We were taught to be kind to others, turn the other cheek, and work hard. Helping others has always been seen as a noble and praiseworthy thing to do. The thought of putting oneself first was unbearable for many and an act of selfishness for others. We had chores to do, families to care for, and bills to pay. There was no room for silly things like mindfulness and self-compassion!

Fortunately, times are changing and, with them, the idea that we deserve less attention and care than the people we care for and love. Millennials have found the courage to talk about the power of self-care and there is no going back. We know the truth now! We know that self-love is the shortest path to follow if we want to live happy lives. We know that self-care is not selfishness, indulgence, or a trend. Self-care is a necessity!

As a matter of fact, studies have shown that self-care practices have a major impact on the successful management of diseases like diabetes mellitus. Patients with diabetes manage to have better glycemic control when they include self-care activities in their daily routine. From healthy eating and exercising to monitoring their blood sugar levels, everything contributes to the reduction of complications and a better life for patients with type 2 diabetes. However, you don’t have to be diagnosed with something to start exercising self-care.

If before the COVID-19 pandemic, we associated self-care with yoga classes, gym sessions, going out with friends, and spa treatments, given our current situation, we should think about self-care at a smaller scale but not lose sight of the big picture. There are plenty of self-care activities we can do in the comfort of our home that will invite self-love, peace of mind, relaxation, and motivation in our hearts and minds. We just need to make self-care a priority and treat every day as a mental health day!

 

lady exercising

Exercise daily

You can exercise as much or as little as you want and can, but do it regularly. Whether you take a short walk around the block, do yoga in the courtyard with your dog, or jog for 15 minutes, you will feel the difference. Any exercise is better than no exercise at all. There’s no need for me to tell you about the importance of staying active. It’s common knowledge. However, I will remind you that exercise has the power to improve your mood, well-being, and mental health. It boosts your energy levels and invites positivity into your life. Moreover, exercise helps you achieve better sleep. In other words, exercise is one of the most powerful tools we have against anxiety, depression, or simply a bad day. And of course, it helps you maintain a healthy weight and improve your body image, both important aspects for a healthy relationship with yourself.

 

woman taking a bath

Take a long and mindful bath

Forget about showers on the run once in a while. We know, the world needs you but it will not crumble if you decide to immerse yourself in a world of fragrances and calming music. Your bath can easily become an aromatherapy session if you add jasmine, lavender, or ylang-ylang to your bathing ritual. A 2009-study discovered that fragrances can affect our mood, physiology, and behavior, so include essential oils in your life for indulgent self-care experiences. Try to relax during your bath and focus on the present. Mindfulness is about focusing on the moment and experiencing everything it has to give. Keep any worry away from your bathtub. Focus your attention on yourself and all the positive feelings you exude on your self-care journey.

 

chamomille tea

Make time for tea

Tea time is not reserved only for royalty. It can be the best excuse to take some time off from your daily duties and enjoy a few moments spent all by yourself. Tea time is not necessarily about drinking your tea, although it has been proven that green tea may lower your LDL levels and black tea can lower the risk of heart disease. Tea time is about the ritual of mental self-care. You can savor your tea near a window or in the courtyard while reading a book or eating a piece of cake. The idea is to create a corner of serenity and inner peace. Silence the outside world and think about yourself for a moment or two while spending time away from your phone, to-do list, and everyday life.

 

friends talking

Talk to your friends

Humans are and always will be social animals. We need to interact with each other to protect our mental health. Whether we do it for support or simply to say hi, it’s important to make time for friends. We don’t necessarily need to meet face to face for our interaction to have a positive impact on our mood and state of mind. Hearing the voice of someone we care for floods our body with positivity and oxytocin, a chemical in your brain that boosts the feel-good sensation. Some time alone is a great way to reconnect with yourself but so are conversations with good friends. We often listen to ourselves better when voicing out our thoughts, hopes, and worries. Healthy and smart conversations may reward you with a clearer picture of your life.

What is Mindful Self-Compassion?

Why do so many people stumble or struggle with being kind to themselves? Why is it often easier to be kind to others and not to ourselves? A common fear around self-compassion is that it’s merely a form of self-pity.

Self-pity comes from a perspective of “poor me”, feeling sorry for yourself. Compassion involves recognizing the difficulty of the situation and research shows that those who practice it, focus on their situation or circumstances less overall. For this reason, they usually have better overall mental health than those that do not practice self-compassion.

Mindful self-compassion is the combination of two critical practices that should be applied in daily life — Mindfulness and self-compassion.

What is mindfulness?

