Let’s face it: anxiety and depression can be rough. Many who live with it can project their energy out towards those around them, to make sure their loved ones never have to feel this way.
While it’s important to share the love, forgetting about yourself can lead to codependent behaviour and a loss of your own identity. When others constantly come first, you’re telling yourself over and over: I’m less important.
Self-love is not just for beautiful, successful, slightly out-of-touch people on Instagram. You are the only person you’ll spend every second of your life with, and so it’s the most valuable skill you’ll ever learn.
It won’t be easy, but beginning to understand yourself can forge a path towards tolerating your insecurities. After this, you might even be able to celebrate yourself a little.
Stop waiting for your “real life” to begin
This is just a slump, right? It’s not your real life, not yet. All you need to do is get through this tough bit, and then your real life will be waiting around the corner and you’ll be ready for it.
If you’re expecting the clouds to clear once you lose weight, or earn more money, or find “the one”, take a moment to ask yourself what exactly you imagine will happen.
This isn’t to discourage you from working towards your goals: it’s the opposite. In many cases, you’re seeking these things because they will genuinely enrich your life or make things easier for you. Others are just because you want them - and that’s fine!
However, viewing your life as a series of periods in limbo will only cause you to look back and realise how much time you missed. Yes, achieving your goals might improve your life, but they won’t kickstart it. You are doing life now.
You don’t have to start with love
All the scented candles in the world aren’t going to make you love yourself RuPaul-style. This is a slow journey towards confronting your insecurities and, at times, the idea of celebrating certain things about yourself seems impossible. So, if you’re not going to end up loving yourself, self-love is pointless, right...?
If love is out of the picture, aim for tolerance first. We can berate ourselves every day, to the point where it seems normal. Chances are you’d feel sick at saying these same things to a loved one.
Thoughts of being ugly, boring, or a failure can flash into our minds quicker than it’s possible to stop them. While it’s not always possible to control these thoughts, it’s up to you to correct them.
Positive affirmations work for some - but, for many of us, they’re just a bit cringe. Phrases like, “I’m beautiful”, “I’m independent”, or “I can do anything” might seem like lies if you’re already battling low self-esteem or have setbacks in your life.
Instead, let’s look at self-tolerance again. Aim for neutral statements that are undoubtedly true. Try:
- I got out of bed.
- The dog relies on me to feed him.
- I am a person, and all people deserve to be treated with respect.
- I’m going to try again.
- I am not broken.
- It’s okay to be upset.
- My body has done nothing wrong.
- I won’t feel this way forever.
- I’m wearing my favourite outfit today.
Pick examples that cannot be disputed. It’ll be harder for your brain to worm its way out of them - even if it tries. Over time, you might move them up a gear: from “I’m wearing my favourite outfit” to “I like the way I feel in this outfit” to “I like the way I look in this outfit”, for example.
Neutral affirmations are just as important in rewiring your self-perception, because it will feel less like you’re kidding yourself. They’re all true.
F the milestones
There’s a new something on social media every day. A shiny engagement ring; the keys to a new house; a grinning graduate...
Especially in your twenties and thirties, it can feel like all the expectations are impossible to meet. And that’s because they are! This is such a varied time of life that you physically cannot be on all the spectrum of things you feel people expect from you. Hurry up! Slow down! These are your best years!
It’s only natural to turn to friends and family who have been through these milestones and to feel as though you should follow their genuine wisdom. But that doesn’t mean it has to apply to you now - or ever.
This is just the same as you get older. Maybe you feel you’ve missed your chance. Looking closer, you might find that your reasons boil down to tradition or long-standing ideas of what a parent/student/professional “should” look like.
Feel the feelings
This is a difficult one. Pretty much all wellbeing advice is geared towards cheering ourselves up when we feel a downward spiral coming.
That said, constant deflection isn’t a long-term solution to managing your emotions. If there’s something you need to process, it’s important to feel it. This is all too easy to put off: you’re already feeling rubbish, so why sit and stew? Addressing difficult emotions is exhausting, and sometimes you just don’t have the time to wipe yourself out for the rest of the day.
Also, it can be hard to identify that you’re not feeling during a difficult time. Freud identified a defensive mechanism called “intellectualisation”, where a person engrosses themselves so deeply in the logical aspect of a situation that they bypass their emotions.
It might present as throwing yourself into funeral plans after a loss, or trying to justify the actions of a person who has treated you badly.
This makes it seem as though you are facing the problem, but in truth, you are no closer to reaching its root cause and allowing yourself to heal.
If you’ve been depressed or anxious for a while, you might have set a new baseline for your overall wellbeing. Well, you’re not great, but you’re stable. You’re no worse than you were last week.
The problem is that, if you have been doing this for most of your life, you might not even know how to sit with your feelings. This is something that has to be learned and probably won’t come easily the first few times.
Start by identifying the physical sensations in your body. Do you feel achy, tense, or empty? Next, observe the kinds of thoughts that come through your mind. Write them down if it helps.
When trying to explain our feelings, we most often provide the reason for the emotion, rather than the emotion itself. You might say, “I don’t know what to do next,” rather than “I’m afraid”. Try to separate the two; boil your thoughts down and listen to the physical signals that your body’s giving. Ask yourself: What is it like to feel this way? What is it trying to communicate? What do you need most right now?
What separates processing from wallowing is that you’re open to understanding yourself better - even if you have to stop and try again another day.