When stress strikes, our self-compassion often takes a hit, and we consequently have little patience and empathy for ourselves.
Yet when life feels hard, self-compassion is exactly what we need. Studies show that self-compassion is a critical source of strength and resilience for people undergoing major stressors. People who practice self-compassion typically have greater well-being and lower levels of anxiety and depression.
Now is the perfect time to start showing up for yourself. So the next time you’re feeling stressed, consider these five ways to be kinder to yourself.
1. Acknowledge the Hardship
Self-critical thoughts often take the form of frustration. “Why am I not getting my work done?” “I should be able to focus right now.” But if you’re experiencing hardship, you probably are doing the best that you can in that moment.
Acknowledge the hurdles you’re facing. Recognize that the current situation is stressful, and you’re struggling, says Lea Seigen Shinraku, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The San Francisco Center for Self-Compassion. To start, she suggests putting your hands over your heart and reciting the phrase below (you can revise to what resonates most with you):
“This is a time of uncertainty, and it’s very hard.
Uncertainty and challenging times are part of life.
May I give myself gentleness and kindness right now.”
2. Get Curious
During a stressful situation, you are probably not just experiencing an emotion, but also emotions about that emotion. “I can’t believe I’m still upset,” for example, or, “That was such a stupid thought.” This phenomenon, termed “Meta-emotion,” is judging or berating yourself for reacting a certain way.
Stop the loop by getting curious. Take a step back and observe your emotions with an inquisitive mindset. For example, “That’s interesting. I wonder where that came from?” “Why do I feel this way?” “What do I need right now?” These kinds of open-ended questions can lead to productive solutions that help you feel better.
3. Recite a Mantra
Research has found that reciting mantras reduces rumination and relaxes the nervous system. Regularly using mantras can even “reprogram the mind to think in a different way—one that is focused on what you want, not what you fear,” says Yvonne Tally, a mindfulness teacher and author of “Breaking Up with Busy.”
Shinraku suggests starting with a single word, such as “peace,” “calm,” or “safe.” You also can create a sentence that speaks to something you’re struggling with, such as: “It is healthy to have fun,” “It is okay to do nothing,” or “My mistakes help me grow.”
Another option is to pair your mantra with a positive activity. Repeat it while exercising in the morning, for example, or while showering or taking a walk. What matters most is consistency. The more often you think it, the more likely you are to believe it.
4. Get Help from Nature
Studies show that connecting with nature, even if only through imagery, decreases fear, anxiety, and negative thinking. If you can find a green space to walk in, use the time to create a conscious connection among “the body, breath, and nature, and remind yourself that you are a significant part of this planet and humankind,” says Tally.
Do you work and live in the city? Hang a beautiful landscape in your workspace where you can easily see it. Perhaps a tree has been planted nearby; note how it changes each day or season, Shinraku says. Even watching animal live-cams, she says, can serve as a reminder that “the world that you are part of is bigger than your home or your room.”
5. Savor Simple Comforts
Savoring small, everyday comforts is a practice that fosters gratitude and happiness. Simply appreciating a refreshingly cool shower, the smell and taste of a cup of coffee, or the friendly greeting from a pet can help you feel content in the moment. Every day, take a moment to appreciate the small stuff.
Above all else, “give yourself permission to take care of yourself,” Tally says. “As each of us does this, we take care of others that we love, as well.”