How to practice self-care through self-compassion

Mental Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Jun 18, 2020

Compassion. Such a powerful word. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important traits a person can have. It can be as simple as smiling at someone you don’t know or as multi-layered as taking action for a cause you are passionate about. 

Here’s the problem: Many of us spend so much energy directing that compassion toward other people that we often forget to also direct it inward to ourselves. 

What is self-compassion?

Compassion is defined as a basic kindness with a deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and other living things, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it. Self-compassion as defined by one of the pioneering researchers in this field, Kristin Neff, as compassion directed inward, relating to oneself as the object of care and concern when faced with the experience of suffering. 

I personally like to define self-compassion as simply being kinder to ourselves. After all, we each deserve our own kindness. 

It’s not hard to imagine that increasing your own self-compassion can have many benefits. One study showed that compassion cultivation training may be helpful at improving: 

  • Self-reported mindfulness
  • Self-compassion
  • Compassion toward others
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Mental health resilience
  • Burnout prevention

Further, Kristin Neff explains that having self-compassion builds resiliency against depression and anxiety, while increasing life satisfaction, optimism, social connectedness and happiness. 

Related: Too busy for self-care? Not so fast

How to cultivate more self-compassion

Like most things in life, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to self-care. There are many resources on the internet that provide guided meditations and other exercises to focus your attention on self-compassion. 

To get you started, I have come up with a few ideas for practicing self-compassion. While the following recommendations are not based on research, they are personal practices I implemented into my own life that have worked well for me. I would encourage you to explore and experiment with what works for you!

Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend.

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before and it’s definitely easier said than done, but there is power in showing yourself the same kindness you would show your friend. 

Think about a recent time a friend came to you in distress for advice. How did you talk to them? What language did you use? If you got frustrated with them, how did you act? I assume you didn’t beat them down with criticizing words — like we often do to ourselves. You may have been brutally honest with them, but you likely did it with compassion. Can you do the same for yourself? 

Start a gratitude journal.

Gratitude is a powerful practice for me. Sometimes I get caught up in the things I don’t have, and often that can lead to me blaming myself for not having those things. But… I am blessed! We all are. There are so many little things to be grateful for every day. 

When you take time to focus on what you do have, it can be a great reminder of all the good we are doing. 

Write yourself a love letter.

Have you ever written a sweet letter to a loved one? How did they react to it? I know I’ve received inspiring letters from people who mean the most to me and those letters have left me in happy tears. 

Why not show yourself the same love? Sit down, grab a piece of pretty paper and write yourself a letter of love. This makes for a great resource to reference when you are having a rough day. 

Give yourself a hug.

No, seriously – right now. I want you to put down anything you might have in your hands. Reach your arms way out to the side and then wrap them tightly around yourself. 

How do you feel? The simple act of giving ourselves a hug can help remind us to treat ourselves gently, especially during difficult times. How can you remind yourself to be there for you when you need it the most? 

Let it go.

I once had a boss who said, “When all goes well, turn off your phone and go home!” I was working in a job that required my attention (and phone) to be on-call at all hours. When we had a successful event, we would turn off our phones and go home. This has really stuck with me. 

Even if something didn’t go well, it’s important to symbolically turn-off your phone and “go home.” Turning off and going home doesn’t have to be taken literally. Wherever you are, you have the opportunity to unplug and release, even if only for a minute. Can you take a few minutes to do something you enjoy doing? Do you have 2 minutes to do a meditation? Would it be helpful for you to take a break and listen to a song? (Might I suggested “Let it Go” from Frozen?)

Ask for help.

On those days that you have trouble remembering how amazing you are, it can be helpful to ask for a reminder. I often have clients or friends who forget. When I reflect back their success, they respond with, “Oh, yeah! I am good at that.” Or, “Yes, actually, I am proud of myself for accomplishing that!”  

It’s easy for us to forget because we are so focused on putting out fires or regretting the mistakes we’ve made. So, phone a friend and let them be your cheerleader. 

I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but I want you know that I “see” you. I see that you care about taking care of yourself. You are reading this blog post, after all. I am inspired by you and everything you are accomplishing every day. I am grateful for the work you put in every day taking care of yourself and those around you.

Need help remembering what you’re worth? Let us be your weekly reminder — subscribe to the Scrubbing In newsletter today.

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