“Love yourself.” Everywhere I go these days, I feel I hear or see some form of this advice. The truth is, some days it’s hard to love anything in the world if you struggle with mental illness, let alone yourself. When I began what I’d call my “journey to recovery” or, better, my “journey back to self,” I realized that loving yourself is not an inherent trait.
Think about it: We are born bonded to our mothers. And whether that bond has stayed or not throughout our lifetime is not the point; the point is, we know how to love, innately. But self-love can be a hard concept to grasp when you struggle with taunting anxious thoughts or debilitating depression symptoms. If you want to know how and why to take self-love seriously for your mental stability, follow along.
The Struggle With Mental Health
According to Bradley University, the average age onset of anxiety in Americans is 11 years old. Eleven. These days, when children should be scared of monsters and made-up mayhem, they are scared instead of the chaos in their minds. And as young as this number sounds, I can attest to it.
I remember elementary school days on the playground when feelings of pins and needles would hit my whole body. Without rhyme or reason, I’d get waves of nausea crashing down over me. I’d start to sweat. My heart would race. I’d have trouble breathing. I was scared all the time by intangible things and thoughts.
A year into my high school career, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and put on medication, but it never felt like enough. Instead of panicky, I felt drowsy and depressed. I’d sleep for hours during the day while other kids my age had excess energy to burn. In college, after years of trying to suppress my anxiety, I reluctantly decided to follow the advice of my counselor by seeking the source of my fears and embracing it.
The Importance of Self-Love
It can be far easier to love others because we can only see the best sides of them. When you are the only person who sees yourself for what you present to the world and knows the inner workings of your brain (which can be some of the ugliest parts of yourself), it can be hard to want to practice self-love.
Self-love is the act of valuing your own well-being and overall happiness. It is an acceptance of unconditional support and caring for yourself. Acts of self-love come directly from our own willingness to meet our personal needs. These needs can be simple, like making food when we don’t feel like eating, showering when we don’t feel like even getting out of bed, and so on.
Think of the person whom you love the most, and ask yourself, “What would you do for that person on a bad day?” Most likely you would do your best to help her recoup her energy and bring a positive light to whatever situation she finds herself in. You would love her even on a bad day.
So do this for yourself. Love yourself as you love others. Being able to love yourself when you have anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue or illness is difficult, primarily because you don’t feel lovable a lot of the time — but it’s still important. Give yourself priority when you’re feeling extra crummy.
The Connection: Self-Esteem and Mental Health
We live in a world of perpetual low self-esteem. Without us knowing, it affects every aspect of our lives. From how we think about ourselves, to how we think of others, when negative thoughts are generated — either in our heads or through others’ comments — it negatively affects the way we end up feeling about ourselves.
Unbounded low self-esteem can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. There are clear links between the way we feel about ourselves and the overall cost to our well-being. When our self-esteem is low, it can lead to self-destructive decisions and behaviors like drug use, eating disorders, and alcoholism.
Certain thought processes can make practicing self-love difficult. Some people may believe they are not worthy of love due to personal characteristics, a lack of success, or troubled relationships. Experiences of abandonment, trauma, or neglect can also make a person feel unworthy. Any kind of spiraling negative thought can have a negative effect on the ability to love oneself.
Self-love is considered an important aspect of self-esteem and overall well-being. Researchers have discovered that practicing self-love is associated with an increase in happiness, greater satisfaction with life, and greater resiliency.
Self-love is a constant practice. Learning how to live with anxiety and depression requires a serious shift in your thought process. Here are my five favorite acts of self-love to focus on when I’m struggling:
Only allow the right people to be present in your life. Get rid of the people who thrive on your loss or pain. There is not enough time in life to waste on people who want to take away your happiness. Set boundaries with others. When you set limits or say no to work or activities that deplete your physical, spiritual, or emotional energy, you allow yourself more time to practice positive thoughts.
Focus on Need
Accept what you need rather than what you think you want. Self-love is practiced by turning away from what may feel exciting and good to focus on what you need to stay centered, strong, and moving forward in your life. By focusing on what you need, you turn away from automatic behaviors that get you into trouble and keep you stuck in the past.
Stress has always been a major exacerbator of my anxiety and depression symptoms. By learning to take better care of the basic needs I have, I have learned to lessen the physical effects stress has on my body. If you take time to focus on what you need, you will love yourself more. People who nourish themselves daily through proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, and healthy social interactions have higher feelings of self-love.
Therapy is no longer a taboo subject. It can help individuals discover the possible reasons they find it difficult to practice self-love. With therapy, people may develop a better understanding of the early experiences that still affect them, and with the help of a counselor, they may even be able to overcome the past trauma or feelings of self-doubt.
Loving ourselves means taking the time to be present in our own bodies. Either by practicing meditation, or simply putting the technology away and sitting in silence, we can begin to pay attention to ourselves. People who practice self-love regularly tend to know what they think, want, and feel. By being mindful of who you are, you give yourself the opportunity to act on the knowledge you’ve gathered to make yourself feel better.
When I was in my final years of high school, I started noticing a continuous overall monthly mood shift. My anxiety and depression symptoms ramped up and left me exhausted. Because I was mindful of how I was feeling, I knew to seek out a specialist for answers, who ultimately believed that my swinging feelings of anxiety most likely came from a pretty severe hormone imbalance. This is not uncommon but is also not so easy to pinpoint. Once I took the time to listen to my body, I could see very clear symptoms of my imbalance and worked with a doctor to correct it.
It’s so easy, as humans, to be so hard on ourselves. Recovery or relief from mental health issues requires self-investigation. When done right, this process includes admitting negative things about yourself. The downside of taking responsibility for the actions we take is that we tend to punish ourselves for mistakes we have made while learning and growing.
Before you can truly love yourself, you must accept that you are human and not perfect. Give yourself a break by practicing being less hard on yourself. There are no failures — only opportunities to grow and learn. By shifting your thinking to forgiveness, you will cultivate the best form of unconditional self-love.
Through my struggles with mental health, I have learned that I am an important ally for myself. There are some things I can do to help relieve my feelings of anxiety, but only I can chose when to take my medication, go to therapy, or get out of bed in the morning. By focusing on shifting the thoughts of self-doubt to self-love, you can become a valuable person in the fight for your own mental health.
Author Bio: Billie Peacock is a fifth-generation Idahoan who spent her childhood soaking up all that nature has to offer. In her free time these days she enjoys deconstructing the mysteries of the world, writing, and lobbying for civil liberties.
Photo courtesy of Kelsey McCormick. She can be found on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/kelboo6/.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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