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Valentine's Day: Own it!

11 Simple Ways to Practice Self-Love. Article for Forbes Lifestyle by Noma Nazish

Valentine's day is here and it's time to show a little extra love to the people you care about. But whether you're single or taken, it's important to pamper yourself with the same kind of love and kindness that you'd shower on anyone else.

· Learn to say 'no'. Overcommitting is counter-productive and can lead to increased stress, anxiety, even full-blown burnout. This is why it's important to set limits, in both personal and professional life. "Practice saying no and stop overcommitting to people and experiences that are not aligned with your values," says Garcia-Giurgiu. A simple and effective way to start practicing this habit is to pause and check-in with yourself before committing to anything. "Before committing to something new, take some time to think about the implications, so that if you do agree to take it on you can perform to the best of your abilities and be absolutely certain you can follow through," suggests the American Psychological Association (APA).

· Do something you genuinely love. Engaging in activities you enjoy elevates your mood and boosts energy, says Goldstein. So schedule time regularly to do something just for yourself—whether it's journaling, mediation, painting, listening to music, going for a run or simply giving yourself an at-home spa treatment.

· Take nature baths. 'Nature bath' or 'forest bathing' is based on the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku which promotes spending time in nature to relax and rejuvenate. "There is growing research that shows that connecting to nature has numerous benefits for our psychological and emotional wellbeing such as calming our nervous system and building resilience," tells Garcia-Giurgiu. Here's a handy guide to forest bathing and where you can do it.

· Just breathe. Deep breathing for as little as five minutes can help reduce stress, lower your heart rate and regulate your blood pressure. It's hands-down one of the easiest self-care techniques out there. You can download apps like Calm or The Breathing App or take a breathwork class to master the techniques of diaphragmatic breathing. "Or, you can simply take a few deep breaths on your own," suggests Goldstein.

· Shift from 'doing mode' to 'being mode'. "In a culture that glorifies getting things done, spending some time throughout the day to just be present and be aware of your experiences can be very grounding and foster a more intimate relationship with yourself," tells Garcia-Giurgiu. Here are a few simple ways to get better at being present.

· Pay attention to your thoughts. Be mindful of the way you talk to yourself, suggests Goldstein. Whenever you notice yourself saying something unkind to yourself, simply switch to a gentler tone and try to evaluate things rationally to contain your inner critic. Speak to yourself as you would to a loved one.

· Be more forgiving. "Practice forgiveness towards yourself and others," suggests Garcia-Giurgiu. Research shows that letting go of grudges and practicing forgiveness offers an array of health benefits from lower stress levels and better sleep to improved cholesterol levels and a lower risk of a heart attack. Here's how you can learn to foster this healthy habit.

· Laugh more. "Laughter releases endorphins and other healthy hormones and helps take your mind off of stress," says Goldstein. Don't know where to begin? Just watch a sitcom or a comedy movie, read the funnies, watch stand-up specials, play a game with your loved ones or simply tell a few jokes or two.

· Exercise. Both Goldstein and Garcia-Giurgiu recommend regular physical activity as a self-care technique. Science shows that exercise helps relieve stress, improves cognitive function and stimulates the production of endorphins that can help ease depression and anxiety, among other things. If you're a beginner, here's a helpful guide to making exercise a daily habit.

· Do something kind for someone else. "Kindness reduces stress because it releases serotonin which is the 'feel-good' hormone," says Goldstein. You can start with little acts of kindness like buying someone a cup of coffee, telling someone why you appreciate them, writing a note to a loved one, donating to a cause you're passionate about or volunteering in your community, etc.

· Try aromatherapy. "Studies show that lavender relieves anxiety by affecting the brain through smell," says Goldstein. "Drink a cup of water with a few drops of lavender in it, light a lavender candle or keep some fresh lavender in your home or office," suggests the life coach. Research shows that even peppermint and lemongrass essential oils may help relieve stress and anxiety.

"We often forget that the most important relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves," says New York-based holistic psychotherapist and life coach, Lucía Garcia-Giurgiu. Even though it may sound self-indulgent, prioritizing self-compassion and self-care has some serious benefits for our mental and physical health.

Being kind to ourselves lowers anxiety and helps foster grit and resilience, tells the wellness expert. Moreover, "practicing self-compassion during these uncertain times builds an inner sense of safety and strengthens what in psychology is called our 'internal locus of control'—a sense that you have control over aspects of your life," explains Garcia-Giurgiu.

In addition, cultivating self-love also helps decrease your stress levels significantly. "Stress and uncertainty are a part of life. Yet, if your stress response doesn’t stop firing and your stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for your survival, it can take a toll on your health," says Anna Goldstein, NYU-certified life coach and author of Be Bold: A Guide to Unbreakable Confidence. "When your brain detects stress it sends stress hormones (cortisol) to your body that triggers the 'fight or flight' response. Your hearing decreases, your vision narrows, your heart races, your breath quickens and your muscles get ready for action. For short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health because it protects your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. However, when your stress response stays active for an extended period, it can wreak havoc on your body, mind and overall health. The more you refuel and recharge yourself through self-love and self-care practices the more you can step out of the 'fight or flight' response," Goldstein explains.

Besides lowering your stress levels, other key physical health benefits of practicing self-compassion include an increased level of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin aka the 'happy hormones', better cardiovascular health and a strengthened immune system—which we could all benefit from amid the ongoing pandemic, says Garcia-Giurgiu.

What's more, investing time in taking care of yourself isn't just good for you but others around you as well. "A loving relationship with yourself can have a ripple effect on others," says Garcia-Giurgiu. "Research shows that compassion is contagious and that others can pick up on your emotional state through mirror neurons," she adds.

In addition, by being more attuned to your emotional needs, you'll able to strengthen your emotional intelligence and empathic skills and can read other people’s feelings better and tend to their needs, tells the life coach. "These effects can have a huge impact on the quality of both your personal and professional relationships—helping you foster deep meaningful connections with friends and loved ones. They can even help create motivating and productive work environments," she notes.

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