With Valentine’s Day upon us and spring around the corner (for those of us north of the equator), we find ourselves in a season where both nature and culture encourage a time for love.
So, we’d like to focus our attention on simple ways each of us can cultivate self-love, which, as you’ll see, benefits not only us, but everyone else in our sphere of influence. (And of course, we’ll explore how our oral care routine can relate to this, too. 🙂 )
“Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves.” – Brené Brown
How do I know if an action is ‘self-love’?
Acts of self-love are commonly (but not always) loving in all directions. In other words, if you question whether an action that you want to take for yourself is self-love, just look to see if others will also benefit from you taking that action.
Let’s take a look at an example… If a parent or caregiver provides themself some quiet, personal time, that is an act of self-love. How do we know? Well, taking some time to ‘recharge their batteries’ will help them to be a kinder, more patient, and more resilient version of themself. Even though the people they’re caring for may not immediately recognize this action as loving, ultimately, when the parent or caregiver takes good care of themself, they’re in a better position to also take good care of others.
Another good example of self-love is setting boundaries and saying “no” when our plate is too full to take on another task. Saying “no” can be uncomfortable for some folks, and sometimes it can be disappointing to the person who was making the ask. But in the end, honoring our needs by saying “no” (or even just “not right now”) benefits our own well-being (and we know from the first example above that our well-being can impact our interactions with other people).
So, when determining if the action is loving in all directions, we might need to ‘zoom out’ and view the impact on everyone from a broader perspective.
But isn’t self-love just a way to justify ego-indulging selfishness?
Definitely not. Caring for yourself does not mean you don’t care about or consider other people’s needs. Instead, it’s about helping ourselves so we have what we need in order to also help others. We all know we can’t pour from an empty cup. If we’re not ‘filling our cup’ by caring for ourselves first, how can we care for others without risking building up resentment and relational ‘trash’?
Selfishness suggests that life is a ‘win/lose’ game: when I take care of myself, someone else loses. This is not self-love. Self-love involves determining what you need first while taking into consideration the impact your action may have on others in your life. It’s a win/win game: you take care of your needs so the people around you can benefit, too.
Now that we know what self-love is (and what it isn’t), let’s explore a few ideas for how you might put it into practice to bless yourself and those around you. (P.S. one of the ideas relates to oral health. 🙂 )
Remember that we’re all unique individuals, and effective self-love practices can look different for each person. So, feel free to try the ideas that resonate with you and/or come up with your own ideas that are specific to what’s going on in your life. After all, you’re the expert on what would work best for you!
Idea # 1: Smile (for yourself)
“Life is like a mirror. Smile at it and it smiles back at you.” – Peace Pilgrim
Did you know that smiling actually makes us healthier and happier?
Suffice it to say, smiling is very much a form of self-love.
“But what if I don’t feel like smiling?”
Yep, we feel ya.
The good news is, even if we fake a smile, we still benefit from it.
However, we must be clear who we’re smiling for. Smiling for ourselves as a self-care action is a wonderful idea (especially if we need a boost because we’re not feeling great). But if we flash a smile to appease or fool someone else, only to drift back into gloom after the moment passes, this actually reinforces our personal drama. It’s simply putting on a mask, and it doesn’t help us feel better (or contribute to the health and happiness of others).
So, the secret here is to check in with yourself. Smile for you first. Then if your smile winds up blessing others around you too, that’s all the better.
If you’d like to read more about how smiling helps promote both health and happiness, feel free to check out our articles, “Never Underestimate the Power of Your Smile” and “Smile Your Way to Greater Health and Happiness“.
Idea # 2: Hit the pause button
Most modern people function in a state of stress 70% of the time.
We’ll let you in on a big secret… We can give our nervous system the opportunity to recalibrate to a healthier set point.
Even if we’re super busy, we all can hit the pause button and take a few breaths to coax our brain and nervous system out of stress mode and back to a natural resting state. And the more we believe, “Well, I just don’t have the time for that,” the more we really need it.
Leaning on our study of the Chinese longevity arts as well as Dr Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory, if we make our exhale longer than our inhale, we naturally gravitate toward a calmer, more restful state.
Imagine you’re in the middle of a stressful conversation (ever had one? 🙂 ). Rather than having a hair-trigger reaction to a sharp comment from the other party, what would happen if you hit the pause button and took just one breath?
Maybe try it right now.
As I sit here writing this, I’d give myself a 4 on my imaginary 1-10 stress scale. What about you? Where would you score yourself?
First, let’s adjust our posture to accommodate a naturally fuller breath as we wait for the end of our next exhale.
Now, let’s inhale together for the count of one, two, three, four. And gently hold at the top of your inhale for one, two, three, four. And slowly, smoothly exhale for one, two, three, four, five, six. And hold your breath at the bottom of your exhale for one, two, three, four.
And naturally breathe in again at this point.
What do you feel? Warmer? Calmer? Does your number on the stress scale seem a little smaller and/or less intense?
This exercise helps calm our body’s physiological responses. As things slow back down to normal, less-stressed levels, we feel calmer.
If you’re in a time crunch, just one breathing round like this will at least help somewhat. But to boost your results, try repeating this exercise for at least a few breaths, and if you feel comfortable with it, you can also put your hand over your heart while you do it.
If you have the space in your life, you could even experiment by giving yourself 1 to 10 minutes of this practice each day. Then see how your life changes. It can be done in one session at any time during the day or even spread out over several different sessions throughout the day. And if you have difficulty falling asleep, then it can be especially helpful to do this at bedtime to help your body and mind relax and prepare to drift off.
Idea #3: Care for your mouth…
You knew we had to bring this up! 😁
Seriously though, by caring for your oral health, not only are you giving to yourself, but you’re also supporting the health of everyone around you.
Your kids get to see you, the parent, modeling good oral hygiene habits.
And all of your loved ones benefit because you’re lowering your risk of thug bugs running the show in your oral microbiome (as well as the risk of unintentionally passing the imbalanced biome to them through kissing and/or sharing foods and drinks).
Depending on where you find yourself on this journey, here are some resources that may help you on your path:
Pulling this all together…
Self-love isn’t one action, it’s a state of mind. It’s choosing to care for your needs, knowing that by doing so, you’ll be a ‘better’ version of yourself in your life.
Since self-love really is a state of mind, you can give yourself some love at any time. Want a crazy boost? Try all three of the above ideas together! While it may feel a little like ‘patting your head while rubbing your belly’, we surely can intentionally breathe while smiling and caring for our teeth and gums. Just be forewarned: if you start laughing, please don’t inhale your HealThy Mouth Blend or Shine! 🙂
Wherever you find yourself in life, please know that you are loved and appreciated just as you are.
What about you? What are some self-love strategies you like to use? Please share your tips and ideas in the comments below!
Helpful, related resources:
Dr Stephen Porges: https://www.stephenporges.com/