An Ode to Self-Care, Part I: Valentine's Day for Cynics & Romantics Alike
A lot of us are into Valentine's Day and enjoy celebrating it with chocolates, cards, flowers, dinner out with your partner(s) – and that's great. That's spectacular. You should absolutely celebrate your love for others on a day designed for just that, if doing so makes you happy.
But what about celebrating love for yourself?
This question is directed to pro-Valentine's folks as much as to the cynics out there who scorn "Hallmark holidays" and find Valentine's Day to be totally overrated. For the record, there's nothing wrong with that cynicism either. But seeing as Valentine's Day is an apparently unavoidable phenomenon nowadays, you may suffer less if you can find a way to embrace some small piece of it that makes sense to you, as opposed to just cringing and complaining your way through it.
I don't like Valentine's Day at all, so what can I embrace?
You are your most important relationship, first and foremost. Everything starts with you.
Therefore, being nice to yourself, showing compassion and taking care of yourself – self-care – is the best place to start embracing the spirit of Valentine's Day regardless of whether you love or hate it. Because if you don't take care of yourself, how can you possibly take care of anyone else?
This has nothing to do with Hallmark commercialism or whoever else may be in your life. We all deserve to pamper ourselves once in a while; most people arguably don't pamper themselves enough. Yet self-care is universally important for mental balance and emotional wellness. In fact, it's even more vital for those of us who are partnered, who internalize the feelings of our partner(s) or who have a tendency to sideline our own wants and desires to give priority to those of our partner(s).
Apart from maybe your birthday, what better excuse do you need to pamper yourself than Valentine's Day?
Okay, I'll bite. How does this self-care thing work?
The idea of self-care can seem simultaneously simple and daunting, so here are 2 ways in which you can start enhancing your self-care today.
- Pay attention to yourself – cultivate mindfulness.
Feeling emotionally drained or perhaps even physically tired? Easily annoyed or irritable? Ignored or unheard? Sad or tearful? Nervous or scared? Upset, worried, or dissatisfied more often than usual, maybe without a trigger or identifiable reason? These are all vital clues into your internal and mental state.
When you feel badly, it's important to notice that your internal state isn't where you may want it to be, and to be extra compassionate with yourself because you're feeling badly. That's okay. Every emotion exists to teach us something about ourselves and our needs. What is your internal state trying to teach you in this moment? Jot down your thoughts and feelings if it helps. Acknowledge it, explore where it came from, then allow yourself to let it go. Gratitude lists are a great follow-up to this as well.
This is mindfulness, and only when you're mindful of yourself will you know how to best attend to your needs in that moment.
- Be nice to yourself – move mindfully.
Do something fun, something that you really enjoy doing but maybe don't get to do very often anymore. Or try something new that you think might bring you some joy. If nothing comes to mind just yet, set aside some time to brainstorm and make a "fun things to do" list.
It doesn't have to be a huge time-consuming event or cost you anything at all. It could be as simple as going outside for a walk in your neighborhood, stopping at an animal shelter to socialize with pets after work, or drawing a hot bubble bath for one in the midst of candles and music tonight. Alternatively it can also be more planned and thought-out, such as committing to trying that exercise class or signing up for an art lesson, and in the meantime setting aside time for yourself to play your favorite game or place a call to a beloved friend or family member whose voice you haven't heard in a while.
The point is to be nice to yourself by setting aside time to do so, and then actually doing so. The nature of what you do is up to you, so long as you do something that you like.
To reiterate, the world is your self-care oyster, and Valentine's Day is the perfect excuse to dig in. Care about yourself enough to do something for yourself. And with that, I'll wish you a happy Valentine's Day, keeping in mind that whether you're a cynic or a romantic, I know you all have good reason to celebrate today: that reason is yourself.
**One final note: self-care isn't just about inviting more positive thoughts, feelings, and activities into your life; self-care is also about eliminating unhealthy or negative stuff from your life, stuff which might have once been beneficial to you for whatever reason but over time have become relics which are now gathering dust in your mental space. You needn't hold on to people, habits, or things that are no longer bringing you joy. Permitting yourself to let go of these unhelpful relics of your past self is another critical piece of self-care, which I'll reserve for a future blog post where I can give it its due.