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Self-love is good for the heart

  • Did you know that loving yourself can help you to be healthier?
  • Evidence suggests self-love, self-acceptance, healthy self-esteem and self-compassion can have a beneficial impact on our heart and health.
  • Read on to find out what you can do to boost your heart health.

What’s the evidence?

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.

What is self-love, self-acceptance, healthy self-esteem and self-compassion?

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:

  1. Being kind and understanding to ourselves in instances of suffering or perceived inadequacy;
  2. A sense of common humanity, recognising that pain and failure are unavoidable aspects of life for all human beings; and
  3. A balanced awareness of our emotions; the ability to face (rather than avoid) painful thoughts and feelings, but without exaggeration, drama or self-pity.

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.

How can I achieve self-love and better heart health?

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?

  • Spend time with yourself. For some of us, being alone isn’t enjoyable, but it doesn’t have to be boring or scary. One of the best ways to get to know yourself is to spend some time alone. It might be that you schedule some time in every week or month (if you are just starting out) and build up the time as you go. Try reading a book, going for a walk, taking yourself out to dinner, going to a movie, watching a sporting event or visiting a museum.
  • Mindfulness practice. This involves being deliberately aware of the present moment in a non-judgemental and balanced manner. Regular mindfulness practice can help us to acknowledge what we think, feel and do, helping us to understand who we are, and what we need.
  • Focus on what you need, not what you want. It’s easy to sometimes forget to focus on what is important, necessary and needed. Being distracted by things that might prevent you from staying centred, stable, strong and moving in the direction you want to in your life. Being able to redirect yourself away from automatic behaviours or habits that do not serve you, that get you into trouble or keep you stuck, is really important for self-love.
  • Do what you love. Think about how often you fill your time with doing something you really LOVE. Whether it’s learning a new language, dancing, singing, talking, writing, being creative or listening to music, do more of it.
  • Quieten your inner critic. We can be our own worst enemies, often at times to our detriment. We do need a certain level of self-awareness and introspection to be healthy; however, only focusing on the flaws, failures or mistakes only gives us a skewed perception of ourselves, other people and the world around us. Try and get a balanced, more realistic perspective by challenging those negative thoughts.
  • Treat yourself how you would treat a friend. Being kinder to yourself isn’t easy! As with the point above, it might be helpful for you to ask yourself “Would I say or do this to a friend?”, it might help to establish when that inner critic is present and help you to find alternative ways of thinking or doing.
  • Positive data logging for a self-love boost. Write down three things that have happened to you, that you have done or have noticed each day. This doesn’t have to be large, out of the ordinary successes or positives, it can be something small, such as getting to work on time or going for a walk. For that added boost, try thinking and noting down what this experience says about you. If we continue with our example above; “I got to work on time, which suggests I am a dedicated and responsible employee”.
  • Positive affirmations. If you notice you’re experiencing negative or unhelpful views of yourself, actions or experiences then trying regular positive affirmations can help to create an optimistic perspective. You can read them quietly to yourself, or say them aloud, altering the “I’s” to “You’s”, if that makes you feel more comfortable. Some examples are, “I love myself”, “I am worthy of love”, “I am worthy of respect”, “I am a valuable”, “You are brilliant, just as you are right now”, “You are one of a kind” and “You are a compassionate person”.
  • Choose to be around positive people. Research suggests that positive emotions can be shared within social groups. Consider who you spend your time with. Do they support you? Do they provide you with appreciation, respect and care? It might be beneficial for you to protect yourself by spending more of your time with people who inspire, motivate and encourage you.
  • Forgive yourself. Typically, we are hard on ourselves for our mistakes and forget this is part of being human. You could practice forgiveness by writing a letter to yourself. Say sorry, and accept the apology.
  • Have a digital detox. Reflecting on how you use social media or devices can help to give your mind a rest from the ‘compare and despair’ experience that some people have when seeing other people’s filtered lives online. Who or what do you consume when online? Is it positive, motivating or inspiring? Does it make you feel good about yourself or give you a sense of community? If not, it might be worth reducing the time you spend here.
  • Be your own caregiver. You may have numerous roles and responsibilities within your life; at work, home and other spheres. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so consider looking after yourself in the way you support those around you. Love yourself by getting plenty of rest, considering nutrition and hydration and keeping active. 

Top tips

  • You don’t have to rush off and try and start making changes immediately. Take some time to reflect on where you are right now.
  • Ask yourself these questions: Is this something you think is important and necessary for you to work on right now? Where would it leave you if you weren’t to work on improving your self-love?
  • If you have decided that you want to work on loving yourself more, think of the small, incremental changes you can make from the list above. You too can achieve self-love and better heart health.
  • Need some help? Try your EAP number, speak to a trusted friend, family, colleague or visit your GP.

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.