Most of us place a lot of expectations on ourselves… sometimes more than we realize. We practice skincare and good hygiene, workout, try to eat well, try to excel at work, be a good friend and family member, etc.
And, while all of these expectations are more or less beneficial in life, they can put a lot of pressure on us. We can put a lot of pressure on us.
In this post, I want to explore what being kind to yourself means, as well as signs to watch out for that suggest you could use a bit more self-care, and a few habits you can use to work self-kindness into your daily routine.
Why is it so hard to be kind to myself?
This hits a bit of a raw nerve for me as I’m writing it, because today has been — actually this week has been — a rough one. The weather here in Northern California has been pretty grey and gross, and there’s been some stuff going on in my personal life that’s left a damper on my mood.
If ever I needed to be kind to myself, it’s during a week like this.
Yet, it can be difficult for me to accept that I need to go easy on myself. I’ve always been someone who prefers self-punishment to self-care. It feels productive when I force myself to do something I don’t want to, whether it’s a workout, running an errand, cleaning my apartment, etc.
I feel like I need to be hard on myself and push myself to do those things to feel accomplished, to feel productive, to feel valued.
But, deep down, I know that these behaviors do not increase or decrease my worth. Not my worth to myself or my worth to others.
I know that being hard on myself is not the same thing as being a strong person, and that being kind to myself is not the same thing as being weak. Yet, it feels like I’m doing something wrong when I go easy on myself, and when I show myself kindness.
Why is this so hard? Probably because, like many of us, I struggle with issues of being a perfectionist. I see so many people online looking like they have everything together in their lives and I want to be like that.
But no one is perfect, and most of what we see online is just a small, small piece of another person’s life.
We can’t push ourselves to be perfect, or to be like the people we see online. We have to be kind to ourselves, to our minds and our bodies. And I think this mindset shift is the biggest challenge to practicing self-love and self-kindness more regularly.
What does it mean to be kind to yourself?
Being kind to yourself means cutting yourself a break. It means embracing your imperfections, forgiving yourself for them, and even celebrating yourself for them. It means recognizing that you are human, you are flawed, and you have physical and mental limits that you need to respect.
For me, self-kindness means taking a nap when I feel rundown and not feeling lazy or bad about it. It’s enjoying a sugary snack or baked good after dinner. It’s taking a day off of working out to let my body recover. And it’s not feeling bad about allowing myself to do all of these things on the same day.
What’s the difference between self-kindness and self-care?
Being kind to yourself and caring for yourself go hand-in-hand, but there is a distinction between the two. Self-care is generally about physical actions that you can take to make yourself feel good. Self-kindness is rooted in mindset.
Self-care could be taking a hot bath, spending time outdoors, journaling, meditating, etc. Self-kindness is more likely to be something like forgiving yourself for a mistake, allowing yourself to be less productive than usual, loving your body for how it looks in the moment, etc.
Self-care is a great tool for your health and wellness, and can complement self-kindness nicely. But I would argue self-kindness is key to being happier and more mentally healthy overall.
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Why being kind to yourself is important
When we’re kind to ourselves, we allow ourselves to experience a profound and fulfilling sense of love and understanding.
Think about it this way: If you’re having a bad day and your friends and family members tell you that it’s okay and that everything will be fine soon but you don’t believe that yourself, will you feel better?
But, if you’re having a bad day and you tell yourself — and believe — that all bad days pass and it’s okay for you to cut yourself some slack because you aren’t feeling good, you’ll do more for your mental health, mood, and mindset than all your friends and family could do, combined.
Yes, it’s nice and even necessary to have support from the people you care about. But the person we often need (and lack) the most support from is ourselves.
15 Signs you need to be kind to yourself
So, we know that self-kindness can be hard, but that it’s also important.
However, if you — like me — aren’t always so great at identifying when you need to be kinder to yourself, these signs can help you realize it.
- You’re low on energy.
- You feel stressed.
- You haven’t slept well.
- Your routine is off/different than usual.
- You feel unproductive.
- A personal or professional relationship is bothering you.
- You feel unattractive.
- You have no motivation.
- You want to stay indoors/isolate from others when you don’t have to.
- Your appetite has changed (either increased or decreased).
- You feel like no one understands what you’re going through.
- You don’t really understand what you’re going through.
- You feel physically weak.
- You aren’t practicing personal hygiene as you normally would (skipping your shower, not brushing your teeth, etc.)
- You feel emotionally distanced from others (spouse or children, etc.)
There could be any number of reasons why you’re experiencing these signs. In this article, though, we’re less concerned with the why behind these experiences and more concerned with recognizing these signals as flags that it’s time to put the tough-love talks aside and focus on being gentle and understanding with yourself.
That’s where being kind to yourself comes in.
15 Ways to be kind to yourself
If you find yourself experiencing one or more of the signs mentioned above, try being kinder to yourself by doing the following.
- Stop pressuring yourself to have a “normal” day. Not every day has to be the same.
- Let yourself sleep. Sleep in or take a nap if you can. Your body and mind may be telling you they need to rest more.
- Talk about your feelings. Talk to either a friend or a professional therapist. Sometimes just talking is cathartic enough to help you feel better.
- Remind yourself that no one is perfect. You can’t always win at everything, it’s okay to miss the mark.
- Don’t force it. If you really aren’t feeling something, just don’t do it. Skipping a workout or not cleaning your house isn’t going to alter your future.
- Drink water. I know everyone says this, but your body and brain seriously need water to function properly.
- Drink some coffee or tea. The caffeine can help boost your mood.
- If you have the energy, work out. Working out is scientifically proven to release endorphins in your body that can help you feel better and improve your mood. Focus on doing a workout routine you enjoy to practice self-kindness.
- Think about everything you’re grateful for. Even when we’re having a bad day, we can always find something to be thankful for.
- Hug someone. Physical touch releases endorphins in our brains, and can help you feel better if you’re having a bad day.
- Eat your comfort foods. Few people have ever felt warm and cozy after eating a kale salad. Don’t hinder your self-kindness by forcing yourself to stick to a diet. Bring out the mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, or whatever else makes you feel happy.
- Get a shower. Or a bath. You might not feel like it initially, but that post-hygiene feeling of having freshened up can be a great way to improve your mood.
- Dress down. If you can avoid it, ditch the tight jeans or work clothes for sweats and a t-shirt. The lack of restrictive clothing can help you relax, and loose clothing is actually better for blood flow.
- Focus on doing one thing. Rather than finishing that project for work or school, cleaning your apartment, and doing laundry, pick just one thing that you have to or want to get done and do that. Take your time, and save the other stuff for a different day. You’ll feel more productive, and this won’t take up as much of your energy.
- Watch something funny. Most of us have that comedian or actor who always gets us. Put on something you know is likely to make you laugh. Once you start laughing, you’ll likely find it’s easier to laugh more, and you’ll feel better, faster.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
It can sometimes be easy to think that if we can just push ourselves harder, be stronger, work faster, we’ll improve our lives. However, any tough-working person who is happy can tell you that the time they take to relax is just as important for getting the life you want.
Be kind to yourself. Hopefully these tips will help.