Want Somebody to Love? How About Yourself?

A little self love improves both mental and physical health

We all do it: Put everyone else’s needs before our own. Have a hard time telling someone “no.” Worry about what everyone thinks of you.

Stop.

On the day when messages of love—from little cards to candy hearts to more extravagant gestures—are being sent out, experts say it’s time to show yourself some love.

It’s good for you. Practicing self-compassion can reduce depression, stress, performance anxiety and body dissatisfaction, and can lead to increases in happiness, self-confidence and even immune function.

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas at Austin, practicing self-compassion isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. “We tend to give compassion to others much more readily than we do ourselves.” She told the New York Times in a recent interview, “The good news is that it can be learned. It’s a skill anyone can cultivate.”

The premise is simple: Treat yourself the same as you’d treat a friend who is going through a rough time. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Some see self-care as a weakness, others as self-indulgence. It’s neither. Studies have shown that being kind to yourself actually makes you stronger and more resilient.

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, researchers tested a group of veterans who had seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan. They found that veterans who measured higher on the self-compassion scale were less likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. They concluded that the presence of self-compassion was a better predictor of long-term mental health than how much combat action they had seen.

Start being nice to yourself

Self-compassion is hard but it’s good for you; that why they call it a practice. Here are a two exercises from Dr. Neff’s website to get you started:

Give yourself a hug. The next time you’re going through a difficult time, try placing one or both hands over your heart. Or place one hand on your heart and one on your stomach. Or cradle your face in your hands or hold your hands gently in your lap. Try wrapping your arms around yourself as a gentle hug. Do whatever feels most comforting to you.

Take a self-compassion break. Close your eyes and think of a situation causing you a mild or moderate amount of stress. Take a mindful moment and acknowledge your suffering. Remind yourself that everyone struggles. Give yourself some kind words.

Remember, self-compassion isn’t being selfish; it’s self-care. If you take care of yourself, you will be better equipped to take care of others. You’re no help to anyone when you’re tapped out.

Bonus: How much self-compassion do you have? Take the test. Answer 12 questions on this test to find out where you stand on the self-compassion scale. If you score low, commit to learning some self-compassion practices. If you score high in self-compassion, keep going!

 

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