Loving yourself when you have a mental illness isn’t always easy. It’s already difficult enough to maintain self-love in a society that actively promotes insecurity and self-hate, but when you struggle with mental illness, it’s almost impossible to feel lovable sometimes.
As the daughter of two psychiatrists, it didn’t take me long to realize that my explosive anxiety and periods of uninhibited emotional sensitivity are not considered biologically “normal.” If a friend of mine is going through something, I don’t blame his/her/their chemical imbalances for his/her/their irrational actions, but when I react to a situation with unwarranted intensity, it’s almost impossible to extend the same compassion to myself.
Why are those struggling with mental illness so unreasonably hard on themselves? If you’re having a hard time combating the external stigma against your own mental illness, try to employ these tips to silence your inner critic.
1. Find a community you can be real with.
Joining groups and clubs with members who have similar interests to me has helped my mental health immensely in college. If you're lucky enough to find something you love doing or a cause you're passionate about, find a community that shares your interests, especially if it helps you find people you can talk openly with. Building a support system of people who love and care about you will help you feel better about yourself and give you people to confide in when you're not doing so great.
2. Praise yourself.
3. Take care of your body.
Your emotional health is directly dependent on your physical health. Give your body the nutrients it needs, get enough sleep, and don't become dependent on alcohol or drugs to make you feel better.
4. Work toward goals.
As you work on self-love, you might want to think about, or even write down, some of your goals for recovery. These can be as small as getting out of bed in the morning, going to class, or complimenting yourself regularly. Give yourself credit when you get closer to reaching a goal.
5. Do something you enjoy every day.
When I feel myself get overwhelmed with school work, I take frequent study breaks to doodle, write in my journal, or play music. I can get absorbed by little tasks like these, and it keeps me from giving in to negative emotions.
6. Find ways to relax.
7. Let yourself feel, but check the facts.
Having a mental illness does not invalidate your feelings. Sometimes you need to embrace your emotions and just let yourself feel what you're feeling. At the same time, try to look at your own emotions objectively and think about the reality of the situation. You may believe your anxiety when it tells you that everyone hates you, but in reality, that's almost never the case.
8. Make peace with your body.
Read this article I wrote about my journey to loving my body. If you chose to exercise, do so because you love and appreciate your body, not because you want to change it.
9. Ask for help.
Whether it be from a friend, a family member, or a professional, seek the help you need no matter what. If you decide to go through with therapy (I've found it to be extremely helpful in the past!), make sure to ask for what you need. Don't let yourself get pushed into a treatment decision that isn't right for you.
10. Give yourself a break.
Nothing is worth compromising your health for. No relationship, exam, or job is worth subjecting yourself to unnecessary stress, fear, or emotional pain.
11. Care for others.
Giving to others benefits you just as much as it benefits them. In addition to spreading love and positivity, you make a connection with someone who will offer you the same support in the future.