Experts predicted a long, hard, dark winter, and they were not wrong. Whether this is the beginning of the end, or, as Yale physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis said last month, the “end of the beginning,” what’s clear is we’re living through a hard time. And in hard times, we tend to be even harder on ourselves.
But this can be dangerous, because self-acceptance is a vital part of self-care. Without self-acceptance, our physical and mental well-being will break down, no matter how deliberate we are about other aspects of our self-care routine. So how do we overcome those feelings of guilt — that we’re not managing as well as we should be, that we’re not at our best? Here are seven ways to make self-acceptance part of your year-round self-care.
Allow yourself to be human
It might sound trite, but self-acceptance can begin to break down here — right at the start — when we don’t allow ourselves to be human. That means recognizing that, as humans, we’re perfectly imperfect. We have limitations — everybody does. And that’s a good thing, because so often the things we believe are imperfect about us are actually the very same things that make us unique. And we should be celebrating that. When we do, it makes it easier to let go of the toxic idea of perfectionism. When we allow our essential humanity to shine through, we can allow ourselves to show up imperfectly — and be perfectly OK with that.
Be your own friend
Think of the conversations we have with others — either co-workers, family members, or friends — when they’re struggling. Think of the ways we try to support them. And then think of the ways we support ourselves when we’re struggling with many of the same issues. So often we talk to ourselves in ways we’d never talk to our friends. So be mindful of your self-talk. And ask yourself: Would I ever talk to a friend this way? Is this something I’d ever say out loud?
There’s a saying that our own biggest cheerleader should be the voice between our ears. That doesn’t mean walking around with a big ego. But in order to have positive and healthy levels of self-esteem, we have to accept who we are as a person and be proud of that person. So take the same skills you employ as a supportive friend and co-worker and direct them to yourself.
Do an internal audit
Part of self-acceptance is having an understanding of what’s tearing us down. So what are the energy drainers in your life, and what are the things that build you up, that you’re good at, that give you energy? That doesn’t mean we’ll be able to get rid of all the things in our lives that we don’t love doing. That’s just part of life. But we can ask ourselves, is it necessary? Sometimes the answer is going to be yes, and sometimes it’s going to be no. And when we’re aware of the things that drain us, we can also then be more deliberate about nurturing the things that feed our soul and restore us. So ask yourself: What are the best ways I can care for myself physically, emotionally, spiritually? What does that look like for me?
Ask for help
When I talk about my own story of burning out, one of the questions I get most often is, what would you have done differently? And my answer is: I would have asked for help sooner. But asking others for help requires self-compassion. Not only can we not do it alone, we shouldn’t expect to do it alone. And that means being open, honest and authentic. When I started talking about my burnout story to others in open and authentic ways, they responded in open and authentic ways themselves. I realized I wasn’t alone. And when we ask for help, we give others permission to ask for help, too.
Curate your social media
It’s easy to allow our social media world to give us the idea that others have perfect lives, or that they’re somehow managing this difficult time in better ways than we are (“look at the beautiful living room in their Zoom background!”). This is not only false, it’s dangerous. We don’t like being around people who are always trying to fix us, who tear us down, who always leave us feeling worse. So for the most part, we choose not to hang out with those people. And we should curate our social media relationships in the same way. Are the people we follow good for our self-acceptance?
In a time filled with so much crisis and tragedy, social media, and the news in general, can also make us feel like our problems don’t matter compared to the life and death challenges others are facing. This is what Brené Brown calls “comparative suffering.” It’s a way of invalidating your own feelings and emotions — and it also doesn’t work.
I’m a big believer in affirmations. They might feel hokey and weird, but, as the science shows, they really work. Some people like doing them out loud. But if that feels funny, try writing them down. Journals — including gratitude journals with prompts to write down what you’re grateful for — can also be very effective. During my treatment for cancer, I used to write messages to myself on Post-it notes and stick them to my bathroom mirror. That way, I didn’t have to depend on remembering to give myself support throughout the day. But whatever it is for you, find a way to send yourself positive and fortifying messages.
Know that self-acceptance is a journey
Finally, remember that self-acceptance is not a place we get to and then we’re done. Like all parts of self-care, it’s an ongoing journey. We have to realize we’re going to have good days and we’re going to have bad days. And that’s okay, even if the latter outnumber the former. And as life changes and evolves, our tools and strategies for self-acceptance have to evolve, too.
Yes, these are hard times, but we learn more about ourselves through difficulty and even failure then we do from our successes. So how can we use this time to learn how to show up for ourselves? That starts with self-acceptance. And celebrating the fact that we’re all perfectly imperfect.