- Saying yes to things you don’t want to do.
- Returning to relationships that have decidedly not worked out in the past.
- Giving in because you don’t like conflict.
- Telling people you’re OK when you’re not.
- Making an unhealthy decision even when you know better.
- Forcing yourself to stay awake when you need to rest.
- Not asking for clarification when you don’t understand something.
- Not soothing yourself when you’ve had a bad day.
- Messing up and not forgiving yourself.
- Not making time for things that mean a lot; music, reading, whatever your craft or personal passion may be. The ME time.
- Refusing to treat yourself- Not buying yourself the plants/flowers, the perfume, the book, that you really want.
- Saying mean things about yourself.
- Overriding your intuition.
Some clients have recently mentioned that when they start practicing self compassion, they feel a wave of pain that’s almost overwhelming. Their pain actually increases at first. You can call this phenomena backdraft, a term used by firefighters and emergency workers that describes what happens when a door in a burning house is first opened: oxygen goes in and flames rush out. What should you do? I believe in staying in place, hunkering down.
This can include breathing, meditation, going about your everyday tasks, making your coffee, petting your companion animal, going for a walk. Eventually the wave subsides.
Your brain can be a trickster. Depression and anxiety create automatic negative thoughts that can become our internal dialogue. They are obstacles that influence our everyday life. Therapy is useful for identifying and giving voice to these internalized beliefs. And actively combating them.
Some examples of negative thoughts that can be harmful:
– All or nothing
Binary thinking. If you stick to your exercise plan for a month, you think you think you are the most disciplined person on the planet. If you miss a day at the gym, you think you have no discipline and give up and go back to being a coach potato. Being able to hold multiple opinions and thoughts, often contradictory ones, is mental flexibility.
Jumping to the worst possible conclusion, usually with very limited information or objective reason to despair. When a situation is upsetting, but not necessarily catastrophic, we may still feel like we are in the midst of a crisis.
Our “shoulds” come from internalizing others’ expectations and comparing ourselves unfavorably. This is the hallmark of regret, the what if, the opposite of living in the moment.
You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. These thoughts make you see only the negative aspects of situations and make you more inclined to give up on your efforts.
When you call yourself or someone else names or use negative terms to describe them. A lot of us do this on a regular basis. You may have said one of the following at some point in your life; “I’m a loser”; “I’m a failure”; “I suck,” or “I’m lazy.” The problem with repeatedly calling yourself names is that your brain starts believing them.
You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not responsible for. For example, you see someone scowling as they walk down the hallway. You automatically assume that they are angry with you, when they could’ve actually had a really bad day.
When you make assumptions, you’re usually filling the void of the unknown by imagining an undesirable outcome. In reality, a number of good things are often also possible.
Predicting an outcome, usually negative, even though you don’t know what will happen is the hallmark of fortune telling. These thoughts disregard data.
– Mind reading
When you think that you know what somebody else is thinking even though they have not told you, and you have not asked them, it is called mind-reading. Listen carefully to the other person instead of trying to predict what they have to say. See also Active Listening.
Blaming others for your problems and taking no responsibility for your own successes and failures.
Also see How to Practice Self-Compassion.
- Not judging yourself or allowing others to judge you.
- Not blaming yourself or others.
- Getting to know yourself.
- Forgiving yourself.
- Loving yourself.
- Soothing yourself.
- Respecting yourself.
- Protecting yourself.
Self-esteem is a positive evaluation of self and self-worth. While there is some overlap, self-compassion doesn’t require that we evaluate ourselves positively or that we see ourselves as “above average”. Instead, the positive emotions of self-compassion still kick in when self-esteem falls down; when we don’t meet our expectations, suffer a loss, fail in some way. It is a way of relating to yourself.￼ This means that the sense of intrinsic self-worth inherent in self-compassion is highly stable. Self-compassion has been linked to higher resilience, better physical health, and increased life satisfaction.
External circumstances, skills, friendships, intimate relationships, even physical capabilities, may wax and wane. Self-compassion, as practice, is a constant. ￼
At Embolden, we emphasize self-care and self-compassion as an essential part of the therapeutic process.
Simple tips that make a difference:
- Sleep 8 hours. If you cannot do it in a single stretch, divide sleep into phases, known as polyphasic sleep.
- Hydrate. Drink a minimum of 2 L of water per day. Make a large jug of water in the morning, adding anything that you enjoy, such as citrus, cucumber, ginger, mint. Sip it throughout the day.
- Meditate. 15 minutes a day of meditation, including seated, walking, or even lying down calms the mind and body.
- Avoid sugar. We know that sugar causes inflammation. For mental health, sugar gives us a quick mood/energy spike, followed by a crash that is detrimental for people struggling with anxiety and depression.
- Enjoy the bounties of nature. Eat fruits and vegetables daily, especially greens.
