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These days if you pick up a magazine or even a newspaper, you wouldn’t be surprised to read an article on self-love, compassion, random acts of kindness or self-care, it’s quite big business at the moment. What you may not glean from an article using buzz words of the moment is how potent this is to mental well-being and health.
Often when I’m working with a client, as we unpack what is currently going on in their world, a common theme is one of self-contempt, whether obvious or more subtle. This had me thinking: why is this now more prevalent than ever before?
When I look at how dominant social media has become, it made me realise that it is no longer models in magazines that people may feel tempted to compare themselves to, it’s now your friends, colleagues, and family too.
Random acts of kindness already has quite the exposure in today’s world, so I’m going to focus on talking about self-love, self-care, and compassion for self here. First I should explain a little bit about the field that I work in, as a Director of Positive Psychology.
Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living according to Peterson, one of its founders as well as in Seligman’s words: ‘the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels…’
It is within this discipline of psychology that I found my academic home. It’s intuitive in many ways, yet it also adds much to the debate on how to achieve a meaningful or ‘eudaemonic’ life. If someone is experiencing depression or low mood, it is the basics that matter when contemplating what self-love or self-care should look like, rather than the type involving booking yourself in for a massage, a cruise, or a weekend away.
Self-care can be as simple as choosing three things that you will do for yourself that day. A meal that you have prepared for yourself, brushing your teeth, and communicating with one person can be as basic as what needs to be focussed on at this level. This can then be combined with looking at the voice of automatic thinking, this is the voice of our internal dialogue which is usually involved in a depressed mindset and is the inner critic. If this voice has been telling you that nobody would notice if you didn’t make contact with the outside world, or that nobody cares, this is the first thing to challenge.
Rather than look for any form of validation outwardly, this is a good opportunity to begin telling yourself that you are worthwhile and by challenging the inner critic you begin to provide internal validation. This is also holding compassion for yourself which can be vital at low points.
Again, it should be a three things process, so write down three things about your day that you have accomplished, even if that is the three daily tasks set out above. When you have that one as a natural habit, move on to three things you like about yourself, or three strengths that you have. It’s also important to acknowledge this, as change is a process involving recognition as well as action. This is how we begin to experience self-love and self-care, and when we give ourselves a break, and ease up on the negative internal dialogue by recognising and challenging it, we start to focus on the positives.
Over time when practised regularly, this becomes a healthy habit that sets you on the road to positive well-being. We then shift gear and move out of comparing ourselves to others and begin to look for growth opportunities. Even sharing time having a coffee with a friend can put positive credits in the bank of self-esteem. Face-to-face social interaction has been linked to positive well-being and better mental health, so choose that over messages to communicate.
In an age where technology definitely leads the way, it is more important than ever to make sure that our inner well-being is strong enough to withstand the need to compare ourselves with others, and to buffer our self-love against low mood or depression. In one study it was revealed that those reported to be spending the most time on social media (more than two hours a day) had twice the odds of perceived social isolation than those who self-reported spending half an hour per day or less on social media sites. There was also the perception of social isolation by feeling left out.
There are going to be times in life, as well as circumstances, where we will have cause to feel low. Sometimes this comes about because of things that happen, such as illness, loss such as a job or bereavement. This can also be a natural result as ageing happens and we change physically. It’s especially important at these times to be gentle with ourselves and to make sure that our inner dialogue is nurturing and not critical.
It’s time to strengthen our sense of self, well-being, and resilience, let’s start a well-being revolution.
Caralyn Cox is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and an associate member of the American Psychological Society.
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