Did you know May is Mental Health Month? This year, the theme is “Back to Basics,” with a focus on providing foundational knowledge about mental health and mental health conditions. In today’s blog post, I want to discuss something you can easily do to improve your own mental health and encourage you to practice self-compassion.
What is Self-Compassion?
Dr. Kristin Neff is one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion. She identifies three elements of this admirable behavior:
Self-kindness vs. self-judgment
It’s important to be warm and understanding towards yourself, even when you fail or feel like you’re not enough. Treat yourself like you would a close friend! Don’t ignore your pain or respond with self-criticism. Instead, know that it’s normal to experience difficulties in life; it’s how you react to those challenges that matters.
Common humanity vs. isolation
You often isolate yourself when you’re suffering, as if that feeling of inadequacy is unique to you. Realize that all humans are vulnerable and imperfect. Making mistakes is simply part of life! Try to reach out to others for support instead of going through hard times alone.
Mindfulness vs. over-identification
Don’t suppress or exaggerate your negative feelings. Instead, take a balanced approach. Use your own circumstances to relate to others with shared life experiences, allowing yourself to see your personal situation from a new perspective. Dr. Neff defines mindfulness as “a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are.” With a mindset focused on the present, you won’t get swept away by your negative thoughts and emotions.
How Self-Compassion Can Fight Depression and Suicide
From country music superstar Naomi Judd and reality TV star Kailia Posey to a number of college athletes, depression and suicide have been two hot topics in the news. When you’re suffering from mental health conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, or trauma, you tend to adopt self-critical attitudes that stand in the way of personal growth and happiness.
Fortunately, self-compassion can help! Research suggests that individuals lacking this trait more easily fall into self-defeating patterns. Those higher in self-compassion, though, approach failure or mistakes as a learning opportunity instead of a disappointment. Another study determined that agreeableness was lower in participants with decreased self-compassion. Similarly, emotional intelligence negatively correlates with self-compassion. In other words, self-compassion may improve social interactions and lead to closer relationships.
Tips to Practice Self-Compassion
So how can you improve your self-compassion? Well, it’s like any other habit! The more you practice, the more compassionate you’ll be. Let’s consider three tips.
1. Accept the pain in the present moment.
Then, move forward with love and kindness. It can be tempting to suppress your suffering, but in order to be compassionate towards yourself, you need to embrace it.
2. Take things slow!
Many people experience a “backdraft” when they begin to practice self-compassion. Their pain actually increases at first. Allow yourself to be a slow learner and pull back if necessary. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed by past pain.
3. Practice mindful breathing.
When you do feel defeated, ground yourself with a few deep breaths. Incorporate loving mantras into your breath work. As you breathe in, think to yourself, “I am worthy of good things.” And as you breathe out, think, “I am worthy of love.” Repeat this exercise until you feel calm again.