Be Your Own Valentine. Practice Self-Compassion this Feb 14th.

Red valentine's sucker on blue background. Self-compassion and loneliness. Mental Health.

Is there any holiday more divisive than Valentine’s Day? For many, it’s a day to rekindle romance and spend an evening with someone special. For others, it’s an excuse to celebrate all the love they feel, whether it’s love for friends, family members, or even four-legged companions. And for some, Valentine’s Day is just plain difficult—a glaring pink-and-red reminder of all their romantic disappointments. 

Whether you recently suffered a breakup, have a one-sided crush, or are experiencing hardcore Tinder fatigue, February 14th is likely to trigger some painful emotions. So, what should we do when everything is not coming up roses on V-Day? 

Science has a suggestion: Instead of focusing on romantic relationships, try showing love to yourself this Valentine’s Day. 

Psychologists refer to the act of being kind to yourself as “self-compassion” or self-love, and—according to burgeoning research—it’s associated with improved mental health and well-being. Numerous studies have linked self-compassion to reduced depression, stress, and disordered eating. Self-compassion may also boost happiness, self-esteem, and even immune function.

But, despite evidence that self-compassion is beneficial, many resist practicing it. Some of us have a deeply rooted belief that negative self-talk is motivating—that it pushes us to work harder, perform better, and achieve our goals. Others worry that self-compassion is a form of weakness and self-indulgence. Many believe it’s a selfish act that undermines motivation.

The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth, however.

Research shows that being kind to ourselves helps us become stronger, more resilient, and less focused on personal issues. According to a 2011 paper published in Psychological Science, it can even help us overcome adversity. The study indicated that higher levels of self-compassion were related to improved emotional recovery following marital separation and divorce. In another study, veterans who measured higher on the self-compassion scale were less likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

So, how do we learn to practice the invaluable art of self-love and compassion? Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research and Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, describes self-compassion as a three-step process: 

Self-kindness.

Chances are, you have a voice inside your head telling you how worthless, dumb, or inadequate you are. Self-kindness is all about replacing harsh self-criticism with kinder, gentler words. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m so unlovable. I’m going to be alone forever,” say “I’m lonelier than I’d like to be. Maybe now is the time to find ways to connect with others.” 

Common humanity.

Acknowledge that suffering is a universal experience and not a personal failure. Tell yourself, “Everyone gets lonely sometimes. I’m not the only person who feels down today.” 

Mindfulness.

Observe your negative emotions without focusing on them or suppressing them. Simply tell yourself, “I’m feeling sad and lonely  today, and I’m having a hard time.”

We understand that self-compassion seems strange and unnatural at first, so we’ve compiled a few simple exercises to get you started. Go on, send some of that loving-kindness your way this V-Day: 

4 Strategies for Self-Compassion

1. Ask yourself, “Would I talk to a friend this way?”

Think about a time a friend came to you for help after failing or getting rejected. How did you respond to them? What words did you choose? What tone of voice did you use when speaking with them? 

Now, think of a similar situation in which you were struggling, and compare your two answers. Were you as kind to yourself as you were to your friend?

Chances are, you’d never talk to a friend the way your inner voice speaks to you. 

2. Give yourself a loving touch. 

It feels good to receive a warm hug or comforting touch when you’re upset, right? While this exercise might seem silly, trying giving yourself a soothing touch next time you feel down. Place one hand over your heart, hug or gently rock your body, or simply hold your hands together in your lap.

According to Dr. Neff, “research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions and calms cardiovascular stress.”

 3. Memorize a set of compassionate phrases. 

When you find yourself caught in a barrage of self-criticism, close your eyes, and acknowledge your suffering. Say to yourself, “I feel sad. This is a difficult situation, and I’m having a hard time.” Then, remind yourself that everyone struggles. Say, “Sadness is part of life. Everyone feels this way sometimes. I’m not alone.” 

Now, replace your negative self-talk with words of kindness. “May I be kind to myself. May I forgive myself. May I be strong. May I accept myself as I am.”

