy
- Mental Wellbeing, Self-awareness & Agency
- Physical Activity
- Healthy Eating
- Risk Avoidance or Mitigation
- Good Hygiene
- Rational and Responsible Use of Products, Services, Diagnostics and Medicines
Self-care incorporates the things you do on a daily basis to take an active role in your own physical and mental wellbeing. In modern life, taking care of your wellbeing often involves managing stress. This may be why self-care is often associated with activities that are soothing or relaxing. Facials and pedicures are a valid form of self-care, especially if they help you cope with stress.
In addition to stress-management, self-care can take many other forms. Certain types of self-care have even been linked to a longer, healthier life, such as getting the right amount of sleep, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and spending time outside.
Self-love means accepting yourself, valuing yourself as a human being, and looking out for your own well-being and happiness.” Self-love is important to good health because people that accept and value themselves are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors. Positive self-regard is associated with better overall health, better sleep, and higher satisfaction with relationships.
Unfortunately, many folks may have grown up with less than optimal parenting, including ACES or Adverse Childhood Events such as witnessing trauma, being emotionally or physically abused, having a parent that is an addict or alcoholic among others. Others have experienced other traumatic events such as deaths or accidents, or significant school struggles, or bullying. Events such as these often set up negative thought loops, impacting the ability to love oneself.
So how can you treat your adult self now with the same love, kindness, and patience, you wanted for your three-year-old self? One approach to cultivating self-love is through practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion means being kind and understanding to yourself and showing yourself the same compassion that you show to others during difficult times. Self-compassion involves three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Self-kindness entails being warm and understanding toward yourself in times of suffering or failure, instead of ignoring your pain or being self-critical. Common humanity involves recognizing that suffering and feeling inadequate is part of the shared human experience and something that everyone goes through. Mindfulness is important to self-compassion because it allows you to take a balanced approach to negative emotions by observing negative thoughts with openness and clarity.
Self-compassion is important because it builds resilience, enhances your motivation, and even improves your relationships with others.
How to Practice Self-Care and Self-Love
If self-care and self-love are important to promoting health, how do you practice them?
Self-care needs are different for each person. A good place to start is with a quick self-assessment. Take a moment to consider your own life and routines.
- Are you eating a nutrient-dense, plant-heavy diet?
- Are you drinking enough water?
- Do you get enough sleep most nights?
- Are you exercising or moving your body on a regular basis?
- Do you have healthy, constructive ways of managing your stress?
- Do you have strong relationships and people you can confide in and count on?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, it might be beneficial to focus on those areas of your life.
Another way to create helpful self-care practices is to think about things you love to do and activities that make you feel happy, peaceful, or relaxed. Ask yourself:
- What brings me joy?
- What makes me smile or laugh?
- Which activities make me lose all sense of time?
- When do I feel most relaxed?
- What activities did I love to do when I was younger?
- In what ways do I enjoy connecting with others?
- How do I relieve stress in a healthy way?
Once you have answered these questions, think about whether you are incorporating joyful or relaxing experiences into your daily life. If not, try to fit them in, even in small ways or for short periods of time. For example, if music uplifts you, play your favorite music in the background as you do household tasks. If it relaxes you to be in nature, try to fit in a short walk a few days per week.
Cultivating self-love and self-compassion may create many benefits for yourself and others. Incorporating little acts of self-kindness and self-acceptance can have a positive effect on your life and will build on each other over time. Here are a few strategies for strengthening your self-love and self-compassion:
- Treat yourself like you would treat a friend or loved one. If you make a mistake or are feeling disappointed in yourself, ask yourself how you would treat a close friend or loved one in the same situation. Then try to apply that same kind of treatment to yourself.
- Connect with yourself. Start paying attention to what you are feeling, thinking, and what you really need. You can do this in the moment by quietly checking in with yourself, or by writing it down in a notebook or journal. Being more mindful can help you honor your feelings and desires.
- Reframe negative self-talk. Notice when you are being harsh or critical to yourself and try to change your negative self-talk into words of support or encouragement.
- Meditate. Try a self-compassion or loving-kindness meditation to help cultivate compassion and kindness for yourself and others.
- Practice self-care. Taking the time to meet your basic needs and incorporate activities that nourish your mind, body, and soul can help you care for yourself and cultivate self-love.
- Choose health. When deciding what to eat or how to spend your time, ask yourself whether your choice will nourish you or deplete you. Intentionally choosing healthy food and activities is an act of self-love and self-care.
Start your journey of self-love and self-care with small steps. Celebrate each time you practice self-care or chose self-love over self-criticism. Keep in mind that you may need assistance along the way and that it is okay to ask for help. Reach out to a loved one, friend, therapist, or health coach for support. Or, ask a friend or family member to join you in your self-care or self-love practices – making it a group effort can add accountability and fun!
If you would like to learn more about how to fit self-care into your busy life, join Carpathia Health Coaches Julie & Mollie for Nourish – Mind-Body Reset 2021, a virtual group coaching program that starts February 1, 2021.
Have a happy & healthy 2021!