To implement self love exercises, you have to learn to love yourself. Not to say you have to love all parts of yourself all the time because, in my experience, that is a lofty goal akin to replicating the publishing success of J.K. Rowling.
Self-love is a radical concept that has been gaining traction in the last few years. I say radical because, especially in the U.S., there is no money to be made when a person learns to love themselves (ahem, I’m looking at you, beauty industry).
Even the concepts of self-love, growth and mental wellness have begun to emerge as money-makers in and of themselves. The internet is full of information (usually laden with grammatical errors that make the English major in me cringe) that may or may not be helpful.
Part of my burnout recovery journey is addressing my “people-pleasing tendencies,” a fancy term for not honoring my boundaries to avoid conflict. As a future social worker and highly sensitive person, enforcing my boundaries can be challenging. But it is essential to prevent burnout!
So, where do we begin? How do we learn to love ourselves despite others around us telling us differently? How do we implement self-love exercises if we’re struggling to believe the good things others have to say about us?
Here are a few self love exercises to try:
#1: A Self-Care Plan–Have One!
First and foremost, have a self-care plan. There are templates available like the ones here. As a working mom in school, my self-care is scheduled and can be pretty brief, but I always do something for myself throughout the day. Whether writing, going for a walk, or just basking in sunlight for a few moments while being mindful, I have learned to savor the moments I can be grateful for. Speaking of gratitude…
Practice it! Whether that’s through journaling, implementing mindfulness, or just thanking people in your life more often. In practicing gratitude, I found looking at past versions of myself helpful. For example, I imagine Ashley from 4 years ago would be proud of what I’ve accomplished despite the setbacks, turmoil, and tears. And she should be proud, considering how much she procrastinates and leaves me to finish!
#3: Loving Kindness Meditation
This is a specific form of meditation that incorporates positive affirmations. It can be powerful for those who struggle with other self-love exercises. This is because you can think of loving, kind thoughts for others during the meditation. So if there’s a day you struggle with feeling kind things for yourself, you can send those thoughts to someone you care about.
My mantra (and one you will see on Circling the Sandbox if you haven’t already) is “May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you be at ease.”
I start by thinking this toward someone very close and vital in my life, for example, my daughter. Then an acquaintance I’m fond of. Then to someone I am not fond of, and finally, to myself. For days you’re struggling to turn that loving kindness inward, maybe direct it to a pet or other furry friend.
With all the squirrels in my yard this time of year, I’ll gladly send some kind thoughts their way. They’re going to need it as winter rapidly approaches or just due to their overwhelming urge to dive bomb into every car that comes down my road…
Some say that you can’t possibly love others unless you love yourself. While the perspective is well-intentioned, it is not something I would want to hear on a day when I’m struggling with self-worth. So, I call it hogwash!
You can send love to others if you’re unable to send it to yourself at times. Do what feels most comfortable and suitable for you. If you want to energetically send me goodwill, I will gladly accept!
#4: Write Yourself a Love Letter
Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of someone who loves you. If you struggle with Loving Kindness Meditation toward yourself, this can be a helpful way to begin. This was revolutionary in my self-love practice, especially after becoming a mom. There were days postpartum that left me feeling very unlike my old self, and my self-confidence took quite the blow. While that is still a work in progress, imagining how I look through my daughter’s eyes has buffered the disappointment that my boobs are hanging a bit lower these days!
#5: Connect with Nature
Spend time in nature. Our minds have not caught up with technology or how we live in the modernized world, which can have dire consequences for our mental health. So whether you take a walk on a short trail alone, with a friend, or with a pet, make sure to reconnect with the natural world. It can be highly beneficial for mental well being. I was able to explore an outdoor garden nearby recently, which became a photo opportunity, and segues nicely into my next suggestion.
#6: Photo Session with a Loved One
Have a loved one be your photographer. It’s easier to love yourself by first looking at the people around you. Seeing yourself through others’ eyes is magical. That is why my husband is my photographer. While it may seem a bit silly to others, one of the most rewarding self-love exercises I can do is to step outside with him for a photo session. (I make sure it’s on a day when I’m feeling up to it, as having that kind of attention on yourself can kick up bad feelings if you’re feeling a bit insecure).
#7: Play Dress Up
Yes, play dress up! I believe dressing up to be one of the greatest self-love exercises you can do. There’s a reason why you loved it as a child (hello, nostalgia). But instead of putting on a princess dress (unless that’s how you get down), put on an outfit that makes you feel great. My go-to is a dress I need to feel more confident wearing in public. I am not waiting for the proper confident-boosted moment to strike. Wear the dress, even if no one else sees it.
#8: Play Music
Play the music that lifts your spirits. I listen to music while playing dress-up, which does wonders for me.
Even more helpful is playing nostalgic music. There are certain songs I’ve heard at different crucial life moments that instantly transport me to a time when I was confident, steadfast, and, dare I say, bold! I still possess these pieces but am more reserved when I express them and to whom.
For example, Bella Ciao by El Profesor, which I heard playing throughout my few weeks in Europe in 2018. This instantly transports me back to an unexpectedly enjoyable bus tour across six countries led by Luigi Pasquale, who can best be described as a more modernly dressed wizard out of Harry Potter who just escaped a tornado.
Last but not least, get physical! Exercise is a quick way to feel better. Unless you’re the type to push yourself too hard (yes, that was me). It has been found to reduce anxiety and depression and improve self-esteem. Exercise will look and feel different for everyone depending on their ability. It could be going for a stroll around the block or flipping monster truck tires up a ravine. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m not your doctor. If you want to flip those truck tires and can, you do you!*
I hope you’ll take some time in the coming days to practice some self love exercises. Are there any self love exercises you’ve found helpful?
For more information on mental health balance, read my post on nostalgia, hope, and mindfulness.
*Please do not attempt to flip truck tires anywhere unless you are a trained professional. And even if you are trained, maybe don’t do it near a ravine, quarry or ditch of any kind.