The phrase self-love often gets mixed up as a synonym for pampering. Don’t get us wrong — mani-pedis, sipping on a glass of wine, and setting aside time for a luxurious soak in a bubble bath are all delightful. (And, hey, that vino even lends you some health benefits for everything from your heart to your skin to your brain!)
But, when we really get to the heart of self-love, it can mean making tough changes to make yourself and your needs if not a top priority, at least a higher priority (here’s looking at you, moms), whether that entails scaling back on processed foods in favor of whole ones or setting firm boundaries with others.
The deeper meaning of self-care is learning how to honor, respect, and love yourself enough to do what your body, mind, and heart really need, explains Rachel Shanken, a New York City-based Licensed Mental Health Counselor. By practicing self-care, people are able to show themselves respect and build the self-esteem that ultimately leads to self-love, she says.
“Self-love is the key to good relationships with others, more joy, and a more fulfilling life,” Shanken explains. So, it’s important to get this right!
We asked several healthy-living experts to share their best advice when it comes to weaving habits that demonstrate self-love into our daily lives. Here are 12 ways to practice self-love.
1. Maintain a regular eating schedule
Put simply, food is fuel for our bodies, says Keri Gans, RDN, and creator of The Keri Report. Without it, we get tired, irritable, and can even develop headaches. “By maintaining a regular eating schedule — in other words, not skipping breakfast, lunch, or dinner — your body is more likely to stay energized,” Gans says. Every meal, she says, provides an opportunity show your body love by nourishing it with important vitamins and minerals.
2. Drink more water
Staying hydrated helps keep our bodies performing efficiently. “Your body is comprised of about 60 percent water, and there is nothing it loves more than being hydrated,” says Gans, who is based in New York City and is also a Certified Yoga Teacher. When it comes to water consumption, the average person should drink about half their weight in ounces, Gans explains. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, for example, make sure you’re getting about 70 ounces of water each day. “From helping your kidneys function properly to helping your skin look great, your body will thank you,” Gans says.
3. Set firm boundaries
One of the best ways to practice self-love is by setting boundaries and saying no, says Kelley Kitley, a Chicago-based psychotherapist, author, and TEDx speaker. “Oftentimes, humans are more interested in pleasing others or are concerned about how others will perceive them, so they agree to do things they prefer not to,” Kitley explains. This can lead to anxiety, resentment, burnout, and strain relationships in the long-term, she explains.
4. Silence the negative talk
You know that pesky voice that tells you that you didn’t do something right or you aren’t good enough? Part of loving yourself is acknowledging that voice, and then shutting it down, explains Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, and founder of online relationship community Relationup. She provides this exercise: “A helpful tool is to imagine the voice of someone nurturing in your life or some character from a book or a movie whom you think of as nurturing and ask yourself, ‘What would ______ say to me about this?’”
5. Cut out the processed foods
Instead, go for whole foods to nourish your body, suggests Tiffany Toombs, a self-love coach with Blue Lotus Mind Coaching and Training. “Our body is always telling us what foods it wants, we just need to listen,” she says. Take note of how you feel one to two hours after you eat. If you feel tired, gassy, bloated, crampy, or nauseous, something in your food didn’t agree with you. Studies, including a recent one from the University of Adelaide, have found that high-fat diets cause tiredness during the day and disrupt sleep at night.
6. Schedule time each day to rest — no nap required
Sometimes we get in the habit of being task masters and push ourselves too hard. Set aside time each day to rest, recommends Toombs. But that doesn’t have to mean taking a nap, she explains. Instead, set technology aside and focus on something you love doing, whether it’s learning to play an instrument, learning a new language, knitting, dancing, writing, swimming, jogging, or baking.
7. Elevate the ordinary
Light a candle while you enjoy dinner or pour your cup of tea in a beautiful cup, suggests Brianna Bedigian, a yoga teacher, author of “Healing Footstep to Footstep.” “Self-love doesn’t need to be anything extraordinary,” she says. Rather, it’s finding joy in the routines of life and making them feel special.
8. Give yourself a daily affirmation
Each day, gift yourself with a daily affirmation that relates to either a part of your body or an aspect of your personality that you appreciate, suggests Alyssa Cohen, a registered dietitian in the south Florida area, who runs a food and fitness blog, Fuel My Fit. Zone in on something that you may have struggled with accepting in the past, Cohen says. “For example, instead of being focused on your legs being a certain size, appreciate the fact that they carry you through the work day or through miles spent walking all over your favorite city, or through your workout,” Cohen says. Make these affirmations to yourself out loud.
9. Express your gratitude
Practicing gratitude allows us to focus on what we already have, instead of what we’re missing, says Claire Ridge, a yoga instructor and certified health coach in Chicago. “I usually think about one thing I am grateful for each day,” says Ridge. “You can do this while you brush your teeth or wait in a grocery store line.” Or, try keeping a gratitude journal, she suggests.
10. Practice a “Loving Kindness” meditation
Taking five to 15 minutes each day to do a “Loving Kindness” meditation can help people be more compassionate toward themselves, says Kathy McCabe, a Certified Life Coach in the Chicago area. “When we are able to be compassionate with ourselves, our love for ourselves — and for others — will increase,” she says. Check out this free, guided “Loving Kindness” meditation from University of California-Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action.
11. Give talk therapy a try
Self-love is about having a healthy relationship with your own mind, and having an inner voice that is kind and supportive, explains David Klow, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Chicago and owner of Skylight Counseling Center.
If you have an unpleasant thought or feeling, try instead a practice of responding to those thoughts and feelings more kindly and gently, says Klow, who is also an instructor at Northwestern University and Adler University and author of the new book “You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist.” “Many people have strong negative reactions to their own inner lives. They beat themselves up, criticize their thoughts, and try to push out their emotions,” he says. “This causes all sorts of inner stress, which makes dealing with life’s outer demands even more challenging.”
Many people find that talk therapy helps with this process of cultivating a more friendly relationship with their own mind, Klow says. Finding a competent, compassionate, and caring therapist can help cultivate a healthy inner life, which can be the foundation for self-love.
12. Try this time trick
The next time you have a task to complete, estimate the time it will take, and then double it, suggests Kaytlyn Sanders, a Seattle-based self-care coach at Beneficial Habits. “Not only do you give your mind the space it craves, you make more thoughtful decisions when you aren’t rushed,” she says. This strategy can help you be open to learning new ideas and can work on just about everything, from getting ready in the morning, to project timelines to cooking dinner. “Any extra time will be a gift to you and those around you,” she says.
13. Notice what’s “right”
It’s a natural, biological tendency for the brain to orient toward the negative thanks to evolutionary biology that kept us on the lookout for threats, explains Diane Renz, licensed psychotherapist. Counter that by noticing what’s right, right now, she says. She suggests the “Attitude of the AAAA’s,” which can help set the foundation for self-love.
- Acknowledge what’s happening and what’s right in you.
- Accept all parts of yourself. Growth and learning come from trials and errors.
- Appreciate the current conditions.
- Attend with affection what you don’t like.
Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.