Editor's note: We recognize that the suggestions in this article can prove helpful, but some individual experiences with anxiety may require seeking appropriate medical help.
In the October 2021 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles provided seven of his own personal principles that help “prepare [him] to hear promptings, that lift [his] sights beyond the ways of the world, that gives purpose to [his] work in the gospel and to [his] very life.” While many of them were familiar and helpful concepts that have been taught over and over by the leaders of the church, one stood out to me. It was Elder Rasband’s third “thing of his soul”: love yourself. He went on to explain, “This is where many struggle. Isn’t it curious that loving ourselves seems to come less easily than loving others? Yet the Lord has said, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” He values the divinity within us, and so must we. When we are heavy laden with mistakes, heartaches, feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, anger, or sin, the power of the Savior’s Atonement is, by divine design, one of the things that lifts the soul.”
Elder Rasband’s counsel describes how healthy love of self can help relieve burdens of sadness, depression, and anger. But what about anxiety? Can loving ourselves help decrease chronic feelings of fear, worry, and nervousness? I believe it can. An oft-overlooked teaching from two ancient prophets helps build the connection between loving ourselves and having greater feelings of peace. John the Revelator taught, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18). The prophet Mormon instructed, “I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.” (Moroni 8:16). What is the relationship between love, particularly love of self, and decreased fear and anxiety?
Why Love Yourself?
We usually have a good idea of what a healthy love of others looks like. Like the parable of the good Samaritan or the example of the woman taken in adultery, we are taught to respond to others with compassion and kindness. We serve and bless them with Christlike concern. The doctrine of the second great commandment presumes that we will love ourselves as we are counseled to love others. We are often quick to give grace to others, overlooking their faults and being forgiving of their shortcomings. Yet sometimes we are our own worst enemies, being self-critical and intolerant of our weakness. Such behaviors often result in symptoms of depression and anxiety. I believe we would have a significantly different emotional experience if we applied to ourselves the same love we often extend to others. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we have not only been commanded to love others but to love them as ourselves.
In a world where selfishness and narcissism abound, it almost seems contrary to suggest that loving oneself could result in greater peace and gospel compliance. But as we understand the true nature of love it becomes clearer why such a commandment would bring us closer to God. The ultimate manifestation of love, otherwise known as charity, is defined as follows: “And charity suffereth long and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (Moroni 7:45). What if we had such feelings towards ourselves? What if we “suffered long,” or were patient, with our faults? What if we were kinder to ourselves, accepting compliments and not engaging in derogatory self-talk? What if we “thought no evil,” in that we rejected thought patterns that are self-critical or demeaning? That kind of self-love would build stronger relationships, healthier self-concepts, and more resilient characters.
How Loving Yourself Can Reduce Anxiety
Many years ago, I worked with a man who had very low self-esteem. His confidence was tattered due to years of emotional abuse. He felt he was to blame for all the bad things in his life, even though it was clear that the behavior of others had truly influenced his situation. If he accomplished something good, he would say “It wasn’t really that hard,” or “Others could have done it better than I did.” This man had very little love of self. He did not see himself as God saw him. He had understandable symptoms of depression, consequent to his abusive history and poor self-concept. What is interesting is he had chronic symptoms of anxiety on top of the depression. He constantly doubted his choices, was worried about the opinions of others and often became paralyzed by even simple decisions. I was not expecting to see symptoms of anxiety, but eventually, the situation seemed clear. He did not believe in himself. He did not believe in his abilities. He thought everything he did would turn out wrong. He did not love himself, which not only fostered feelings of depression but feelings of anxiety as well.
It was then I began to see the connection between decreased love of self and increased anxiety. Those who do not love themselves often have difficulty feeling the love of their Father in Heaven. They feel like they are chronically out of compliance. Believing they have fallen out of favor with God, they experience feelings of fear and anguish. As previously noted, nothing we do can change God’s perfect love for us. Even when we sin and incur consequences of the same, our loving Father in Heaven and Savior are eager to help us change and repent. Elder Holland taught we cannot sin our way out of grace, stating, “however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”
Increasing love of self can increase self-confidence. Increasing self-confidence can decrease fear and anxiety. The process may truly be that simple. But remember, simple doesn’t mean easy. Simple means few moving parts. Easy means little effort is required. In this case, I believe learning to manage chronic anxiety is a very difficult process but that the Lord has provided simple principles to help us engage in this challenging task. As Alma taught his son Helaman, “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:6-7). May you learn to love yourself as the Lord loves you and experience the peace and comfort that comes from such feelings.