Today I will be sharing with you advice on practicing self-compassion and the benefits of doing so.
Self-compassion is an incredible tool for resilience – and all the more important as we begin to emerge, tentatively, from the coronavirus pandemic. I will be sharing why, and offer some of my favourite hacks and tips for building self-compassion.
This time last year many of us were feeling in limbo due to the pandemic, wondering when it would all be over. Now we are beginning to see the light, and life is finally heading towards normality (as normal as it can be in this world anyway!)
Yet some of us are still grieving losses, negotiating transitions or relocations, or facing other post-pandemic challenges. You may even find yourself feeling unsettled about returning to normal (and wondering what ‘normal’ means).
Now, more than ever, is the time for compassion, both for yourself and for others. Self-compassion means relating to yourself with kindness. Having self-compassion involves treating yourself with care and understanding when you’re having a hard time – just as you would with a good friend. This habit can be especially helpful as we adapt to a new way of living since the COVID pandemic.
Below, I will be sharing simple and practical exercises to help you soothe and comfort yourself when the going gets tough.
“Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.” – Dr. Kristin Neff
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What is Self-Compassion
Dr. Kristin Neff, a lead researcher in self-compassion, states:
“Self-compassion entails treating oneself with kindness, recognizing one’s shared humanity, and being mindful when considering negative aspects of oneself.”
Dr. Kristin Neff also states…
“Self-compassion does not entail self-evaluation or comparisons with others. Rather, it is a kind, connected, and clear-sighted way of relating to ourselves even in instances of failure, perceived inadequacy, and imperfection.”
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, there are three components to self-compassion:
- Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment
- Common humanity vs. Isolation
- Mindfulness vs. Over-identification
Benefits of self-compassion
In general, people who are self-compassionate can relate to their negative emotions with mindfulness. They don’t deny negative feelings like fear, shame, and inadequacy. Instead, they acknowledge them and keep them in perspective.
Compassionate people can soothe themselves when they feel bad, deactivating their body’s threat signals with warmth and safety. As a result, self-compassionate people experience lower rates of depression and anxiety. In sum, self-compassion alleviates suffering and helps people rebound from setbacks.
Below I have divided down the benefits into headings mental health, emotions and relationships:
- Have less anxiety, depression, and negative emotions
- Experience more happiness, optimism, and positive emotions
- Have fewer ruminating thoughts
- Are more authentic and autonomous (comfortable in their own skin)
- Are less likely to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions
- Score higher on emotional intelligence
- Have higher self-esteem
- Are less likely to get flustered or humiliated by something embarrassing or negative feedback
- Create close, authentic, mutually supportive friendships
- Feel others’ pain without becoming overwhelmed by it
- Have happier, more satisfying romantic relationships
Practicing Self-Compassion – Ultimate Guide!
We are living in stressful times. Our brains go into threat mode very quickly, and it’s right that we take what is happening very seriously without panicking. By practising these exercises, you can keep yourself calm and effective in times of crisis in order that you can look after yourselves, your family and your community.
Think of this as physio for the mind. Frequent practice will bring results.
Soothing rhythm breathing
I usually start with this when I am doing compassion work with myself. It really helps people to sit with their breathing.
This exercise can be as short or as long as you want to make it but I recommend you do it for at least a couple of minutes. It’s something you can do anywhere. Try and example of this exercise here.
Practicing loving-kindness meditation has been shown to result in several benefits to our well-being – try the below or other self-compassion meditations to build these skills.
For this 10-15 minute letter-writing exercise, begin with thinking of something upsetting that happened to you today. Then, write a letter to yourself (in the first person) about the upsetting event.
To do so, get in touch with that part of you that is kind and understanding. It may help to imagine what you might tell a friend in your situation. In writing the letter, try to express understanding toward your anguish (e.g. “I am sad you feel distressed”).
Make certain that your letter communicates to you those feelings and thoughts that often help you feel soothed and nurtured. Do this for a week and see if it works for you.
Compassionate body scan
Bring awareness to the top of your head, now move your awareness down along your head to your shoulders, down your chest and tummy and back, arms and hands, your hips, your thighs, knees, calves and feet. As you do this, try to generate a sense of compassion towards your body.
If you encounter tension or pain in your body or if you encounter parts of your body that you are not happy with, do so with compassion. Approach them, at least during the body scan, with a sense of kindness towards yourself and towards each part of your body.
If you find it difficult to generate a feeling of kindness, do the body scan with the intention of being kind to your body. A body scan is a good way of helping you get out of your head. Find an example of one here.
The smiling breath of compassion
Although it is not mandatory, before you do this practice you may want to do the above body scan first. Then, take a few deep breaths in order to release all tension, and to begin to feel calm.
Notice where you can most easily feel your breath (e.g., abdomen, nostrils). Now try to adopt a ‘half smile’, a state between not smiling and giving a full smile.
Pay attention to how you feel. Next, breathe in self-kindness. Let your breath soothe your suffering, and comfort you.
Breathe out kindness and comfort toward others who are suffering too, just as you are. Again, try to do this exercise regularly.
Compassionate image and compassionate community
This is a beautiful exercise. It helps you develop a compassionate image you can imagine comforting and soothing you. By practising imagining giving and receiving compassion you will strengthen your brain pathways geared to compassion.
The second part of this exercise is especially relevant now – it focuses on connecting compassionately with others to address suffering. Doesn’t get more relevant than that right now.
Find an example of this exercise here.
Let go of negative thoughts
When you’re having negative thoughts, try to imagine a blue sky with white clouds. Put each of those thoughts on a cloud and watch them float away.
This exercise can help you see that negativity doesn’t have to be a part of your thinking anymore.
Confront your inner critic
When you make a mistake and find yourself being self-judgmental, take a moment to pause and confront your inner critic. Ask yourself, what self-critical things are you saying to yourself?
What are some counter-arguments for these thoughts? Why might your thoughts be untrue or mean and how can you make them kinder?
Use positive affirmations
Positive affirmations are kind words we say to ourselves. When we use positive affirmations, we remind and begin to convince ourselves that these positive thoughts about us are true.
That’s why using positive affirmations can help boost our self-compassion.
Try to eliminate the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary
When we tell ourselves that we ‘should’ do something, be something, or feel something, we are just judging ourselves. There is no right way to do something or right way to be.
Loosening our standards or rules for ourselves can help us be more self-compassionate.
One of the ways we are hard on ourselves is that we don’t forgive ourselves for doing bad things. Now, it’s not a bad thing to recognise the things you’ve done wrong or that hurt people.
But it’s also important to remember that you are human and to give yourself a break. We all make mistakes and holding those mistakes against ourselves forever is going to make it tough to live happily.
Give yourself permission to feel
Sometimes when we’re being self-critical, we don’t allow ourselves to be or feel what we want. This suppression of emotions can actually be bad for our mental health.
So, give yourself permission to feel whatever is true for you.
Practicing self-compassion – Final thoughts
Other people deserve your compassion, but so do you. Get started practicing self-compassion with the exercises explained above.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you are doing to change your life in the coming days and years!
If you have any questions please reach out to me via firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!
I really hope you found inspiration in this article.
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Hello! My name is Adam and welcome to my space on the internet. Here you can find me writing about subjects such as spiritual growth, self-discovery, expanding your awareness, inner peace, self-care and mental health. Please connect with me on my journey and join the community!