Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is fleeting. Love is friendship on fire. Love is sacrifice. Love is…impossible to define. But the good news is, it’s aplenty—even if we don’t know exactly how to give or receive it. Alex Runolfson, Clinical Mental Health Counselor, understands this all too well. He specializes in trauma and anxiety disorders, which according to him, often create a disconnect of love. However, that disconnect is not irreparable. All it takes is some healthy intervention in three major areas—our thoughts, our actions, and our instincts—which will ultimately improve our mental health and wellbeing.


Runolfson says that love starts with thoughts: “Without loving thoughts about ourselves or about others, it is not possible to truly love. So many times, I have clients tell me they don’t love themselves and when asked what they think about themselves, it often resembles something like verbal abuse—downright brutal,” he explains. “Their negative self-talk is so cruel, there is no way they could actually feel love for themselves. So, love has to start with our thoughts. We have to have kind, gentle, and compassionate thoughts for ourselves and the world around us to feel the love.”

It’s easy to allow negative thoughts in—in fact, we’re all victims to cognitive distortions: tactics used by our minds to convince us of something that isn’t true. And it’s these cognitive distortions that reinforce our negative thoughts as well as our emotions. To combat these misbeliefs, there are a few techniques you can try—one being the best friend test. Whenever you engage in negative self-talk, imagine your friend is saying the same critical thing(s) about his or her self: I’m so ugly. I need to lose weight. I’m not good enough. How would you respond? You’d likely think they were being ridiculous and tell them so. Stepping out of your shoes in this way will help you gain a fresh perspective.


Now, it’s time to walk the walk: “On the other end of the spectrum is our actions, we can have positive self-talk and say we love ourselves and others, but then when it comes time for action, things fall short,” says Runolfson. “We neglect our own needs or boundaries; we hurt ourselves or others; we forget an anniversary or birthday; we simply don’t show up and walk the walk. After all, there is a reason behind the adage, actions speak louder than words. I would even dare to say that actions love louder than words.”

There are plenty of simple ways to show and spread love: for your coworkers, your best friends, your loved one, yourself, and the rest of the world! Here are a few ideas:

  • Bring donuts to work for all of your coworkers to enjoy.
  • Hold the door open for woman struggle at the grocery store.
  • Call your parents just to tell them you love ‘em.
  • Offer to babysit for your brother and sister-in-law.
  • Write nice messages on sticky notes and put them around the house.
  • Buy coffee for the person in line behind you.


And finally, you must surrender to your instinct to love! “It is in our very DNA to love and be loved,” Runolfson explains. “I could go on and on about the long-term impact of emotional neglect, attachment issues, and how lost connection can wreak havoc on our mental and emotional health. The bottom line is that people struggling with trauma, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or any other form of mental health issue, have ultimately become disconnected from their gut instinct and the love that is generated there. They start to see the world through a lens of fear or judgment or anger (all valid responses to what they may have been through) and have forgotten to see the world through their instinctual lens of love. Once I can help a client tap into the love around them, the love for others, the love in the world, the love for themselves… their mental and emotional health begins to improve.”

While it may prove difficult to choose love—especially if you’ve experienced something that deters you from welcoming love into your life, as Runolfson has explained—you must do your best to open yourself to it. Because at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is how much you’ve loved and how much you’ve been loved in return. Remember, we aren’t talking exclusively about romantic relationship. We’re talking the love you give and receive every single day with every single person you encounter: the butcher at the market, the person who sold you flowers, your coworker, your boss, your best friend… and we can’t forget you!