4. Write yourself a self-compassion letter 

If you’re struggling with self-compassion, take some time to write yourself a short, encouraging letter. Here’s how: 

  • Think of something that you feel ashamed, insecure, or not good enough. It could be related to your personality, the way you behave, or your relationships. 
  • Once you identify something, describe how it makes you feel. Ashamed? Sorrowful? Angry? Try and be as honest with yourself as possible. 
  • Next, write yourself a letter expressing compassion for parts of yourself that you dislike. Take the perspective of a caring friend, and imagine the encouraging things they might say to you in this situation. 

Save the letter, and come back to it when you need a reminder to be self-compassionate. 

While self-compassion is a useful tool for boosting happiness, it’s important to stay in tune with yourself and identify when you need expert advice. If you or someone you know needs guidance this Valentine’s Day (and beyond), we’re here. 

4 Science-Backed Reasons to Love Love this Valentine’s Day 

Health benefits of love this Valentine's Day

Toddler-sized teddy bears, chalky-tasting conversation hearts, a stress-inducing color palette: There are a lot of things we love to hate about Valentine’s Day. But, at its core, V-Day is not a holiday about roses, or even romance. It’s about love. And there’s a lot to love about love—especially when it comes to your mental and physical health.

According to a growing body of scientific research, love boasts some exciting health benefits. So, in honor of Valentine’s day, we’re examining the ways in which loving relationships (and not just romantic ones, either) can help your mind and body. Read on for four reasons to share the love this February—and beyond:

1. Love pushes you to take better care of yourself.

It may seem obvious, but having a loving partner pushes you to take better care of your health. 

Because there’s a lot of denial surrounding medical illness, single individuals may be more likely to shrug off their symptoms. Loving partners encourage each other to go to the doctor—even when they don’t want to. Moreover, couples can often tell if their significant other is suffering from a health problem before their S.O. does. 

The data backs this up, too. Studies show that people who are paired off may be able to detect melanoma earlier than singles since their partners tend to notice suspicious moles right away. 

Beyond helping you spot serious health conditions, your romantic partner may help you change your unhealthy habits. According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, both men and women were around 40% more likely to increase the amount of exercise they got when their partner did. The same findings applied to smokers: People were also about 40% more likely to ditch cigarettes when their partner quit as well. Now that’s what we call teamwork.

    2.   Love can lower your blood pressure. 

It should come as no surprise that being close to your loved one can make you feel calmer, safer, and more secure. But did you know that loving feelings can have physical effects, too, such as improving cardiovascular health? 

According to a recent report published by the University of Arizona, the effects of love are so powerful that simply visualizing your loved one may help lower your blood pressure. 

The study discovered that—when it comes to your body’s cardiovascular response to stressful situations—thinking about your significant other can keep your blood pressure under control just as effectively as having them in the room with you. Guess it really is the thought that counts! 

       3. Love can boost self-esteem and mental well-being.  

According to research from Tallinn University, women in happy, healthy relationships tend to have a more positive body image.

For the study, researchers interviewed 256 women between the ages of 20 and 45. They inquired about a series of topics, including their relationship status, happiness within the relationship, weight, diet, self-consciousness, body image, and self-esteem.

The conclusion? Being in a loving relationship really does impact your self-esteem. No matter how close a woman was to her target weight, being a part of a self-reported satisfying relationship was linked to having a higher self-image. 

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that this study was correlational—it didn’t prove cause and effect. But it makes sense that having a loving partner might make you feel good about yourself, right? 

      4. Loving relationships may help you live longer.

There’s a whole slew of research showing that married people are likely to live longer, giving new meaning to the phrase “’til death do us part.”  

According to a 2011 study conducted by Cardiff University, wedded folks had a 10-15% lower risk of premature death compared to individuals. What’s more, married couples tend to have lower rates of substance abuse and less depression than their single peers.

Research suggests that these longevity benefits are not from marriage itself, but rather from having consistent, loving social and emotional support. In 2010, a review of 148 studies showed that longer lifespans were linked to ALL close social relationships—not just romantic ones. That means the love you experience from your friends and families is good for your health, too.

Love not all you need? We’re here. Schedule a same-day visit at your neighborhood ZOOM+Care today!