Do you look forward to Valentine’s Day? Maybe it fills you with dread, because you’re single, or having relationship difficulties Or does the whole commercial hoopla of it all just leave you cold? Whatever your feelings about this time of year, it’s your feelings about yourself that matter. Here’s why self-love is important, and how to love yourself on Valentine’s Day – and every day.
Why self-love is important
Self-love, self-care, self-compassion. It may sound selfish and indulgent. But it’s absolutely essential to your mental health and wellbeing. And it doesn’t mean you have to always prioritise your needs over everyone else’s. If anything, having a good relationship with yourself is a selfless act. Because how you treat others is often a reflection of how you treat yourself.
Valentine’s Day can feel tough if you’re single. Popular culture, from Cinderella to Bridget Jones, tells us that romantic love is the only route to true happiness. Finding ‘The One’ is the be-all and end-all – and if we’re single, we’ve failed at life somehow. But it’s a myth. Yes, a romantic relationship may be one route to happiness. But it’s not the only one. And there’s been a big growth in singledom in recent decades.
You can be single and happy. You can be in a relationship and unhappy. What really matters is your relationship with yourself. That’s because your sense of self-worth can’t ever be fulfilled by external validation: it needs to come from within. Loving yourself sets the tone for the relationships you have with other people. A lack of self-love could make you a magnet for dysfunctional relationships because, when you truly love yourself, it’s harder to tolerate other people treating you poorly.
Having a good relationship with yourself is also the first step towards building your self-esteem. Because if you’re always looking for external forces to affirm your sense of self-worth, chances are you’ll probably be disappointed. Instead, this reassurance should come from within.
What are the benefits of self-love?
Developing a good relationship with yourself is vital for good mental wellbeing. Being kind to ourselves lowers anxiety and stress, and helps build self-esteem and resilience. Furthermore, if you don’t develop a good relationship with yourself, you may fall into bad habits like people-pleasing and perfectionism – and you may be more likely to tolerate abuse or mistreatment.
Being in tune with your values makes it easier to live a life that’s authentically you. Self-love gives us the courage to be assertive, make decisions and set boundaries in our lives. Here are some of the benefits of self-love:
- Increased self-esteem. Self-love is bound up with self-esteem – which is vital for good mental health. Self-esteem is all about your overall sense of self-worth. It’s about how much you like or appreciate all the little things that make you unique. We can all be critical of ourselves from time to time. But if you have low self-esteem it can weigh you down and have a detrimental impact on your mental health.
- Lower anxiety. When we feel good about ourselves, we’re less vulnerable to anxiety. Studies suggest that a healthy sense of self-esteem may act as a buffer to anxiety. That’s because when our self-esteem is higher, we tend to release less of the stress hormone cortisol into our bloodstream.
- Lower stress. Modern life is stressful. But it’s important to learn to manage it. Reducing stress in your life is a great way to show yourself compassion. Check out our post on 10 ways to manage stress for some practical tips.
- Avoid burnout. Are you a people-pleaser? Or do you have a demanding job or family life? If you’re always saying ‘yes’ to things, you risk becoming overwhelmed and burning out. Learning to prioritise yourself and your own needs will help you cope with the demands on your time – and to help other people. It’s like the familiar flight safety instruction to put your own oxygen mask on first.
- Build resilience. If you love yourself, it’s easier to bounce back from hardships. Studies suggest that when our self-esteem is higher, emotional wounds such as rejection and failure feel less painful.
- Feel in control. Practising self-love, especially during uncertain times, can give you what psychologists call a greater ‘internal locus of control’. This means that you feel a greater sense of control over your life – and build feelings of greater safety.
- Find your values and purpose. How well do you know yourself? Between societal pressures and our own projections of how we should be, it’s easy to lose sight of who we truly are. And how can we ever show ourselves real love and compassion if we don’t know what makes us tick? That’s why, if you want to treat yourself well, it’s important to take time to tap into you. Invest time getting to know your interests, likes and values – and use them to practice self-love.
