Lots of us are good at showing compassion and kindness to other people. What many of us aren't great at is showing ourselves the same understanding. Our inner critic and negative self-talk can be hard to ignore. But dwelling on mistakes and focusing on faults makes it hard to maintain personal resilience and good mental wellbeing. We could all use a little more self-compassion.
The concept of self-compassion has three important elements:
- Mindfulness - being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them or dwelling on them
- Common humanity - a recognition that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes
- Self-kindness - caring for yourself the way you would a friend or loved one in a similar situation
Why is self-compassion good for your mental wellbeing?
Research shows that people who exercise higher levels of self-compassion tend to be more resilient than those who don't. They have less of a physical response to stressful situations and spend less time dwelling on them after the fact. This is partly because self-compassion involves actively recognising your strengths and achievements, which boosts self-confidence and our belief in our ability to cope with difficult situations. But self-compassion also has an impact on our biology.
Stress is your body's natural response to a perceived threat, sometimes called the 'fight or flight' response. A recent study by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford* has found that exercising self-compassion helps to calm the heart rate and shut down this threat response. Participants in the study demonstrated a state of relaxation and security. They also reported feeling a stronger connection with other people.
If you exercise self-compassion, you're also more likely to adopt healthy self-care behaviours such as getting plenty of exercise, eating well and establishing healthy sleep patterns. Put simply, you're more likely to make choices that boost your physical health, which is crucial for your mental wellbeing.
Read our article Take care of your physical health to learn more about the link between your physical health and mental wellbeing.
Self-compassion also encourages personal and professional development, which in turn improves our confidence and self-esteem. That's because it allows us to consider our strengths and skill set objectively without fear of criticism and judgement. We're then able to identify areas for improvement and make a change for the better.
5 ways to show yourself more compassion
At its heart, self-compassion is about self-care or looking after yourself the way you would a friend. In fact, thinking about what you might say to a loved one in a similar situation is a good starting point. What advice would you give them?
Here are a few ways you can start showing yourself a little more kindness and understanding:
- Practice mindfulness - learn how to notice and observe your thoughts without judging them. Mindfulness encourages you to be curious and self-aware, understanding that your thoughts and assumptions are just that. They're not facts.
- Reward yourself - celebrate your successes and achievements. Keep a list of your personal skills and strengths to review in moments of self-doubt
- Take a break - time away from your day-to-day routine and a change of scenery can help you keep things in perspective
- Strengthen your connections - kindness is contagious! By showing love and understanding to the people who are important to you, you're more likely to show yourself the same compassion
- Do things you enjoy - spending time on our passions, hobbies and interests is good for the soul.
Give yourself a break
Start today with our free online course: Mindfulness for beginners. Understand the concept of mindfulness and how to use it for better mental wellbeing