- Care for an animal. A number of studies have shown the beneficial mental health effects of caring for a companion animal, including reductions in stress, loneliness, and even blood pressure. For more see Mental Health and Companion Animals.
- Write. Writing in a journal, in paper or digital format, for as little as 10 minutes a day reduces anxiety. Read more on Journaling.
- Go outside. Get sunlight daily.
- Read. Just 30 minutes a day is good for cognitive and mental health.
- Connect. Speaking with close friends and family members on a regular basis; online, by phone, or in person has clear benefits for emotional well-being.
- Exercise. At least 3 to 4 times per week, move your body. Whatever format you choose, consistency is the key.
- Unplug and reboot. When our technology is failing us, we turn everything off and reboot. For mental health, when things are not going well, the reboot can be a short nap, taking a break, walking away from the situation￼, or even starting again the next morning.
A growing body of research suggests that self-compassion is strongly associated with psychological health. One of the most consistent findings in the literature is that greater self-compassion is linked to less anxiety and depression (Neff, 2003; Pauley & McPherson, 2010).
There are physiological reasons underlying this association. Neuropsychological research has found that individuals trained therapeutically to increase feelings of self-compassion had reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It also appeared to increase heart-rate variability, which is associated with a greater ability to self-soothe when stressed. In other studies, self-compassionate people have been found to worry less than those who lack self-compassion, are less perfectionistic, and tend to experience fewer negative emotions. However, they are also LESS likely to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions and are more willing to acknowledge their negative emotions as valid and important.
For the purpose of this article, although I realize there is a wide range of writing and discussion on this topic, I define self compassion as having three primary components:
- Self-kindness, or refraining from harsh criticism of the self.
- Sense of connection to the world and others, or the fact that all people are imperfect and all people experience pain.
- Mindfulness, or maintaining intentional awareness of experiences, even those that are painful, rather than either minimizing/ignoring or exaggerating their effect.
There is also evidence that intentionally cultivating self-compassion stimulates parts of the brain associated with generalized compassion. Using fMRI technology, neuropsychologists found that instructing individuals to be more self-compassionate was associated with neuronal activity similar to what occurs when feelings of empathy for others are evoked. This research would suggest that the tendency to respond to suffering with caring concern is a general process applied to both oneself and others, so that self-compassion is “contagious”, so to speak. From the perspective of psychology, building the capacity to hold suffering in compassionate awareness facilitates the ability to extend compassion to multiple targets: the self, others, and all sentient beings (see Sharon Salzburg, 1997)
Self compassion and mental health
Self-compassion is also often confused with or linked to self-esteem, but the two differ: While self-esteem focuses on favorable self-evaluation, particularly for achievements, self-compassion is a form of self-acceptance, even in the face of failure. This emotion represents a shift away from being the best toward simply being the person one is. A person who scores high on measures of self-compassion might accept failures. Self-compassion does not depend on either social comparisons or one’s sense of personal success; rather, recognition and acceptance of one’s flaws often leads to growth and personal development in a way that self-esteem does not. A lack of compassion for the self can play a role in mental health conditions, especially anxiety and depression.
How to increase self compassion
It may be helpful to frame self-criticism as a critique that might be given to a friend. If the words are too harsh for a loved one, then they are likely also too harsh for the self. In general, people tend to be more accepting of the flaws of others than they are of their own. I always ask patients who are speaking about themselves in self-deprecatory terms, would you speak to your friend or a loved one like that?
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, (MBCT), developed from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based meditation, is meant to increase self-awareness and thus can positively influence levels of self-compassion. The goal of this therapy is for those in treatment to become increasingly able to see themselves separately from the negative thoughts and moods they might experience. In MBCT, the process of healing includes the interjection of positive thoughts in response to a negative mood, but not denying the negative feelings, so those who experience a sense of lowness after focusing on their mistakes and flaws can often come to accept themselves more readily as a whole person.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff developed a self-compassion scale to help people measure whether their own self-compassion is low, moderate, or high. She also developed several exercises that help enhance self-compassion, including writing a letter to oneself, from the point of view of a compassionate friend, every day for a week. Journaling or otherwise writing about personal imperfections and inadequacies can also help increase mindfulness, and when combined with changes in techniques of personal criticism, this practice can also positively influence the development of self-compassion.
Last, but far from least, a self-care routine is also essential, as the meeting of personal needs can increase ability and energy to effectively care for and support others. When personal wellness declines, negative feelings might often be directed toward the self, and this can also make it more difficult to feel compassion for others.
Also see: Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First.
￼Tis the season when we presumably spend our days sipping hot cocoa, eating delicious food, gifting, and doing all sorts of holiday fun-ness with our loved ones, these days, virtually. It’s the jolliest time of year. At least, that’s the lovely picture we’re all marketed for the holidays. The unfortunate reality is this sentimental holiday scenario is anything but the norm.
