We all hear a lot about the importance of self-care.
It seems like everyone is talking about self-care. So much so that we might choose to stop listening. Self-care can feel like one more thing to do, or it can feel overly-indulgent, or it can feel inaccessible. Who has the time/money/energy for self-care when we are just trying to make it through our to-do list as it is? Compassion is different.
Kristin Neff, a leader in self-compassion research, makes a distinction between self-compassion and self-care. Self-compassion is based on the word compassion – which means “to suffer with” or to show concern for another person’s suffering. Self compassion means extending the same concern to ourselves that we easily give to others.
As Neff explains. “Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”
Neff breaks self-compassion down into three elements:
- Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgement
- Common Humanity vs Isolation
- Mindfulness vs Over-Identificaiton
The importance of self-compassion is simple. How can we take care of others if we don’t first take care of ourselves? We are less able to take care of others when we are depleted. Unmitigated stress can cause us to miss important cues about what students/youth are feeling, showing and telling us through their behavior and therefore lose important opportunities for connection and corregulation.
Self-compassion is a gift we can give ourselves when our own depletion causes us to snap at loved ones or lose patience with the students or youth we work with in our educational and therapeutic environments. Practicing self-compassion is critical if we want to co-regulate with dysregulated youth.
Try these three simple practices based on Neff’s three elements for self-compassion:
1. Speak to yourself as you would a friend.
If your friend was struggling with the same stress, anxiety or self-doubt you are feeling, how would you encourage them? Imagine talking a friend through the challenges you face in this moment and gift yourself that same pep talk.
2. You are not alone
When things are difficult, try pausing and acknowledging that this moment is hard but you are not the only one facing challenges. So many people do hard things everyday. Try to feel less alone with this simple Loving Kindness visualization.
Get comfortable and breathe slowly. Take a moment to picture someone you love very much (or someone who loves you very much) and send them three wishes – May you be healthy, May you be happy, May you be peaceful. Next, still breathing slowly, picture yourself and send yourself these same three wishes – May I be healthy, May I be happy, May I be peaceful. Finally, breathing slowly, imagine extending these same three wishes to everyone you can imagine in the whole world – May they be healthy, May they be happy, May they be peaceful. Still breathing slowly, notice how you feel after this simple practice? More connected to the world around you? More supported? Always remember, you are not alone.
3. Use your breathing and movement to change how you feel.
Even when you are feeling discomfort in this moment, you don’t have to be stuck in it. Give yourself permission to feel discomfort in this moment knowing that this discomfort will pass. Ease discomfort when you need to by reminding yourself that you can change how you feel at any time by slowing down your breathing as you trace your hand; by stretching your body to energize or calm or by taking a walk.
Instead of feeling like we have just one more thing to add to our to-list, create a tool kit of simple breathing, mindfulness and movement strategies to practice as self-compassion first aid whenever you need it throughout the day.