Roses, chocolates and red hearts are winking at us from every shop window, champagne corks pop into every ad break and romcoms flutter onto every channel – irrespective of our relationship status, none of us can escape the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day.

Whether you view the day as a money-making racket pedalled by the advertising industry, or you look forward to it as a warm respite from winter winds, one thing is certain, Valentine’s Day can be a challenging time for many.

Be your own Valentine

By focusing almost exclusively on a fairytale style of romantic love, we can feel somehow ‘less than’ if that doesn’t match with our reality. We may be single, in an unhappy relationship or in a contented one where big gestures and candlelit dinners just don’t suit.

Whatever your individual circumstances, Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to reframe the narrative and use it as a chance to rekindle your love for yourself.

Why is self-love important?

We’ve all heard – or maybe even said – “yer man/one loves him/herself”, a sentiment that makes us think of loving ourselves as something narcissistic or self-obsessed. It is neither of these things. If we can’t learn to love and accept ourselves, it makes it very difficult to accept the love of others. If we neglect to love ourselves it can, over time, create in us a sense that we are unlovable or even worse, unworthy of love. Recognising and acknowledging our own, individual worth is key to human happiness.

Each of us is enough. Just as we are. Cultivating this belief and feeding it with love, can help to foster confidence and resilience when faced with tough times.

How do I re-connect with self-love?

It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without someone popping the question. Pop the following three questions to yourself and the answers should help you on your way.

1. What do I love about myself?

If you’re not used to looking at yourself from a place of love, start by recognising something simple that you like about yourself, then build on it gradually, e.g. I make a great cup of tea. I love that I share my passion for baking with others by making them things. I love that I try to be a compassionate person. I love how committed I am to my family etc. Whatever it is, take the time this Valentine’s Day to acknowledge and be grateful for the things you love about yourself. If you can, try to do this regularly and you’ll be head over heels about yourself in no time.

2. How can I show myself love?

The good news is that there are many, many ways, to show yourself some love. If you’re out of practice, a simple trick is to be your own best friend. If you’re feeling down, stressed or overwhelmed, think of how you might respond if you were being a best friend. Tune in to what you need and try to meet that need if you can. Perhaps you need a walk in the countryside, some time with a book, a catch-up phone call with a friend or a warm, comforting meal. These are all positive things you can do for you.

While caring for yourself is an important way to show love, so is being compassionate when it comes to the things you struggle to accept about yourself. Everyone can be self-critical from time to time. Be mindful of doing this and, where possible, change your tone to something kinder and more compassionate. If you’ve gotten into the habit of being your own worse critic, this can be tough at first. A good way to start is to imagine how you might talk to your friend if they did something you’re being critical with yourself about, e.g. “my presentation was awful, I’m so stupid” might become “I find presentations really difficult, I’m proud of myself for stepping up to do it and getting through despite my nerves”.

It’s not always easy to change the record, but turning the volume down on your inner critic lets you hum along to a more compassionate tune.

3. How can I show love and compassion to others?

It may seem counter-intuitive that in order to love yourself more, you should extend love to others, but studies show that practicing love and compassion for others, boosts our capacity to show ourselves that same kindness.

These don’t need to be huge declarations of love, simply take the time and space to connect with a loved one, a work colleague or even a stranger. If a loved one gives amazing hugs when they greet you, share with them how much those hugs mean to you and how great they make you feel. If a colleague at work is upset about something, offer to sit down with them and listen to their concerns. If you’re in line to use the ticket machine at a LUAS stop and see someone struggling to make sense of it, offer to help them. If your barista makes your coffee just right, thank them for always getting your day off to a great start.

These are all small things, but in being mindful of showing love and kindness to others in a range of circumstances, you will be more sensitive to how you treat yourself.

Three little words

While many live in hope or expectation of hearing three little words on Valentine’s Day, you can hear words of love and acceptance every day … I am enough. I love me. Warts and all. Be inspired by all the love that’s in the air on Valentine’s Day and rekindle some for yourself.

Mental Health Support & Information Service

St Patrick’s Mental Health Services’ Support & Information Service is a confidential telephone and email service staffed by experienced mental health nurses 9am-5pm Monday to Friday with an answering and call-back facility outside hours. You can contact the Support & Information Service by calling 01 249 3333, or email info@stpatsmail.com

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