I remember not too long ago when there was this massive move towards increasing and improving productivity. I think this was in part fueled by a widespread societal view: work hard now, reap the rewards later.

But when is later?

And exactly where is our well-being left in this concept of “hard work”?

As a woman and entrepreneur, it is so easy for me to get caught up in trying to multitask, get as much done as is humanly possible, and of course being in the helping profession — to be as helpful and compassionate as I can be. I bet you can relate – whether you’re a man or a woman because we’re all working hard to be the best version of whatever we are. 

But where are our self-care practices? This is when self-compassion comes in.

Simply put, self-compassion is the act of treating yourself with the same kindness as you would a close friend during a challenging moment.

Seems simple enough, huh?

We’re going to do a quick exercise; I’m going to ask you to think of two scenarios:

1. Think of a time when someone close to you was struggling. What kinds of words, tone of voice and warmth did you provide?

2. Think of a time when you were struggling. What types of words, tone of voice and warmth did you use on yourself?

Any difference in the two?

The reality is that we are our worst critics. We are so quick to blame ourselves, to call ourselves names and at times even bully ourselves with the most painful words. Self-criticism releases cortisol, which is a stress hormone in the body. In small bits it’s okay, but when there’s too much of it in your system, it can cause some yucky stuff.

Ready for some good news? Self-criticism and self-judgment is a habit that can change.

Unlike self-esteem, which stems from an assessment of worth and value, especially when comparing us to others, self-compassion comes from a deep understanding and acceptance of our imperfect humanity.

Here are four simple steps to increase your self-compassion on a daily basis.

1. STOP TO NOTICE.

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We get so busy with everyday life and routine that our mental state can become trance-like.  You know that feeling when you arrive to work and are not sure how you got there? Without careful attention, we quickly lose track ourselves and needs. Take a minute per day to stop and notice how your body feels, both inside and out.

  • Are there any places that experience pain or un-comfort in your physical body?
  • Next move to your mind, what are you thinking about, what emotions are you feeling/experiencing?
  • Is your body clenched up because you are feeling anger, worry, fear, or anxiety?
  • Or is your body relaxed and you are feeling calm, confidence and comfort?

2. ACCEPT.

Accepting is the act of sitting quietly with the acknowledgment of what you are feeling and experiencing. Without the usual questioning and judgment: How can I change it? Why do I feel this way? I am such a _______ for doing, feeling, thinking _____. Become aware of the feelings and emotions you noticed. And here’s the hard part; Do nothing to change it. You can say to yourself, “My body feels_____; emotionally, I am feeling _______; I am worried/stressed/preoccupied about _______.”

3. ASK, WHAT DO I NEED?

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By asking yourself this question, you are doing an act of active comforting and self-soothing. The opposite of what may be typical self-criticism questions, “Why did I do this? What do I need to do to save face?” When you ask “what do I need right now?” you are taking a step towards beginning a habit of self-compassion. You are leaving behind the faulty belief that we need to self-criticize to be motivated. And, do you know what is the most fundamental need we have when we are struggling? VALIDATION. Validation means saying, hearing, or thinking, “I have the right to feel what I am feeling.”

4. TAKE A DEEP BREATH.

Yes, you read it correctly. Remember when I said that self-criticism releases the stress hormone? Well, taking deep, slow, abdominal breaths stimulates the vagus nerve, lowers your stress response. Think about it as your body’s stress break system.

  • Slowly and gently take a deep belly inhale through your nose
  • Hold for as long as is comfortable for you
  • As slowly as you can, release through your mouth
  • Now, place your two hands over the middle of your chest, in a gentle for firm manner and take a couple of more breath
  • You can repeat in your mind the phrase “I am kind to myself right now.”

Our bodies are programmed to respond to warmth, gentle touch, and soft vocalizations. I think the practice of self-compassion is about re-parenting ourselves. Giving ourselves the sense of being valued because we are human beings worthy of compassion and love.

And…since we’ve become pretty good at establishing habits of self-judgment, and self-criticism, the more you practice these steps, the more likely you will be to reap the benefits.

Unlike self-esteem, which stems from an assessment of worth and value, especially when comparing us to others, self-compassion comes from a deep understanding and acceptance of our imperfect humanity. -Meyleen Vasquez Click To Tweet

Remember, every learned habit is reversible.

You are worth creating a good life for yourself. The key to your own psychological/emotional well-being is NOT just based on how you respond to stressful situations but in how you treat yourself during stressful and challenging moments. Much of the research on self-compassion stated here comes from Dr. Kristin Neff’s work. For more information, you can check her out at http://self-compassion.org.

PLEASE let us know what you think about self-compassion by commenting below or joining in on the discussion in the Wright Wellness Center Online Community on Facebook!. We want to hear your responses as well as any other self-compassion practices that you may be implementing.  Don’t forget to tune in for the next blog post.

About the Author

Meyleen Velasquez, LCSW, RPT-S is a psychotherapist based in South Florida. Her practice is Hummingbird Counseling where she specializes in infant and perinatal mental health. Meyleen believes that all humans have the capacity to move towards healing and positive change and that the journey to that change starts with our inner work. In her free time, Meyleen enjoys binging on Netflix and sitting with her eyes closed pretending to meditate. You can follow her practice here!