Learning Self-Love Is Actually Really Hard—But These 4 Practices Work for Me

Just like most people, my journey to self-love is an ongoing one. (Before you get any further, I should disclose that I don't have all the answers—I'm human after all!) But it was around this time last year that I made a concerted effort to jump-start myself on a path to learning self-love. I went through what I was sure was my quarter-life crisis. I know, it sounds dramatic, but at the time it felt like the only way to dig myself out of this rut was to get real about my mental health and start prioritizing it over other areas of my well-being.

Before I dive into what's in my personal self-love toolkit, let's start with the basics. What does "self-love" even mean? As it turns out, so many things. Upon this writing, over 27 million Instagram posts populate when you search the hashtag, and it seems like it's all the wellness world can chatter on about. The fact that it's a trend is definitely doing more good than harm overall, but it also means that a lot of people are misunderstanding what it's all about (aka using it to justify indulgent behavior). "Self-love is a psychological self-state and not just a 'shiny, happy people' kind of thing," Heather L. Silvestri, Ph.D., shared with me. According to the doctor, it's "achieved when your childhood experiences net in the direction of feeling recognized, seen for who you are, and loved without conditions," which she notes that many of us are lacking by the time we enter adulthood.

Basically, we could all benefit from some self-love practices, regardless of where we're at in our lives. Inherently, I knew this, but it took a lot of trial and error (more error than trial if we're being honest) until I finally landed on a handful of practices and rituals that helped me find the balance I craved.

Listen to your body—like, really listen to it

At first, I took an extreme approach to what I thought was self-care. I threw myself into a strict health regime, going to intense workout classes multiple times a week and cutting anything I deemed unhealthy from my diet. I thought that if I treated my body "right," I could learn how to love it, and consequently, love myself. Well, that strategy crashed and burned since I was relying on a physical transformation to happen in order to love what I saw in the mirror. Overall, a pretty bad policy.

Next, I tried the exact opposite: I embraced my laziest, most indulgent self. I ordered delivery (a lot) and chose to post up on my couch with a Netflix queue over booking an after-work sweat sesh on ClassPass. All in the name of self-care, right? As you can imagine, that kind of lifestyle ended up leaving me feeling sluggish and moody.

I'm not saying I have it all figured out, but I've found a sense of balance between the two. Now, when I feel a little bit stressed out, I let loose at a workout class and when I'm truly exhausted, I let myself just be. I make a conscious effort to check in with myself each day and not let any extreme habits gain any traction in my routine.

Embrace a meditation practice

It's pretty common knowledge by now that practicing meditation can be quite effective at keeping anxiety at bay. Having scarcely done more than pay attention to my breath during a yoga class, I randomly decided to book myself a seven-day silent meditation retreat while traveling in Thailand (more on that experience here). Once I returned home, I kept up with my practice by setting aside just five to 10 minutes a few times a week to sit in silence. I'll be the first to admit that it's challenging AF, but on days that I carve out that time for myself, especially in the morning before diving into my day, I notice a huge surge of focus at work and find it easier to dispell anxious and negative thoughts when they arise.

Let yourself feel everything—good or bad

Some days are a roller coaster of emotion. There, I said it. For years, I conditioned myself to push all the tough-to-deal-with emotions down, but—surprise—that habit came back to bite me. Now, I have a practice of embracing it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of this came from something I learned through meditation, which is all about non-judgment.

It basically teaches you to simply notice what kind of thoughts arise and take stock of them without getting emotional about them. So you had a frustrating day but you made plans to see a friend for dinner? Let yourself express that, even if it means admitting to your friend that you're not in the best mood. First of all, I'm sure they'll understand and secondly, you'll benefit from allowing yourself the space to feel that emotion fully. The key here is letting these feelings run their course and knowing when the right time is to let them go. By doing this, it will free up headspace for you in the long run. 

Find sneaky ways of inserting positive messages into your day

I think we can all agree that social media can do a lot of harm to our mental health, BUT finding ways to insert some positive energy into your feed can go a long way. I love following accounts like Donte Colley, whose motivational dance videos have gone viral all over the internet. Sigh Swoon is another favorite for the philosophical nuggets she shares in meme form. Lastly, I subscribe to an email service, Notes from the Universe, that delivers a personalized bit of wisdom to my inbox each day.

Although I thought all along that all my strides toward loving myself were choices, I quickly learned that they were really survival tactics. I'll leave you with this quote that sums it up best from singer, rapper, and self-love extraordinaire Lizzo shared with NBC News.

"I don't think that loving yourself is a choice. I think that it's a decision that has to be made for survival; it was in my case. Loving myself was the result of answering two things: Do you want to live? 'Cause this is who you're gonna be for the rest of your life. Or are you gonna just have a life of emptiness, self-hatred and self-loathing? And I chose to live, so I had to accept myself."

Next, read about why "earthing" is the simple wellness ritual that can make you happier.

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