Be Your Own Valentine!

Article published at: Agora London Feb 6, 2024
Be Your Own Valentine!
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 A conversation on Self-Care.

In the midst of the traditional celebrations of love during this Valentine's month, there's a subtle yet powerful aspect that often escapes our notice: the profound impact of self-love and self-compassion. Research consistently highlights self-compassion as a potent tool for coping and building resilience, contributing significantly to both mental and physical well-being.

Redirecting Focus Inward.

Love, as we know, comes in many forms and depths. This month, let's redirect our focus inward, exploring the enriching world of self-love rather than exclusively directing our attention outwardly towards others. Today, guided by our experts Stephanie, a skilled Psychotherapist and Counsellor, and Lorraine, an experienced Integrative Psychotherapist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, we will venture into the realm of self-love. Together, we'll uncover the myriad benefits it offers and explore practical strategies to cultivate self-compassion as an integral habit in our lives.

When we're in the grips of anxiety or overwhelmed by life's challenges, it's easy to neglect self-compassion. Our instinct is often to seek quick fixes or solutions, rather than extending kindness to ourselves. However, embracing self-compassion is vital for navigating these difficult moments with grace.

Understanding Self-Compassion: A Crucial First Step.

But first of all what is self-compassion? Self-compassion means “suffer with” and involves  treating yourself in the same supportive and understanding manner that you would offer to others when facing challenging times.

As Stephany explains, ‘self-compassion is not about letting yourself off the hook but acknowledging that we are limited, imperfect beings who are impacted by things over which we have no control - our genes, early family history, culture, life circumstances. It is about understanding and accepting rather than being punitive’.

I wholeheartedly agree with Lorraine's perspective on self-love as one of the most precious gifts we can give ourselves. Self-love steers us away from self-defeating behaviours, and practising it brings us closer to our truest selves, revealing who we really are.

The Neurological Connection: Oxytocin and Self-Love.

The significance of cultivating self-compassion is closely tied to the role of oxytocin, the hormone of safety and trust. It naturally floods our system in response to warmth, touch, and movement. Neuroscientific studies indicate that moments of feeling cherished or loved trigger the release of oxytocin in our brains, countering the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone.

In simpler terms, practising self-love and compassion acts as a shield against anxiety and depression, aiding us to return to a sense of calm and safety.

Practical Exercises for Cultivating Self-Love. 

The process of self-compassion begins with understanding that you are worthy of love and respect. Let’s look at some exercises on how to practise self-love as recommended by our experts:

Exercise 1: Mirror Reflection

The first exercise can be incredibly useful for integrating self-compassion into your daily life, particularly if you struggle with self-criticism. This exercise was originally developed by the self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Niff.

Think about a time when a close friend or family member was feeling down or struggling. How did you respond to them in that situation? Pay attention to the tone you used when speaking to them. Next, reflect on a recent occasion when you felt low or were facing difficulties. How did you typically respond to yourself in those moments? Again, note the tone of your inner dialogue. Did you notice a difference between the way you treated yourself and how you treated your loved one? If so, consider why that might be. Take a moment to contemplate how things might change if you responded to yourself with the same kindness you showed to your loved one during their struggles.

If you observed a significant gap between how you treated yourself and how you treated your loved one, it's a clear indication that there's room for growth in cultivating self-compassion.

Exercise 2: Self-Reflection.

One effective way to begin cultivating self-love and compassion is by intentionally setting aside time for self-reflection. Reflect on your thoughts and feelings, acknowledging them without judgment. This practice can aid in the development of self-compassion as you learn to treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer a friend, steering clear of destructive self-criticism and embracing self-kindness instead.

Exercise 3: Celebrating small steps.

The third step involves focusing on your small achievements, perhaps in areas that are easily overlooked or deemed unimportant due to societal pressures. Take note of your emotional thriving, even in the smallest steps of your personal life. Remember what makes you unique, there is only one you! It's crucial to celebrate your strengths despite your imperfections (because no one is perfect). As Lorraine emphasises, 'I often remind my clients of things they can easily forget, areas in their lives where they are doing well. I can't stress enough how important it is to acknowledge the little things that imprint self-esteem and build confidence.'

Setting Boundaries: The Final Step to Self-Love

Finally, self-love means setting boundaries.  Learn to say no to others when you need to, and yes to yourself more often.  This isn’t selfish, it’s necessary for your well-being and fostering a new healthy relationship with yourself.

As Valentine's Day approaches, remember not to overlook yourself! Direct your attention inward and extend some love and compassion to your own self. It's simpler to focus on external expressions of affection, but don't forget the importance of nurturing your internal self.

As I conclude, know that you are not alone on this path to better health and wellness. Your journey is unique but together we form a community of strength and support.

Let’s thrive together,

Cristina x


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