why self-compassion boosts our mental wellbeing

Self-compassion is key to developing good mental health. It's not about being over-indulgent or too easy on ourselves; there are key steps we can take to look after ourselves more.

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It’s easy to show compassion to our loved ones, but it can be a real challenge to show ourselves the same understanding. Our inner critics and negative self-talk can be hard to ignore.

But dwelling on mistakes, and focusing on faults, makes it hard to develop resilience and good mental wellbeing. Self-compassion, on the other hand, helps to build these things. But what is self-compassion?

'Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you're good enough, self-compassion asks what's good for you, what do you need?'

Kristin Neff

associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin's department of educational psychology

self-compassion has three important elements:

mindful awareness

This involves being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them or dwelling on them so that you can keep engaging in life.

self-kindness

It's important to give yourself the same warmth and kindness you'd offer a friend or loved one in a similar situation.

common humanity

We all make mistakes sometimes. It helps to remember that nobody is perfect.

why is self-compassion good for your mental wellbeing?

It’s common to feel stressed and be hard on ourselves, especially in a culture that's so focused on performance and achieving targets. Research shows that people who have higher levels of self-compassion are often more resilient than those who aren't as compassionate. They have less of a physical response to stressful situations and spend less time dwelling on these situations after they've happened.

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 impacts our biology. A self-critical, or unkind stance, towards yourself when you're going through testing times, activates your body's natural stress response, sometimes called the "fight or flight" response.

A recent study by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford* found that exercising self-compassion helps calm your heart rate and shut down this threat response. Study participants demonstrated a state of relaxation and security. They also reported feeling a stronger connection to other people.

If you exercise self-compassion, you're also more likely to:

  • take better care of your physical and mental health by adopting healthy behaviours such as exercise, eating better, and healthy sleeping patterns
  • cope better with adversities
  • take more initiative and responsibility
  • be less fearful of making mistakes and rejection
  • be more emotionally intelligent, happy, and optimistic

Self-compassion also encourages personal and professional development, which further improves our confidence and self-esteem. This helps us remember our strengths and skill set objectively without fear of criticism and judgement. We're then able to identify areas for improvement and make changes for the better.

“My life now is so much better. Having counselling and being able to understand everything has impacted on so many areas of my life; my relationship, friendships and family, work, my social life, but perhaps most importantly, how I view myself and respect myself. I feel more confident as a result of counselling and everything has started to slot into place. My work productivity has improved so much.”

Georgina

caba client

five ways to show yourself more compassion

Some people may feel self-compassion is self-indulgent, or self-pitying, and therefore be reluctant to practise it.

But developing the ability to face and manage our difficulties, without isolating ourselves from others and becoming absorbed in our own pain, is the essence of courageous living.

Being able to attend to your own difficulties and challenges enables you to have the emotional capacity to engage with others - and life in general - in a more helpful way.

join our mindfulness for beginners course to learn more about self-compassion

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Here are a few ways you can show yourself more kindness and understanding:

  • practice mindfulness - this will teach you 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. The're not facts.
  • reward yourself - it's important to celebrate your successes and achievements. Keep a list of your personal skills and strengths. You can review these 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. Getting outdoors in the fresh air also boosts our mental health.
  • 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 - try to find a better work-life balance that allows you to spend time on your passions, hobbies, and interests to boost your mood.

find out about our emotional support

There are everyday and exceptional things that affect us all at some point in our lives. We're here for you. We can arrange for you to receive counselling sessions to help you work through any difficulties you're facing. Our support is free, impartial and confidential.

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further reading 

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