How Self-Compassion Can Reduce Stress

This article discusses how compassion can help you to navigate the uncertainty of the coming weeks and months, and provides a simple exercise to get started.

Why Self-Compassion is Needed Right Now

As we transition slowly into re-opening the country, there will be many different reactions from the people around us. Some will flock to the shops, some will stay cocooned. Some will feel relieved, some will feel angry, or scared or excited or overwhelmed or sad, or any number of reactions to the change and uncertainty we all face. Some people will feel a cocktail of all those emotions, shaken and stirred, thank you very much.

When you find yourself jumping to judge someone else's reactions or emotions, take a moment to reflect on how you are reacting or judging your own emotions, and instead show yourself compassion for what you are experiencing.

Studies conducted by Kristin Neff PhD showed that those who were generally more compassionate towards themselves had lower cortisol levels in stressful situations, and were more forgiving and kind to others. That is to say, they managed stress better and had stronger relationships. Imagine how much more happier you would be if you were less stressed and felt closer to other people. As we move through a phase of change in our country and our world, there is no better time than now to increase our sense of compassion and community.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

Dr Neff recommends the following strategy for practicing self-compassion. Imagine you were talking to a friend who was upset. Go through the stages of kind inquiry and soothing you would with your friend, and then turn that kindness towards yourself. This is common sense, yes. But it needs to become common practice before change can take place. You can know that exercise makes you fitter, but only actually doing exercise will make you fit. In the same way, you need to practice self-compassion to build self-compassion.

  1. Notice - Notice there is an emotion present which feels uncomfortable or unpleasant. Acknowledge the reality of this emotion without pushing it away.

  2. Be Kind and Open Hearted - Allow space for the emotion, and speak kindly to yourself as if you were speaking to someone you loved dearly. Words like "I'm so sorry you're going through this," "I'm here," "It's going to be OK." Learn to soothe yourself as you would a loved one.

  3. Tap into our Shared Human Experience - Next acknowledge that this emotion or experience is a shared human experience. You are intrinsically connected to every other human being on the planet - we all have highs and lows, and moments where we said or did something we regret. We are all imperfect, and that's OK. It doesn't mean you stay stuck in the emotion, or that you become passive in your own life. You just give yourself a moment to feel connected with full permission to be a flawed human being. Then you move on with an action, having met the emotion with kindness.

For example, let's say you are in the shops and feel angry that other people aren't socially distancing.

1. Notice. Acknowledge you feel angry, and notice where you feel it in the body. Get curious.

2. Be Kind and Open Hearted. Show yourself kindness. "I'm really sorry this is happening. I'm sorry that you can't control this right now. I'm sorry you're afraid." Breathe deeply into that, and be present and compassionate with yourself.

3. Tap into our Shared Human Experience. Know that every other human being has experienced anger and fear before. Every person has been annoyed by someone else. And then move on by taking an action that you need to take for your own wellbeing. (Maybe you return to the shops when it's quieter, or walk down a different aisle, or find a strategy to maintain distance).

Where to From Here

Practice this self-soothing exercise when you notice difficult emotions arise in the body. By acknowledging and soothing the emotions, you allow the charge of the emotion to move through the body, instead of denying its presence and holding on to it as tension. Change starts with each person. If we deny or judge our own experience, we will be quick to discount or reject the experience of others. By learning to be kinder to ourselves, we can slowly begin to extend that compassion outwards, and create kinder businesses, environments and communities.

Wishing you well this week.

With warmth,


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