- Have better relationships with others. The relationship you have with yourself sets the tone for the relationships you have with other people. Because you can only connect with others as deeply as you can connect with yourself.
- Be more assertive. If we love ourselves, we tend to be more assertive and confident in our decision-making. We’re more likely to stand up for ourselves. And we’re less likely to tolerate abuse or mistreatment because we know we deserve to be treated better.
- Set boundaries. We’re less prone to people-pleasing and find it easier to express our needs. And say ‘No’.
- Achieve your goals. A healthy sense of self-love and self-esteem allows you to recognise your strengths and learn from your mistakes. You develop what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’ as opposed to a ‘fixed mindset’. You persevere because you don’t have an intense fear of failure and genuinely believe in your capabilities.
How to cultivate self-love: 10 simple self-love tips
Social media may be full of inspirational quotations about loving yourself. However, practising self-love is often easier said than done. Here are a few simple and practical ways to show yourself some love:
- Get a good night’s sleep. Good sleep is the foundation of so much of our physical and mental health. Practise healthy sleep habits – otherwise known as ‘good sleep’ hygiene – to really start looking after yourself.
- Exercise. Moving around more is a great way to show yourself some love by looking after both your physical and mental health. As well as being good for your physical health, exercise has many mental health benefits too. But start gradually – for example with the NHS Couch to 5K app – or simply by going for a walk.
- Eat well. There’s a reason why you were told to eat your greens as a child. Healthy eating is an act of love. We all know what we should do: reduce meat, sugar, carbs, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods in our diet; eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, and drink more water. Your body will thank you.
- Set boundaries. Many of us have trouble setting boundaries. It may be down to a need for people-please, a fear of being assertive or unhelpful role models growing up. Whatever the reason, a lack of boundaries can wreak havoc with our mental wellbeing. Learning to say ‘No’ helps us preserve our time and energy for the things that matter most. Remember your time is precious so it’s not selfish to prioritise yourself.
- Give yourself a ‘high five’. In The High 5 Habit, Mel Robbins offers a simple but effective tool for building self-love, self-esteem and confidence. You’re already celebrating and supporting everyone else in your life. What if you did that for yourself too? Why not high five yourself in the mirror every morning?
- Diarise ‘me’ time. For many of us, if it’s not in the diary or on our to-do list, it doesn’t get done. So schedule in time that’s just for you. Make a date with yourself to do that yoga class, take a walk, watch a film or read a chapter of your book. It’s not selfish to prioritise you. Carving out a bit of ‘me’ time can allow you to develop healthier relationships with others.
- Do something you love. What do you really enjoy doing? Treat yourself by making time for an activity you love. Or consider mastering a new skill. Mastery is when we achieve or accomplish something that makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us feel competent, confident and in control. And it’s great for mental health. Choose something stretching but realistic – and where you can see your progress over time in small, achievable steps. When you’re absorbed in an activity you love, you may also enter a ‘flow state’ – a rewarding sense of total involvement in a task.
- Breathe in… and out. Setting aside regular time each day for a short mindfulness meditation is great for promoting a sense of calm and groundedness. It helps you face the day ahead, and carves out a bit of time in the day to focus on yourself – and your breath.
- Shift from doing to being. You don’t have to be busy all the time. You can just be. Consider the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, or ‘forest bathing’. This simple method of being calm and quiet among the trees, observing nature around you while breathing deeply can help you de-stress and boost your health and wellbeing in a natural way.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to put you at risk of an inferiority complex! Don’t feel you have to ‘live up’ to other people – whether idealised social media images or your own friends. Everyone is on their own path, and no one really knows what struggles other people have. Identify your own values and goals – and focus on those.
Following these tips and prioritising you are great ways to improve your mental health and wellbeing. You may also want to consider starting therapy, or taking one of our Self-care courses to keep your mental health in tip-top condition.
Whether you’re single or have a partner, the one relationship you will have, for the entirety of your life, is with yourself. It’s important to learn to love yourself – because that’s who you’re spending the rest of your life with! So be kind to yourself, and show yourself some care, compassion and love – today and every day.