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Self-care and mental health: 6 easy ways to be kinder to your body and mind

Posted by for Life

Looking for a way to show yourself some love this Valentine’s Day? Take care of your mental health and boost your self-esteem with these ideas of how to be kinder to your body and mind. 

You’ve probably seen the words self-love, self-care or self-compassion being thrown around social media before, but knowing what they mean – and actually putting them into practice – is an entirely different story.

In short, practising self-kindness simply means treating yourself how you would a close friend or family member who you love and respect.

For many of us, however, that doesn’t come naturally. Women in particular have a hard time being kind to ourselves. Thanks to a combination of factors (social media and diet culture are two contemporary examples) women have long-faced, and continue to face, pressure to be perfect. In turn, this has lead many of us to be self-critical about the way we look, feel or live our lives and compare ourselves to the women we see on the internet. 

This impulse to feed ourselves with negativity has become subconscious, so much so that some women find themselves engaging in self-sabotaging behaviours. Indeed, according to research commissioned by Stylist at the beginning of 2020, 1 in 3 women follow influencers on social media even when they make them feel worse about themselves.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on our mental health, there has never been a better time to learn how to be kind to ourselves and show ourselves some love. It may sound a bit “fluffy” – as a society, we have a tendency to view kindness as a weakness – but making the active decision to be kind to ourselves, engage in self-care and show ourselves the compassion we would a friend or family member can be incredibly powerful. 

A woman smiling
How to be kinder to yourself: with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to take its toll on our mental health, there's never been a better time to learn how to be kind to ourselves.

Why? Because the relationship we have with ourselves can play a massive role in our physical and mental health. As Dr Michaelides, chief psychology officer at Noom, a behaviour change expert and mobile health technology company, explains, being kind to ourselves can “greatly improve our mental health, instil a more positive mindset and help to ease any stress and anxiety we may be feeling”. In the long run, being kind to ourselves can also help to boost our self-esteem.

So how can we start being kinder to ourselves and show ourselves some love? We asked Dr Michaelides to share their top tips. 

1. Set self-care goals

A calendar
How to be kinder to yourself: set self-care goals.

“Take a few minutes at the beginning of each day or week to organise your thoughts and map out the goals that you want to accomplish,” Michaelides recommends. “Among that list, think about how you can also prioritise time to take care of yourself, and brainstorm a list of activities that you love, or maybe new things that you want to try.

“Defining and setting goals for how you can practice self-care is the first step to actioning them. Next, it’s important to actually make time for these activities, and write them on your to-do list or block off time on your calendar. Figuring out ahead of time how you can incorporate them into your week will make it much easier to follow through.

“Then, break down the steps it takes to achieve these goals. It can be overwhelming when thinking about the end goal versus thinking about a smaller version of it. If you want to finish the book you’ve been dying to read for weeks, start small. When can you find a chunk of time to dedicate to reading one or two chapters? You don’t have to finish the book in one sitting, but the small, incremental steps you take can be just as effective, and perhaps even more rewarding.

Setting goals and establishing simple, achievable steps to hit them helps you stay on track and prioritise those self-care activities.”

2. Acknowledge the positive

A woman ticking off her to-do list
How to be kinder to yourself: celebrate the little wins.

“If we only tick off one of the tasks on our to-do-list, it’s easy to get caught in feeling like there is way more on the list that we haven’t completed yet,” Michaelides says. “Finishing one task, however, is a step in the right direction.

“We are all imperfect human beings with flaws and inconsistencies – that’s what makes us human! Rather than focusing on all the work we haven’t done yet, we can take a more positive shift in our mindset by being kind, allowing ourselves to notice our efforts, and celebrating every victory, no matter how small they may seem. This small act of kindness can help to foster a more positive mindset and let go of feeling as if you failed.

“Another way to acknowledge the positive in your life is through gratitude journaling. Spending just a few minutes each day writing down what you are grateful for in your life can help you see the good that’s all around you, especially during times when life may feel challenging or stressful.”

If you want to get started with gratitude journalling but don’t know where to start, the MYnd Map journal is a great place to start. The 12-week mindfulness journal is filled with scientifically-proven techniques, mindfulness prompts and spaces to practise gratitude, and is designed to help you feel more organised, empowered and excited about life.

3. Identify qualities you like about yourself

A woman looking in the mirror
How to be kind to yourself: make an effort to notice your positive qualities and say these out loud as affirmations.

“Be kind to both your mind and body by practising self-love,” Michaelides recommends. “Can you look in the mirror and find something you like about yourself physically? Close your eyes and think about your best inner qualities. Say these positive qualities out loud as affirmations, such as, ‘I am caring. I am beautiful. I am compassionate’. You could also write them down to have visual reminders, especially when it may be hard to notice these positive traits all the time.

“It may be hard to believe what you say at first, but every day you do this, you will begin to shift your mindset and over time you’ll start noticing more ways to view things in a positive light by ‘seeing the good’. Strong self-image and a sense of your inner and outer beauty can help boost your self-esteem and self-confidence.”

4. Reframe negative thoughts

A woman looking puzzled
How to be kinder to yourself: use CBT techniques to reframe negative thoughts.

“A large part of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is noticing how our negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are all interconnected,” Michaelides explains. “Our thoughts and attitudes influence our emotions and behaviours, and vice versa.

“CBT works by helping us recognise common cognitive distortions we may be having (‘I will never be able to integrate these changes in my life’) which is known as ‘All-or-nothing’ thinking. We can begin to notice when thoughts like these happen and replace them with new ideas (‘These changes are hard to make. The more I break down the steps and start small, the easier it will be to make a change’). 

“Evaluating your thoughts and ideas like this can be challenging, and at times uncomfortable, but it’s an important part of being able to make and see changes.”

5. Listen to your body

A woman running
How to be kinder to yourself: listen to your body and be mindful of how it feels.

“Instead of just acknowledging how your body looks in the mirror, be kind to your body by listening to how it feels,” Michaelides says. “You may notice things you are grateful for, like not being in pain today or being able to smell beautiful flowers.

“Being in tune with your body can also help with our relationship with food. Next time you have a strong craving, try to figure out where it’s coming from. Is it emotional, nostalgic, psychological (triggered by a memory or routine), or true physical hunger? Do you typically have sugar, salt or fat cravings? Begin by identifying your patterns and write them down. 

“Once you’ve begun to understand your cravings, it will be easier to recognise them and take action accordingly. We have a philosophy at Noom that all foods fit in moderation; you don’t need to conquer them, you can honour them.

“You can also listen to your body through exercise; move your body to boost endorphins and strengthen your muscles, while also improving your mental health. “

6. Eat well and eat mindfully

Two bowls of porridge
How to be kinder to yourself: take care of your body by eating well.

“Practicing mindfulness while eating can help you be more self-aware of the choices you make regarding your food consumption and allows you to appreciate your meals more,” Michaelides explains.

“Try to take some time out to cook as part of your self-care routine, and connect with the ingredients you’re using. When sitting at the table to enjoy your meal, breathe deeply to ground yourself in the present, and engage all your senses and reflect as you eat: how does your food taste as you eat? Describe the texture. Between each bite, put your fork down and reflect. 

“You can do the same when drinking a glass of water. Take a few seconds to think about your body absorbing the water and getting hydrated. Ground yourself in the present by taking a few deep breaths.”

Although these six steps may not sound revolutionary, taking the time to implement them into your routine could make the world of difference when it comes to your mental health and wellbeing. The relationship we have with ourselves is the most important relationship we’ll have in our lives – so it’s about time we started nurturing it.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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