A Psychologist Explains The Form Of Self-Care Many Of Us Are Ignoring Right Now

Co-Founder of Inner Bonding By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Co-Founder of Inner Bonding
Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator.
Portrait Of An African-American Woman With Eyes Closed

Image by Jimena Roquero / Stocksy

Many of us know how to take loving care of ourselves in the more physical ways, such as eating well, getting enough exercise, and getting enough sleep. But many people don't take the time to emotionally and spiritually love themselves.

If you're spending a lot of time at home these days—and saddled with anxiety and exhaustion at the same time—this is actually a perfect time to focus on what loving yourself really means.

In addition to physical care, how often do you practice emotional and spiritual self-love?

Loving yourself emotionally.

When you have a painful feeling, such as anxiety, sadness, guilt, shame, aloneness, emptiness, jealousy, anger, grief, heartbreak, or the very difficult feeling of helplessness over situations like COVID-19, what do you do? Do you move toward your feelings, attending to them with compassion and a desire to learn what they are telling you? Or do you move away from them by distracting yourself with food, TV, social media, and so on?

If a child came to you with some distress and you gave them a cookie and put them in front of the TV, they might feel better for the moment. But the feelings would not have been attended to, and they would feel abandoned by you.

The same thing happens on the inner level when you move away from your feelings rather than moving toward them with a desire to learn about what they are telling you about how you are treating yourself and about what may be happening with a person or situation that needs your attention. How can you avoid abandoning yourself at this time and start loving yourself on an emotional level?

Here are a few habits to practice:

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1. Learn to be present in your body.

First off, practice learning to be present in your body with your feelings so that you know when you feel anything other than peace inside. Then you can attend to your feelings rather than ignore them—just as you would if you wanted to be a loving parent to a hurting child.

A helpful way of getting present in your body is to put your focus on your breath and follow your breath into your body, scanning your body for any physical sensations since our feelings show up physically—such as tightness, emptiness, fluttering, or numbing.

2. Turn toward your feelings rather than distracting yourself from them.

Practice moving toward your feelings and being open to what they are telling you rather than avoiding them by distracting yourself or by making others responsible for your feelings. Learning how to take loving responsibility for your feelings is what emotionally loving yourself is all about.

For example, if you are feeling the tightness and tension of anxiety, sit with the feeling for a minute as you would sit with an anxious child. Then ask the feeling, "What am I telling you, and how am I treating you that is causing your anxiety?" In other words, how are you abandoning yourself rather than loving yourself?

While the external environment is challenging, notice that it's what you might be telling yourself about what's going to happen—rather than what is currently happening—that is causing the anxiety. Fear of real and present danger is different from anxiety, and, of course, many are feeling this if, for example, there isn't enough to eat. Anxiety is generally about what might happen in the future. Our ego loves to predict the future, and this is often what creates anxiety.

But we don't actually know the future. For example, here in Colorado where I live, some people have been very fearful of eviction, but our governor just announced a moratorium on all evictions. So in cases like these, our anxiety is based on not external factors but rather something self-created.

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3. Get in touch with your higher power.

Loving yourself spiritually is about staying open to learning with your higher power. Your higher power can be your inner wise self or an older, wiser version of yourself or whatever is your concept of God or whatever else works for you. This higher power is our own personal source of love, compassion, comfort, wisdom, guidance, peace, truth, and joy, and it is always available to all of us. Since we don't have many role models for loving actions, our higher source becomes the role model and has the answers for us regarding what is loving to us.

Once you understand what you are doing that is causing a painful feeling, open to your higher power, whatever that is for you. Ask yourself, "What would be loving to me right now?"

For example, a loving action might be doing something creative, sitting in nature, meditating, connecting with a friend on Zoom or Skype, or reading a good book. Or it might be speaking up to someone and getting clarity on something that has been bothering you.

The intent to learn about loving yourself is what opens you to receiving vital information from your higher power. You will find that when you really want to learn about what is loving to you, ideas will pop into your mind. The answers might not pop in right away, but if you stay open, you will receive ideas about what would be loving to you.

The bottom line.

It is possible to stay in peace during this challenging time by learning to take loving care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You will find deep peace in being able to stay connected with your feelings and your higher guidance rather than operating from your programmed ego mind that might want to scare you and create anxiety.

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