Struggling with the winter blues? You’re not alone. After a disrupted Christmas and another month of soaring bills, we’re feeling the hangover – with experts warning that the pandemic will impact our mental health for some time to come. So, what better moment to give up punishing ourselves, says broadcaster and author Fearne Cotton.
How many times do you click the ‘like’ button on social media per day? If you’re anything like me, it could be anywhere between 10 and 30, depending on how much time I spend doodling around on my smartphone.
Just today I’ve already pressed that little red heart on a photo of a leopard-print jumpsuit my friend Sinead bought, a snap of my mate Jen’s homemade birthday cake and a post of Alicia Keys looking unbelievable. We do it without thought. Our thumbs twitch at the mere sight of something we like the look of.
Yet, how many times today have you liked you? I can go through whole weeks without much liking myself or my actions at all. In my early thirties, in the midst of a dark depression, I went through months of not noticing a single thing I liked about myself; I only acknowledged the parts of me I didn’t like.
We find it so much easier to like and accept those around us, even strangers on the internet, but when it comes to the person starring back at us in the mirror, it’s a very different story. Looking in the mirror and really seeing yourself often feels squeamishly uncomfortable.
Self-compassion is not just a case of feeling OK about the bits of ourselves we believe are good, benevolent or attractive, it’s about cultivating compassion for the whole damn package. If self-love is only celebrating ourselves in moments of success then it becomes a very ephemeral notion. One slip-up and it’s gone, leaving us feeling depleted and cheated.
My life used to be one long cycle of this. If I had been received well on a TV show or been offered a new job, my self-esteem would be boosted to buoyant, bountiful levels. Yet in days, even minutes, that feeling could be thwarted by a single nasty comment, or rejection from a TV channel. It felt as if the life had been sucked out of me and I would get the sinking feeling that I had made a huge mistake in celebrating myself at all. I had no clue that the entirety of my self-esteem had been placed (by me) into the hands of others. Self-compassion built on other people’s projections is a rickety old bridge that leads to nowhere.
Now in my forties, I’m by no means in a place of constant inner peace and self-compassion but I understand its paramount importance. I also understand how it works a little better, too. The biggest revelation being this: liking yourself is the most natural thing you can do. Does that surprise you? It probably does, as we are told countless times a plethora of ways that we can ‘learn’ to like ourselves. We are given tips and tricks to build self-compassion; yet it’s been there all along. We are born with it. When babies come into the world they are balls of pulsating love with no hard edges. As kids, we dart from one thing we love to another, knowing inherently and subconsciously that we deserve fun, laughter and love as we are made of the stuff.
As time goes on, however, we pick up on cues from society, born from social conditioning, and that self-love incrementally dissipates. We are told to be quiet, to get in line, to listen to others, to work harder. We might also be told what others think of us: ‘You’re so selfish, you are so bad at dancing, you’re the worst friend.’ We build an unhealthy image of ourself based on what the world is projecting at us.
So, what we really need to do is unlearn all of that stuff to reveal our natural and already thriving self-love. It’s in there. Bundled underneath other people’s acerbic words, mistakes made and society’s supposed expectations.
We waste so much time trying to eat better, sleep better, move more, be a better friend/partner/parent, yet without self-love it’s almost pointless. We are moving without a compass. Reaching around in the dark trying to change ourselves, yet if we love ourselves first the rest happens naturally and without effort.
If you love yourself, you will create healthy boundaries, eat the most nutritious foods, go to bed when you’re tired, hang around with joyful people, do more of what you love, do less of what you hate, rest when you need to and choose fun over the mundane because you know you deserve it. It’s really that simple. Love yourself and everything else will sort itself out. I’m not saying this from a place of having nailed it, but I know it’s worth a bloody good go. More self-love, less self-punishment, for your sake and mine.
‘Bigger Than Us’ by Fearne Cotton (Happy Place Books) is out now