ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience director offer tips on loving and respecting ourselves
It’s 2020 and self-care is all the rage.
With the world becoming a more stressful, challenging and exhausting place, it can’t hurt to have a solid internal foundation to turn to when times get tough.
Self-care is rarely taught in school and is often a lesson overlooked by parents, which is why Valentine’s Day might be a good time to incorporate this practice into your life.
Question: How would you describe the concepts of self-love and self-care?
Answer: Self-love and self-care are closely related experiences. Self-care is all of the thoughts, behaviors and attitudes that support the health and well-being of the whole person. Examples include getting enough high-quality sleep and rest; eating health-supporting foods in the right amount for your current situation; engaging in physical activity that supports stamina, strength and flexibility; nurturing positive relationships; living in a way that supports financial well-being; managing stress and adversity; finding things that bring you joy and meaning; and asking for help when it is needed. Often we think of self-care as observable behaviors like brushing teeth, working out and cooking healthy foods. It is also true that self-care can involve more inward, silent or private practices such as journaling, meditating or reflecting.
Closely related to self-care is self-love, which means cultivating an attitude of self-acceptance, respect and forgiveness when things aren't “perfect.” Acceptance does not mean complacency; it means that while we work toward becoming a better, deeper or more generous human, we recognize that there will be setbacks and imperfections, just by virtue of the fact we are human. Self-love is treating yourself with patience, kindness and compassion.
An important point about both self-care and self-love is that they aren't meant to be selfish or self-centered. Often the most successful self-care and self-love approaches are supported by an intention of becoming better able to help and serve others when we are genuinely taking care of and appreciating ourselves.
Q: Is it possible to love someone else in a healthy manner without knowing self-love?
A: This idea is certainly part of the current social conversation, and in most situations I do agree that loving others is best approached by having a foundation of love and respect for one's self. However, sometimes it may be more complicated than this. Love is mysterious and I am not sure it is quite this linear, and certainly self-love doesn't have to be "perfect" before we can love others. It makes very good sense that in order to be fully loving of another, we must have a certain level of love and respect for ourselves. On the other hand, babies and very young children appear to have an innate ability to be loving, perhaps because they have not learned how to be self-critical or have low self-esteem yet. And I have seen situations where someone who appears to be very empty of self-respect or down on themselves with self-loathing is able to reach through that fog to help someone else, or an animal, and in that gesture it is like a window is opened so they can actually feel love themselves. And so in that instance, a loving gesture to someone or something else might come first.
I think that as we continue to develop into ourselves, it becomes more important to find ways to be loving and kind to ourselves because we are frequently just the opposite. And as we are able to be more gentle and accepting with our own faults and flaws, this naturally extends to those around us, even people we don't know.
Q: What are the ways in which we can we cultivate self-love and self-care?
A: One of the first steps is to check in with yourself to see if your habits, self-talk and behaviors are in line with what you consider a healthy and loving lifestyle. This can be a concrete assessment of your sleep patterns, eating behaviors, how you play and have fun, how your relationships are going, how you are managing finances and how you deal with stress and the temptations to not take good care. How are you cultivating a loving friendship with yourself? After all, you will be your own best friend for your entire life.
It is interesting when we approach self-love like we would invest time and energy into a loving friendship with someone else. And of course, this isn't a one-time thing; it is important to check in with yourself even several times a day to see if you can make adjustments in the moment to support a more loving, nurturing way of living and being with yourself. I am a strong advocate for learning the skills of mindfulness and self-compassion as ways to build a lifelong foundation of self-care and self-love so that the way you show up for life is how you most want to be.
Q: Are these new concepts gaining popularity, and if yes, what is spurring this movement?
A: Yes, I think these concepts are gaining popularity. In part, I think this is because of the awareness of how things like loneliness, anxiety and depression often keep people back from living their fullest lives. It is becoming easier to talk about these things, and to find evidence-based skills that can be taught and learned that support a more self-compassionate way of being. The neuroscience of self-compassion is helping us understand how to build specific skill sets around self-love that also impact empathy and more generalized compassion toward others. In regard to self-care, there is a growing body of literature to support the correlation (and causation in some cases) between self-care behaviors and the prevention of acute and chronic illnesses. Keeping ourselves as well as possible doesn't just help us as individuals, it helps keep our communities and societies moving in a more positive direction. When we experience whole-person well-being, including self-love and acceptance, we are much more likely to be able to contribute to society in stronger, more focused ways.
Top photo: Students practice yoga at the Sun Devil Fitness Center on the Tempe campus. Photo by ASU Now