Let’s start with the term mindfulness. You’ve probably heard about mindfulness, maybe even seen some books, or heard a podcast on the subject. Mindfulness requires that you bring your attention to the present moment. Being fully conscious and aware of all that is happening right now. This means letting go of those issues you have to deal with at work tomorrow, the bills at the end of the month, the dinner you have to cook for your family, etc. Release everything that is not of the present moment.

Through mindfulness, you replace all those thoughts keeping your mind busy, with all the feelings and sensations you are experiencing right now. Feel each breath as it enters and leaves your body, listen carefully to the sounds around you, focus on all the signals your body is sending you from head to toe. Thoughts from the past or the future may enter, but don’t hang onto them. Let them go with your breath and return to silence, simply experiencing all the sensations within and around you.

Don’t be discouraged, it takes practice to hone the skills of mindfulness. Initially, you may get only a few seconds before thoughts about the past or the future rush back in. Treat yourself with kindness, don’t engage with them, don’t deny them, let them be, and patiently let them go. Welcome to the conscious present moment.

Girl with her eyes closed and smiling

What is self-compassion?

The second piece to mindful self-compassion begins with understanding what is compassion. Imagine that your best friend, or your child, came to you because they had a rough day. Maybe teachers or friends had some harsh criticism for them and they are experiencing some difficult or challenging emotions related to this.

In this situation, most people would show their best friend or their child some degree of compassion. This would entail acknowledging their painful emotions and responding with warmth, caring, and kindness. We’ve all been on the other side of this situation as well, it might have been a parent, a friend, or a skilled teacher, but we’ve all been shown compassion at some point in our lives.

I can already hear the chorus of “this is obvious” and that’s good. But let me ask you, when was the last time you extended that same warmth, caring, and kindness to yourself?

That is precisely what self-compassion is. When faced with our own personal shortcomings and struggles, most people are quick to judge, condemn, and punish themselves. Even now, some of you are defending that behavior. I can hear you, “my struggles occur because I made a mistake”, “I have high standards”, “there’s no excuse for not achieving my goals”, etc.
The people that treat us that way in our personal lives, we usually don’t keep around for very long. So we should make it our goal to practice self-compassion and focus on achieving that goal so that we can be kinder to ourselves.

The 3 Elements of Self-Compassion

Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgement

Compassion emphasizes being kind to yourself. The world is a difficult place, and it’s not always possible to be or achieve what you want. It’s great to pursue ambitious goals. The key is when we fall short, to recognize the difficulties and our imperfection, to realize that a shortcoming does not make us inadequate or incomplete. Judging ourselves for the failure creates suffering that is expressed as stress, frustration, and self-criticism.

Common Humanity vs Isolation

In the face of our defeats, many have a tendency to feel like they are the only ones who have failed. That they alone are damaged in some way and that’s the reason for the failure. The truth is the opposite. All humans are imperfect, fragile, and have many shortcomings. It’s not something to be ashamed of or a reason to judge yourself. Those experiences, those areas for improvement, those failures are shared by all of humanity, not just you.

Mindfulness vs Over-Identification

The last piece is the mindfulness element. This requires that we recognize our fears and emotions when faced with our struggles and hold our attention on keeping them in perspective. Approach the situation and your feelings with openness and clarity. Be fully present in your emotions without suppressing them or amplifying them. This takes focus and practice, but it’s something that once you learn will be beneficial in your daily life.

Self-Compassion Training Exercises

Compassion is like a muscle, the more you practice it the more it develops. So to help you get started on your compassion journey, below are 3 exercises you can do to start leveling up your self-compassion skills.

How would you treat a friend?

As mentioned earlier, we’re usually much better at showing compassion to others than we are to ourselves. So reframe your situation and imagine how you would treat a friend experiencing what you are going through. What would you tell them? How is it different than what you have been telling yourself? Should it be different?

Changing your critical self-talk

The way we talk to ourselves has a profound effect on all areas of our life. Identifying negative self-talk and replacing it with more positive communication is the foundation for improving the way you relate to yourself. This one takes a lot of practice, stick with it.

Keep a self-compassion journal

For some, writing down your feelings can help you process them. Doing it from the perspective of compassion can enhance your mental well-being. Sometimes reviewing our thoughts later when we have a cooler head can reveal issues in the way we reason or communicate with ourselves.

Woman looking at herself in the mirror

Want to Learn More?

Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) was developed by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff. They have written books on the subject and have a mindful self-compassion program and workshops. As authors and teachers, they have developed and taught a variety of self-compassion practices. They have videos, courses, workbooks, compassion training programs, and are a tremendous resource for all things related to compassion.