Weekly Wellness #6 - The Importance of Self-Compassion
Right now there is a lot of talk about compassion – being sensitive to the suffering and needs of others. Compassion is incredibly important in times of great stress in society. The experience of COVID-19 impacts every family and individual differently, so there is a valuable emphasis in our society on being sensitive to each others’ needs. And as parents, our children are typically at the forefront of our thoughts, and our compassion for them can be all-consuming!
There is no doubt that helping others also promotes our own well-being. However, in a situation of extended crisis, such as we are in now, it is also important to remember self-compassion.
Self-compassion involves caring acceptance of ourselves and our abilities. And right now, our abilities may vary greatly from day-to-day or even moment-to-moment. There are many reasons for this; our brains are trying to make sense of our current realities, and we are making more moment-to-moment decisions about what our days look like, which can be quite taxing.
Self-compassion requires us to recognize how we are doing throughout the day, and also to be kind to ourselves like we are to others. For example, asking: How can I comfort and care for myself at this moment?
Similar to the old adage of a parent putting on their own oxygen tank before their child’s, when we are kind to ourselves it ultimately helps us sustain kindness to others.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
~ Jack Kornfield
Q. I do not seem to be able to handle as much as other people right now. What is wrong with me?
A. We have all seen individuals in the media describing what they are doing right now – they volunteered at a food bank, ran 10 km, created enriching educational opportunities for their kids, learned how to play the violin, and baked ten loaves of bread before noon. While (hopefully) none of us are holding ourselves to this standard ;-), we do typically have a plan for each day. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it does not. With so many variables (such as home-schooling; working from home; managing health concerns; supporting loved ones; etc… ), we need to give ourselves permission to have good days and bad days. Here are some ways to engage in self-compassion:
Check-in with yourself regularly throughout the day to see how you are doing and what you need. Are you exhausted; do you need to lay down for a few minutes? Is there a lot of tension in your shoulders; do you need to stretch? Are your emotional resources depleted; do you need to talk a walk or a drive-by yourself? These things seem quite obvious, but how often do we prioritize them for ourselves?
- Make time to detach from reality. Play a game with friends over Zoom, or watch a funny movie. It is healthy for us to completely escape for periods of time. In fact, laughter can boost our mood and protects us from the damaging effects of stress.
- Plan ahead to give yourself mini regulation breaks throughout the day. Make yourself a cup of your favourite tea; go to the backyard and take ten deep breaths; or carve out 15 minutes of your day to read something that brings you joy.
- Speak to yourself like you do to others. What would you say to a friend who was in your situation? Expand that kindness towards yourself.
- Each night, take stock of what you are doing right. Too often we focus on what we haven’t done, or what is not going the way we want it to. Even when things are not going as planned in our household, we can honour the efforts we are making.
Q. I find my mind often running worst-case scenarios, or, questioning my ability to cope. How do I change this?
A. Self-affirmations are one simple practice to counter unhelpful narratives that run through our mind. Affirmations are positive statements that we make to ourselves – either in our minds or out loud. Self-affirmations plant healthier thoughts in our minds. When we regularly practice self-affirmations they can actually change our thinking patterns, reduce our stress, and even positively impact our behaviour.
Self-affirmations can be done before you get out of bed in the morning, while washing dishes, or in the shower. You can get in the habit of doing them every time you sit down at your desk or make a meal. They are particularly powerful if you read them aloud to yourself in a mirror. You can even record yourself saying them with relaxing sounds in the background and listen to it at difficult times.
Choose statements that are meaningful to you and your own situation. When we speak kindly and positively to ourselves, great things can happen!