by Alexa Peters
Valentine’s Day is supposedly the day of love, but for singles — particularly Seattle singles riding out the pandemic alone — it can also be a day of loneliness. For Skanda Bhargav, a 31-year-old tech worker who moved to Seattle from the Bay Area last summer, this Valentine’s Day is especially hard.
“The loneliness is not only because I’m single. I’m not meeting friends because of social distancing. So, pandemic has definitely made it more difficult,” he said.
Likewise, even in previous years when quarantine wasn’t an impediment to dating, some research suggested that Valentine’s Day marked the start of an annual uptick in suicides, largely because the day makes people more aware of their single status.
That said, Valentine’s Day doesn’t only have to be about romantic love, local mental health experts say. In fact, the holiday is the perfect time to start practicing self-love, defined as caring for your own happiness and well-being as you would a friend or significant other’s.
It may seem simple, but counselors look at self-love as the result of a holistic approach to health, including one’s emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational health. Likewise, The Path of Self-Love, a self-love school on Bainbridge Island, looks at the concept as a tree with many branches that include esteem, forgiveness, and pleasure.
Still, there are some simple ways to start down the path of self-love. For one, recognizing the critical things you tell yourself, and analyzing and replacing those messages with something more supportive of your mental health is a great introductory practice of self-love. With that in mind, here are some expert-curated tips for enhancing your ability to love on yourself this V-day.
Become aware of the negative things you tell yourself with mindfulness
Research shows that our internal chatter, known as “self-talk,” can seriously impact our mood. If excessively negative, it can even distort our view of self. Negative self-talk can look like constantly criticizing or belittling yourself.
Before you say, “I never do that,” note that the National Science Foundation (NSF) discovered that the average person has about 12,000 thoughts per day—and potentially up to 60,000 thoughts per day if they are deep thinkers. Of the total thoughts we take in a day NSF reports that 80% are negative. What’s more, 95% of the daily thoughts you have are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before—and again about 80% negative.
In order to transform your mindset, experts recommend you start by turning a gentle awareness to negative thoughts getting in your way. One of the best ways to do this is to practice mindfulness.
“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens,” reports Greater Good magazine. “Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them.”
One of the easiest ways to become more mindful is to close your eyes, focus on your breath, and note what thoughts emerge. Additionally, this New York Times article walks readers through the basics of mindfulness and offers meditations that can help you become more aware of your inner world.
Gently consider any negative messages that enter your awareness
As you sit in silence with your thoughts, look at them a little closer. Are you catastrophizing about a work project? Angry about your single-ness? Fearful you’ll never find a romantic partner? Dive into those uncomfortable feelings, experts say, and you may find some curious biases you hold about yourself. From there, consider if those biases are serving your ability to love yourself, or if they are coming from people in your life that may not have had your best interests in mind.
“I work from an attachment lens with these people I see, and so I do think there’s a connection between choosing to love oneself and having been shown love,” said Jonnali Mayberry-Abe, a private counselor in the South End. “Ideally, this comes from early life experiences. And I say ‘ideally’ because that is often not the case.”
Along those lines, Roy Fisher, a licensed counselor with Efficient Counseling in South Seattle, says there are several activities that can help people better understand their internal dialogue with themselves — journaling, in particular. Journaling can also be used to help rewire self-destructive thought patterns.
This terrific article from Greater Good Magazine offers some great tips on how to use writing to analyze uncomfortable feelings.
Begin to rewire unhealthy patterns
There are many ways, along with journaling, to better understand and transform less-than-positive thoughts you may have about yourself to increase your self-love. In particular, Fisher emphasizes the power of acknowledging your greatness through repeating affirmations, or encouraging phrases, to yourself.
“There’s always a place for affirmations. It’s supposed to activate another part of our brain,” said Fisher. “We need to [make] those messages consistent. I say this often that our brain doesn’t recognize reality or fantasy, it just takes inputs and gives out the chemical response. So these things trick our brain,” he said.
When it comes to this Valentine’s Day in particular, Fisher urges people not to internalize the fact that they aren’t spending it with a romantic interest and to instead focus on what they do have.
“Recognize that you have worth. Just because you don’t have a significant other doesn’t make you less-than. Celebrat[e] yourself, look around, and be grateful for what we have. You are not bad because you don’t have this or because you can’t go out and do this, that is not about you,” said Fisher. “That is just about the context in which we are living, but you need to be able to say those things a lot to ourselves so that you challenge the negative thoughts.”
What’s more, Mayberry-Abe underscores the importance of transforming more than just thoughts, but habits that may be impacting your internal dialogue. It’s also about showing up for your physical needs — on Valentine’s Day and everyday — no matter how bad you feel about yourself.
“In therapy [I] would be highlighting that the person is doing the best they can,” she said. “[I’d be] giving them encouragement and helping them… tend to mind and body [through] deep breathing, how [they] spend their time — [like] if they’re able to be in nature — and who and what they choose to surround themselves with.”
Don’t be Afraid to ask for Help
While much of this work can be done inexpensively from home, it’s never a bad idea to call in reinforcements as you work on self-love — and especially if things are so bad that you’re having suicidal thoughts. Help can take many forms — therapy, reading books on self-love, life coaching, or maybe just discussing the topic with a friend. In fact, as Mayberry-Abe says, sharing your journey with others is an act of self-love in itself.
“I would commend [anyone seeking help] for the courageous step of self-love to contact a therapist or ask for help — it’s being vulnerable. For folks who are considering reaching out for support, I encourage that as a way of showing self-love,” she said.
Additionally, local Seattleites are lucky enough to have The Path Of Self-Love nearby. The school’s approach to self-love involves looking at the concept like a wheel with multiple spokes, and they offer some free resources on their website to help people better understand where they could use the most improvement.
“We have these five foundational self-love promises which are the root of everything. We call them ‘the gate into self-love.’ It’s a good way to assess yourself and see where you’re strong and weak,” said Lea Guthrie, a self-love coach who’s worked for the school since it started in 2016. “It’s not like ‘I love myself or I don’t,’ it’s like, ‘I’m really strong in certain areas, and I’m weaker in other areas so how can I do practices that strengthen self-love overall?’”
No matter how you go about it, these experts stress that it’s never too late to start cultivating self-love. After all, self-love is an act that can transform more than just your Feb. 14 — self-love can transform your life, your community, and the world at large.
“In simplest terms, in order to really show up for others, we need to be there for ourselves,’” said Fisher. “The ability to know that we have worth allows us to then bring our gifts to our relationships with others.”If you or someone you know is feeling particularly down this Valentine’s Day, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Alexa Peters is a freelance journalist and copywriter living in the Seattle area. Her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, The Washington Post, Leafly, Downbeat Magazine, Healthline, and more. Her Twitter is @itsallwritebyme and her Instagram is @alexapeterswrites.
The featured image is attributed to Sabrina under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.
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