The idea behind "treating yourself" every once in a while may actually have a psychological basis that can help maintain or improve mental health. It is well-known that buying yourself a small, inexpensive treat every so often can give you a quick boost in mood but there are actually deeper psychological benefits from a habit of self-reward.
Kindness toward yourself in the form of little affordable measures is good for your emotional well-being. Buying yourself candy, going to see a movie or getting a manicure can all be small ways to practice compassion and love yourself, which is an important component in fighting off symptoms of depression. This is a behavior that psychologists believe acts as a type of nurturing that can be beneficial to practice over time.
Being Kind to Yourself
Nurturing yourself with small occasional treats but not over indulging by spending lots of money on expensive or extravagant possessions is the best method for self-reward. Studies have already identified a phenomenon of small forms of self-reward in times of stress known as the "lipstick index".
This term refers to the tendency for people to buy small inexpensive luxuries for themselves like cosmetics during economic recessions. For most people, big expenses cause more emotional stress than they alleviate because they create a brief high followed by the shock of a significant blow to your finances.
On the other hand, small and cheap gifts to yourself are a type of low-risk and low-investment boost to your mood without a major down side. Aside from the idea of retail therapy as a small dose of dopamine to your brain, buying small gifts is also a way to practice "self-compassion".
Being kind to yourself by forgiving mistakes, being nurturing, supportive and loving are all important ways to maintain good mental health. Many studies have proven that the act of self-compassion can improve mental resilience as well as compassion toward others.
Reinforcing Good Behavior and Self-Worth
While it can be a type of self-compassion, rewarding yourself for your accomplishments also acts as a kind of positive reinforcement that can motivate you to continue reaching goals. Small rewards can be used to reinforce your own good behavior to increase the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated.
Positive reinforcement can be used when you challenge or overcome certain fears, or are successful in trying to change a bad habit. But treats can also be used for nothing in particular simply to raise base levels of self-regard and self-care. This type of reward system is especially important for people suffering from depression because they often engage in very harsh self-criticism.
The depressive mindset is often self-destructive and people with symptoms of major depression don't practice enough self-care to recover from their own tormenting thoughts. Buying small gifts reinforces the idea that you are worthy and deserving of these small indulgences and help to challenge the idea that depression is the only reality.
Treats in the form of small mental breaks from time to time also help improve productivity and focus. Relaxation time every so often is necessary to improve overall performance in the workplace. Self-care can come in many forms but the key to practicing this kind of method is to avoid over-indulgence and focus on smaller types of nurturing habits.
Indulgence over a long period can lead to addiction but nurturing treats allow you to respect and love yourself in times of stress. These kinds of treats are not used as an escape from boredom or emotional problems but instead are a way to treat yourself better, improve self-esteem and lower stress levels. Developing a habit of self-reward is important for everyone in need of compassion and love rather than self-judgement.
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