For many people, this time of year can be a painful reminder of the things they’re not surrounded by. Loneliness happens. ￼And the painful feeling may grow, until you’re convinced you’re destined to be a lonely hermit whom no one wants to be around.
Part of that reason is simply because of our cultural expectations around what the holidays SHOULD be like. When we set our expectations to be one thing, and the reality is something different, we can see it as less than.
Think, for instance, about all of those holiday Hallmark family films that focus on the heartwarming ~feels~ that come from quality time with the fam.
The reality is, though, your IRL or virtual version could easily not match what you see on the screen or with what your neighbors with their beautiful lights and decorations might be experiencing￼. Coping with the loneliness and holiday blues can be challenging.
Mental health tips:
Recognize how much stress you might be under
Since the holiday season is short and goes quickly it creates a sense of urgency and overwhelm, making you feel like there’s so much to do and so little time to get everything done. Expectation is also a huge cause of stress during the holidays. Everything from holiday decorating to shopping and gift giving come with expectations that are most often unrealistic which causes you to stress about measuring up to those expectations whether they are your own or ones held by family and friends. When people get stressed or feel overwhelmed they can begin to feel alone in their struggles.
Comparison is the thief of joy￼
People can feel less than, ￼especially when they see everyone else seemingly ‘happy’ and having everything under control. Social media can be a huge culprit of making it seem that everyone else has it all together except you with those happy/perfect pics. Even though social media is for “connecting” with others it can actually do the opposite and make you feel less connected and more alone especially when you compare your life to those you see. Try limiting time on social media.
Don’t isolate yourself, no matter how tempting
When people feel lonely, sad or are struggling they may tend to isolate themselves or feel unmotivated to reach out or interact with others. ￼They may also feel unworthy of someone’s time and that they would burden or inconvenience others by asking them to participate in an activity or by sharing their feelings. They get caught up in their low self-esteem and negative thoughts, and choose to isolate instead of virtually socialize or reach out. The best way to stop and change negative thoughts is by choosing to see them for what they are-as mental distortions, ￼rooted in fear, self-doubt and low self-esteem. Their purpose is to keep us from pursuing relationships and opportunities.
Please ask yourself if this is a kind thought you are telling yourself. Flip the negative self statement ￼to a positive thought, for example if you are struggling with worth and feelings of deserving ask yourself “Who am I not to deserve this?” Start repeating “I am worthy” multiple times throughout the day and you will begin to believe it and act from a place of feeling worthy and deserving. The more you practice positive thinking, the more empowered and less lonely you will feel. I actually have my patients write this down on index cards and carry it around to look at throughout the day. ￼
Process and be in your feelings
It’s okay to feel sad and to let yourself feel lonely. Everyone has bouts of loneliness at times and often it’s because family may be far away or maybe right now you don’t have a significant other or kids. Spend some time fully feeling your feelings until they dissipate. You can do this by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches you how to be aware of your feelings, to feel them in your body and to allow and accept them without creating a narrative around them. It is OK to cry or feel an intensity of emotions, and in accepting and inviting these feelings to be present they dissipate and more calm and peace prevails.
Engage in the practice of opposite action￼/emotion
Practice opposite emotion and action, derived from Buddhism,￼ to change your mood by engaging in behavior that is opposite to what your current emotion is pulling from you. For example, if you are angry and feel yourself tensing up, then try to open your posture and uncross your arms. Stretch your body for release. Similarly, if you are feeling sad and lonely and want to withdraw, then make a point to reach out to friends or watch a funny or well loved movie to help mitigate sadness.
The theory behind the skill I teach in my clinical practice to patients that I call OPPOSITE EMOTION is that every emotion is accompanied by an urge to engage in certain behaviors and these behaviors perpetuate the emotion. For example, the most common action urge for anxiety is avoidance. The more you avoid something you fear, the more intense your anxiety will become, and so approaching what you fear will help reduce anxiety both because you learn the situation is okay and because you aren’t continuing to reinforce your fear by avoiding the situation. It is important to note that the goal is not to push away your emotion or suppress it, but rather to work on cultivating another emotion.
Community service and volunteering￼
Use your energy and resources on behalf of people who need your help. Volunteer to tutor students, as many are struggling with virtual learning; help at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, make food for an elderly neighbor, ￼or volunteer at an animal shelter.
￼Appreciate what you have
￼Send cards or a personal note to everyone who means a lot to you. Thanksgiving is about showing gratitude. ￼Make your holidays a spiritual growth time, such as creating a personal ritual, prayer, meditation, or virtual gathering with close friends. I have several friends who have a personal altar at home, and engage in prayer to their ancestors and loved ones who are not present.￼￼ Find something for you that is meaningful. ￼￼