When we love ourselves, we are more likely to engage with health-benefitting behaviours. Basically, we take better care of ourselves. Recent studies have suggested that loving yourself (having healthy self-esteem, accepting yourself for who you are and caring for yourself) helps to boost your PNS (parasympathetic nervous system), which is in charge of the ‘rest and digest’ body system that helps to conserve energy, slow us down, regenerate and heal. Self-love can bring about a change in our bodies; a feeling of calm, a reduced heart rate, lower stress hormone levels, better at fighting inflammation; all things that help the heart stay healthy.
Self-love is multifaceted. It encompasses our ability to accept ourselves, have a realistic and balanced view on our strengths and weaknesses and enables us to care for ourselves. Self-love can help us to find purpose and meaning and can lead to a more fulfilled and healthy life.
To find out more about the facets of self-love, we’ll look at self-acceptance, healthy self-esteem and self-compassion in more detail.
Self-acceptance is a global affirmation that enables us to embrace all facets of ourselves. It’s about working with ourselves rather than against. We are currently immersed within a culture that can make it increasingly more difficult to accept ourselves for who we are. There are ever-increasing pressures on people today, whether it be at school, work, or the constant self-promotion of those we may follow on social media… this can make it all too easy to compare ourselves to others and, instead of focusing on the positives, can actually make us focus on the differences, shortcomings or the mistakes we might make.
If we are low on self-acceptance, we can be troubled by aspects of who we think we are and long to be something or someone different. This can really get in the way of making the most of our ourselves and our happiness. Dwelling on what we are not, rather than what we are and have got, can make it much harder to love ourselves. Learning to accept ourselves when things go wrong increases the chance of us having a positive relationship with ourselves.
This doesn’t mean we should ignore the bad stuff that happens, or our weak areas, but we should try instead to put things into perspective and accept that everyone is unique, and that no-one is ‘perfect’. Our imperfections are a part of who we are and a normal human experience, so shouldn’t be seen as out of the ordinary. Shifting the focus from what we don’t have and can’t do, to what we have and can do, can be a great help.
Healthy self-esteem is how valuable or worthwhile we see ourselves. When we have a healthy self-esteem, we are more likely to feel positive about ourselves or how we perform in specific areas of our lives (e.g. appearance or performance at work) and see ourselves deserving respect of others.
Self-compassion. Self-compassion is defined as having three overlapping parts:
Self-compassion is associated with greater personal initiative to make needed changes in one’s life, motivating us to push through challenges, learn from our mistakes and try hard because we want to be happy and free from suffering. Research suggests that self-compassion promotes self-improvement and reduces comparisons to others. It is associated with greater happiness, optimism, curiosity, resilience and reduced experience of depression and anxiety.
Self-compassion recognises the fact that all human beings have both weaknesses and strengths. It acknowledges that we are all imperfect and can experience suffering, and are therefore worthy of compassion.
Take a look at the ideas below. Which of these could be something you could try in order to boost your self-love and heart health?
Working on loving yourself takes time, effort, energy and practice but the rewards are great – for both mind and body. Good luck!
Johnson, M., & Rasouli, S. (2017). Contingent self-esteem structures related to cardiac, exhaustive, and immunological disease: A comparison between groups of outpatients.
Cogent Psychology, 4:1391677
Kirschner, H., Kuyken, W., Wright, K., Roberts, H., Brejcha, C., & Karl, A. (2019). Soothing Your Heart and Feeling Connected: A New Experimental Paradigm to Study the Benefits of Self-Compassion. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(3) 545–565. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702618812438