Mental wellness relies on our ability to notice, reflect on, and respond to our emotions and thoughts. Have you ever noticed how you treat yourself during difficult emotional moments? Self-compassion is an often overlooked but vital part of mental and emotional health. Learning to cultivate this trait can greatly improve your ability to overcome challenges, maintain relationships, and take care of your needs.
What is Self-Compassion?
If you are kind, understanding, and compassionate towards yourself, then you are practicing self-compassion. The opposite of self-compassion is self-criticism. Just as you would extend compassion to a friend during times of need, you should ideally extend that same compassion back to yourself. There are three components to self-compassion:
- Self-kindness: Accepting our feelings with an open mind, warmth, and care
- Common humanity: Failure and struggle are universal to the human experience; offering compassion to ourselves is healthy and normal
- Mindful approach: Trying to be as objective as possible when viewing a situation; limiting judgment towards yourself.
How Self-Compassion Influences Mental Health
Our internal monologue can significantly influence our mental well-being. If you’re hard on yourself through failures or attribute your need for rest and support to laziness and inadequacy, you’re much more likely to struggle with mental wellness. Harvard Health explains that self-compassionate people do a better job recognizing when they’re stressed, overworked, or in need of additional support. As a result, these people often experience lower levels of anxiety and depression since they’re better able to seek treatment. Researchers at Stanford point to self-compassion as a crucial part of resilience. If you are compassionate with yourself through failures, you can better handle the difficult task of trying again.
Can I Improve My Self-Compassion?
Everyone is born with some level of self-compassion, and our upbringing and life paths influence how much we cultivate this skill over a lifetime. The good news is that self-compassion can be learned and practiced, so it’s never too late to prioritize this skill. If you’d like to improve your self-compassion, here are several easy ways to begin.
Photo: Yurii Kibalnik via 123RF
Note Your Self-Talk Practices
How do you speak to yourself during challenging times? Is this the same way you would speak to a friend or loved one? Spend time journaling and noting your response to challenging situations for several weeks or months. Highlight words and phrases that indicate a lack of self-compassion so that you can focus on adjusting your framing going forward. Write down alternative phrases that you plan to say to yourself instead. If you prepare beforehand, using these responses in the moment will be easier. Eventually, they will become second nature.
Write Yourself a Letter
Practice being compassionate with yourself by pretending you’re someone else! It may seem silly at first, but writing a letter to yourself with the advice and care you’d provide to another person can be a simple way to build comfort around the practice of self-compassion. Make sure to forgive yourself for any perceived mistakes in the letter; forgiveness is a stepping-stone to compassion. Save your letters to see how much progress you’ve made with this practice after six months.
As with many other mental health goals, mindfulness can improve your self-compassion. Mindfulness involves focusing on your present feelings, thoughts, and surroundings. It does not include judgment. Practice noticing what situations trigger your self-critical talk the most. Note what other thoughts or emotions tend to accompany these reactions. On the flip side, try to be aware of times you already use self-compassion. These instances will give you a script for building towards more in the future. You can find guided mediations to help improve your mindfulness practice as you work to improve this skill.
Take Care of Your Physical Body
When you’re having a difficult day, rather than being self-critical, try consciously taking care of your physical needs instead. This kind of self-care is often easier for us, and by engaging in these practices during times of emotional stress, you can retrain your mind to apply the same level of care to your emotions. Prepare a healthy, comforting meal for yourself. Get extra sleep. Take a warm bath. Run on your favorite route. All of these practices will not only make you feel better physically, but they will help your emotional self-care improve as well.
Self-compassion can be a critical component to overall mental wellness, so find small ways to start cultivating this skill for yourself today.