I am driving aimlessly down Highway 44 (because I love driving a little too much, and it is one of my more expensive stress-relief methods) with my iPod on shuffle and Do What U Want by Lady Gaga comes on. Of course, being alone in the car means I can belt out pop songs in my full volume and not worry about being kicked out of society for disturbing the peace, and it also means my mind is free to come up with the most random associations to songs I listen to.
As a twenty-three-year-old Psychology Major, Senior in college, and self-proclaimed guru on how not to be in a relationship, I was inspired to consider how not allowing people to “do what you want” with your body, mind, heart etc. is part of healthy self-love. In light of a recent breakup, I’ve been on a roll with existential questioning and more in-my-head pep talks than usual. The chorus of the above Lady Gaga song stuck with me all week, like gum sticks to ratty hair and refuses to loosen it’s hold no matter how hard you tug. It wasn’t until I started writing this article that it finally left my head. So thank you for the inspiration, Lady Gaga.
There has been a recent influx of articles all over the Internet about taking care of your heart and what self-love can do for your overall well-being. These are not new ideas, but in times where life becomes too fast-paced due to the wonders of technology and many of us forget how to be still, being reminded to listen to what your heart needs is vital. In my opinion, emotional well-being for men and women alike, takes precedence as it affects all areas of life.
A Harvard School of Public Health research article from 2011 finds correlations between a positive state of mind and better state of health. Laura Kubzansky, associate professor at Harvard and a forerunner of research on the positive state of mind and its impact on physical health believes that instilling “emotional and social competence in children… would help confer not only good mental health but also physical resilience for a lifetime.” She goes on to warn society that it is not simply a one-step method and that staying positive and working towards a less stressful life despite predisposed living circumstances is a work-in-progress for each individual. We are cautioned not to buy into a one-size-fit-all theory and to find out what personally helps us be at our most healthy emotional state.
The happier your heart, the better you feel physically, so start looking out for it!
Here’s are some steps that I live by, and have to be reminded of by loving friends on days when all I want to do is wallow in self-doubt and negativity:
- Feelings are normal. Be okay with feeling. There is no such thing as a wrong or negative feeling. Validate the way you feel in the moment, acknowledge it and then move forward with what is important to you.
- There is no set amount of time for grieving. Do not let anyone tell you when to start or stop grieving. Only you know when enough is enough, and it is time to move on. A healthy heart is one that is allowed enough time to process grief (or any emotion).
- Forgiveness of others and oneself is a key step to a healthy heart. That does not mean going back to someone who does not respect you or treat you right, it simply means freeing your heart from the burden of anger and grudges.
- Let healthy people in; cut out people who aren’t. I used to think cutting people out of my life was the harshest thing I could do. But over the years, and after many painful, unhealthy relationships and friendships, I have learned that this is part of deciding to love oneself. Healthy people encourage, respect, love you, tell you the truth and help you to grow. Unhealthy people bring you down and hinder any type of positive growth. (A good read: Safe People by Henry Cloud and John Townsend)
- Do what YOU want with your body. Allowing yourself room to say no to people and things that you know are personally damaging to you is a powerful thing. Harmful activities or people may seem to fill a void in the beginning, but after a while it only wears down your heart. Everything in moderation is a healthier way to go.
- Have relaxing hobbies. Set aside time weekly to do whatever you are passionate about, be it painting, hiking, or watching a favourite TV show. I found that doing something that makes me happy a few times a week that is not work-related, and doing it alone improves self-confidence and strengthens one emotionally. Helping others is a great hobby that not only makes others feel better but helps your heart stay content too.
- Be by yourself more. I surround myself with busyness daily and sometimes this busyness is to keep me around people so I don’t feel lonely. Lately, I have seen the benefits of taking time away from people and learning to be content on my own. It is entirely uncomfortable at first and takes time to work up to longer periods alone, but it becomes extremely rewarding and empowering once you make it a habit.
- Be Mindful. Take note of your surroundings. Notice small things that make you smile. Write things down. Be in nature. Meditate. Breathe deeply. Be in a place that requires you to be still. Take stock of what is good in your life.
- Be Active. Exercise at least fifteen minutes a day. It can be in the form of working out at the gym, yoga, a short walk during lunch break, biking, a swim or anything that gets your body working. Endorphins are released when you exercise. This chemical interacts with the pain receptors in your brain and triggers positive feelings. It’s the body’s natural Morphine!
- Let go of control. This is the hardest step for me. I am a perfectionist and a worrywart. Learning that nothing in life is actually in my control has helped me work towards self-love and a healthier outlook.
Remember that taking time to love oneself is important. All these steps require a conscious, constant effort. No one can make the decision to nurture your heart other than yourself. It’s a beautiful, empowering process. Begin working hard to love the most vital organ you have, and you will be grateful as time goes by.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
– Proverbs 4:23
Written by my daughter, Erica Lee