Many people find it easy to love others, yet do not know how to truly love themselves. In her new book The Self-Love Habit, author and clinical hypnotherapist Fiona Brennan explores the importance of self-love and how learning to love all aspects of ourselves gives us the power to transform in ways we never thought possible. She chats to Janice Butler about some of the tools we can put in place to ease anxiety at this difficult time

Self-love is the ultimate goal for a lot of us, but something we never achieve: why are we wired to find it so hard to love ourselves? 
We are not taught to love ourselves; in fact in Ireland, certainly, in past generations, we have been taught that loving ourselves is narcissistic and selfish. The tides are changing slowly, thankfully. 

We are born into the world naturally and effortlessly accepting ourselves/ We do not doubt our place in the world. If we want to cry, we cry; if we want to laugh, we laugh. It is not hard-wired in us to be hard on ourselves, this comes later, through childhood conditioning and limiting beliefs we form through parents, society, just being alive!

The empowering news is that we can change a lot of the negative programming we may have received as children and this is what The Self-Love Habit is about. On a neuroscientific basis, we can rewire our brains to be more loving both to ourselves and others. The vital component is that it takes effort. 

Fiona Brennan. Photography by Ruth Medjber @ruthlessimagery.

How much has social media impacted our ability to self-love and what can we do to combat that?  
The comparative culture of social media feeds on insecurity, encouraging you to scroll through Instagram or Facebook. This can leave you feeling utterly deflated when you emerge from the digital fog and certainly does not aid our ability to love ourselves.  Social media does not take into account context and perspective.

For example, a mum of three young kids will look enviously at her single friend's freedom to go for a run and a night out whenever she desires, while the same single friend looks at the pictures of her friend’s three adorable children and worries that she will never have her own. The unfortunate compulsion to compare ourselves to others is nothing new, but the digital world amplifies this impulse and provides a constant platform for us to berate ourselves.

It is really important to set boundaries that protect you from feeling low about yourself on social media. Roz Purcell, who is one of five interviews in the book, told me that she checks in to see how she feels after a scroll on Instagram. If it is worse than before she started, then it is time to come off. When you love yourself, it becomes easier to acknowledge behaviour that is harming you and to step away from it. 

Roz Purcell
Roz Purcell

With so much going on in the world at the moment, people are just trying to get through each day. Do you find that our attention and care for ourselves is slipping and what can we do to change that? 
Yes. It is ironic but I see in my clients often that when they are facing busier times and challenges, they tend to let go of self-care practices such as meditation and exercise that they had previously committed to. Self-care comes last on the list and therefore does not happen.

We need to reverse this. For example, when we schedule a work meeting it goes into the diary and we turn up. We need to do that for ourselves too. I often say NOBODY is going to give you extra time, you have to TAKE it. So put your yoga class, your run, whatever it is, in your diary and show up. It needs to be non-negotiable. A habit! 

When you care for yourself, you are caring for your loved ones. Especially as a parent, showing your children that mum or dad also needs time to rest and have fun is the best gift you can give them. We have the opportunity to raise a generation that does not feel guilty about putting their needs first. 

There is a lot of anxiety about now,, affecting our sleep and every part of our lives, so what are your tips for controlling this?  
Uncertainty is the root of much anxiety. If ever there was a time to feel vulnerable, it is now. Uncertainty is the only certainty we have. When we face a dramatic change in a short period of time, anxiety is to be expected.

As Viktor Frankl said in his iconic book Man’s Search for Meaning, "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour."

Acceptance is crucial. Control the controllable. This is easier said than done and requires continued practice. 

Fiona Brennan. Photography by Ruth Medjber @ruthlessimagery.

What sort of things/rituals do you have to ground yourself if you’re anxious? 
I really do practice what I preach and like all of us, my anxiety levels have been challenged in the last year. The hardest part for me is to be isolated from friends and family and to see my son in his bedroom on Zoom school, day after day. Human connection is so vital for us to feel safe and if we don’t feel safe, we feel anxiety. 

I have upped my self-care routine; it was already pretty good but in times of difficulty we need more. I do morning meditation and yoga before work. I run every second day. I journal each night before bed and listen to a hypnotherapy or guided meditation most afternoons and at night time. These are my rocks. It is not a perfect science; some days are too busy, and I don’t get to do all of these practices.

However, I trust that I will return to them as soon as I can. They are positive habits that I have established over years; like brushing my teeth, I don’t have to think about them. I encourage my clients to do the same. 

What would be your top three strategies to protect our mental health during this ongoing pandemic?  

  1. Hypnotherapy – programme your subconscious mind to soothe anxiety.  There is a free app with both my books, The Positive Habit and The Self-Love Habit. I also have an online course that I opened for free since last March. 
  2. Breathing & movement to calm the nervous system such as yoga and mindful walking in nature. 
  3. Connect to your friends, even if you don’t feel like you have anything to say, go for a walk, do a video call, see their faces as often as you can, and don’t speak about Covid! Speak about anything else: books, films, music. Laugh as often as you can. 

The Self-Love Habit is available now from bookshops and online (Gill Books, €16.99).