You’ve heard it before – the importance of learning to love yourself and do the things that feed your soul. Yet, we get so caught up in the world around us that even the best of intentions to look after ourselves fast fall by the wayside.
But self-love is more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling left over from the hippy years; increasing numbers of psychological studies are showing that learning how to love yourself is key to your own mental health, helping to keep both anxiety and depression at bay.
Julie van Rooyen, operations manager at the Amani Spa inside the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront in Cape Town, understands what happens when you don’t put yourself first from time-to-time: “My staff and I see it every day, particularly in first-time clients, who come here under the impression that a spa day should only be a special – and often guilty - treat rather than part of a healthcare regime. As in, taking care of your own physical and mental health first, so that you can take care of others.”
When you don’t do this, notes Julie: “The stress and strain of daily life can easily overwhelm you. Before you know it, you’re angry with yourself and with the world. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, this puts you on a path to being dysfunctional towards the very people you love in turn. Self love is the way we do a reset on ourselves.”
Show yourself some compassion
There are a number of ways in which you can show yourself love, believes Julie, starting with self-compassion: “In other words, learning how to treat ourselves with kindness when we fail at something or feel inadequate in any way.
“So many of us are so in pursuit of perfection, that we don’t realise what a shapeshifter perfection can be, and how its pursuit can really take its toll on us - whether we chase it constantly, or criticise ourselves whenever we call short of it.”
This is of such importance to our mental health that medical teams across the globe are conducting studies, opening centres and developing programmes specifically targeted towards self-compassion. It includes the work of doctors and best-selling authors Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, in the USA who have developed a programme called “Mindful Self-Compassion Training”, which includes various targeted meditations and activities.
One of the techniques practised is learning to write yourself a letter from the perspective of a compassionate friend. Another technique involves asking yourself the question: “What do I need?” and listening carefully to your own answer.
“Many of us feel awkward or even sceptical about showing ourselves self-compassion. This is understandable; it’s a journey to take. But it can help to know that there is research being done out there that backs up the importance of this,” says Julie.
Take a time out
Another way to engage in self-love is to simply take time to yourself. This could be anything from a weekend away to joining a gym, having your hair done, treating yourself to a facial or just putting down your smartphone for a few hours and allowing yourself to read a book or watch that movie you’ve been promising yourself for weeks you’d get to.
“Choose to make time for yourself,” advises Julie, “book it off in your diary just as you would any other important appointment.
“And it doesn’t need to be a whole day at a time. For example, all the treatments at our own spa last for 90 minutes at a time, from full body massages to facials that include a scalp, neck and shoulder massage. Certainly, you can make a day of it if you have the time, and have a number of treatments back-to-back, but even an hour and a half to indulge yourself and recharge your batteries is well worth the time spent.”
Love yourself independently of others
However you aim to achieve it, the most important thing self-love does is it empowers us to not always be dependent on others for this love.
“Other people, even the ones closest to us, are often caught up in their own issues,” notes Julie. “Self-love helps us to ensure our happiness is not dependent only on the love of others. It’s about spending time on ourselves to get to know ourselves better so that we can function at our best, with and for others, in a crazy world.
“Because in this day and age, self-love is not selfish. It’s survival.”