February is a time we all think about hearts and flowers and the one we love. But for many of us, even if we have others in our lives, we find it difficult to let that love in. And, if we don’t have anyone in our lives that can offer us a hug or box of chocolates, February can seem like a really lonely month.
I’ve been in and out of relationships my whole adult life, and I’ve often felt just as lonely when I’m in one as when I’m not. Right now I have a great husband who never forgets the holidays and is always there with a hug and a smile when I need one. And yet, when I’m feeling vulnerable and disappointed in myself, I have trouble taking in the love that is offered.
So, I started researching ways I can give myself the love I need. I found it very interesting that when I started practicing self-love, I was much more able to receive love from others. So here goes:
5 Ways to Nourish and Love Yourself
It’s become sort of a platitude that the way to be happy is to practice gratitude, but that’s okay—because it really works! When you spend time thinking about the things that are going right in your life, it leaves less time to think about the things that you are struggling with. Rick Hanson says that “We are Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive experiences.” This is our natural tendency; we evolved to pay attention to every threat to keep us safe. But, he also says that by paying attention to the good events in our lives, we can shift that propensity and become happier and more loving beings. That’s especially true when we appreciate our own good qualities.
I’m sort of a mindfulness geek. That’s because I’ve become so much happier and self-caring since I started practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is training in paying attention to what’s happening in our present moment experience, both internally and externally, and then responding with kindness and acceptance. Mindfulness gives me the ability to recognize when I’m struggling with self-criticism and doubt and allows me to see them for what they are. Then, I can make a choice to listen to those voices with compassion and remember that I’m not perfect, and that’s okay.
Self-compassion is a combination of mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. We start with the skill of mindfulness to admit to ourselves when we are having a hard time. “This is really tough right now.” Then, we remember that struggles are just part of being human, and even though we feel alone right now, we’re not! “Other people are feeling this way, too.” The last piece is just giving ourselves a break and responding the way we might respond to a good friend. “May I comfort myself.” “May I be kind to myself.”
4. Soothing Touch
Paul Gilbert is a psychologist in the UK who has studied the mammalian nervous system. Three ways mammals shift from the fight and flight part of the nervous system to the soothing part of the nervous system are through gentle vocalization, soothing touch, and warmth. Research has confirmed that we can actually give this to ourselves. For me, just to know that I could place a hand on my heart and give myself that warm hug, tenderness, and care was huge! Loving myself became a physical act that I could do anytime I needed it.
5. Redefining Love in Micro-moments
Finally, and this is one of my favorites, we can actually connect in a moment with another human being and feel the love. Barbara Frederickson PhD, emotion and evolutionary psychologist, says love is an emotion—a dynamic mind-body process that rolls through you for a few micro-moments any time you connect with someone else over a shared positive feeling. What I love about this is that we can search out and soak up these micro-moments of love every day. Yesterday, I had a ton of them: the guy at Starbucks who gave me a great big smile and sincerely wished me a beautiful day; my 13 year old lab who rushed to the door when I came home, wagging her big black tail; the laughter I shared with a friend; the guy I’m married to who wouldn’t go to bed, even though he was sick, without saying I love you.
I love that I can give myself the love I need everyday. And what is even better is that I am so much more capable of receiving and giving love to others.