More Reasons for Self-Compassion

Does kindness matter?  This simple question is central to a recent article in Diabetes Spectrum highlighting research revealing the health benefits of self-compassion.  According to the article “Self-compassion is defined as the practice of treating oneself with kindness, care, and concern in the face of negative events.”  The article goes on to state that “self-criticism, a common consequence of self-care failure . . . can be seen as the opposite of self-compassion”.  Although this article focuses on the effects of self-compassion and its absence on diabetes patients in particular, it is clear that these health concerns can be more broadly generalized.  The article cites “A series of experimental studies suggest[ing] that quantifiable physiological and neurological processes underlie the experience of self-compassion.”  Furthermore, “consistent evidence suggests that self-compassion is related to physical and psychological health”.  As an example, “in a study [see citation below]* in patients with obesity and pain problems, self-compassion predicted lower negative affect, higher positive affect, more adaptive pain coping, higher pain self-efficacy, and lower pain catastrophizing.”

Not surprisingly, the opposite has also been shown to be true.  For example, ” the opposites of self-compassion, including self criticism, self-hate, self-judgment, and negative perfectionism, have been linked to greater psychological distress, including depression.”  The article is full of additional confirmations, citations and examples of the positive health effects, both physical and psychological, of self-compassion and the related negative consequences of its deficiency.

An article in the Washington Post that refers to this research also cites a book by Kristin Neff titled “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself”.  In it, the author speaks of the three elements of self-compassion:

  • Self-kindness – the ability to be understanding with yourself rather than judgmental or harshly critical;
  • Common humanity – the recognition that none of us is perfect and all of us make mistakes, thus viewing ourselves as part of the human experience;
  • Mindfulness – the ability to pay attention to the present moment, neither dwelling on the past nor excessively worrying about the future.

If you’ve been following this blog, you may recognize these themes.  In fact, a very recent post discusses the benefits of self-care which are obviously closely related to self-compassion.  The articles referred to here also talk about the ways in which we sabotage ourselves.  For example, some of us may believe that being kind to ourselves needs to be secondary to taking care of others.  Think about that:  how can you give others something you are unwilling to give to yourself?  Furthermore, the consequences of denying ourselves the compassion that we wish to share with others can be pretty dire.   From the Washington Post article: “The opposite of self-compassion is emotional reactivity, isolation, self-judgment and unhealthy perfectionism, all of which have been linked to depression, stress and reduced quality of life.”

These ideas are echoed in an article in Health Psychology Open.  It states that “Substantial evidence supports the idea that self-compassion
can reduce perceived stress”.   Research findings show that  “people who have higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better — they have less of a physical stress response when they are stuck in traffic, have an argument with their spouse or don’t get that job offer — and they spend less time reactivating stressful events by dwelling on them.”  Since chronic stress has direct effects on all aspects of our health, this is no small thing.  Additional research is also cited in this article indicating that people with higher levels of self-compassion are more likely to start and adhere to healthy behaviors which further enhances the benefits.  In other words, self-compassion promotes better health which contributes to better feelings about oneself which enables more self-compassion.  Conversely, negative self-care leads to poorer health which takes one’s self-image in a downhill spiral in the opposite direction.

So next time you’re tempted to run yourself down for any reason, it might be worth remembering that berating yourself may be more than just a temporary mood darkener.  It just might have more serious negative health ramifications that could be avoided with a little kindness.  Isn’t that simple step worth the effort?  Try noticing those negative thoughts.  Maybe you can remind yourself that “to err is human, to forgive, divine”.  Our world would be a safer and healthier place if we all practiced a little more kindness.  You can start that practice with yourself.  If you want to treat other people well and you want other people to treat you well, you can set an example by treating yourself well, too.  Your health care practitioners will applaud!


* Wren A, Somers T, Wright M, Goetz M, Leary M, Fras A. Self-compassion in patients with persistent musculoskeletal pain: relationship of self-compassion to adjustment to persistent pain. J Pain Symptom Manage 2012;43:759–770


Prioritizing Time

Prioritizing Time

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga

It happened again this week.  There were several tasks I had committed myself to and as I strove to complete them the afternoon wore on. Before I realized how much time had elapsed the shadows were beginning to lengthen.  My plan had been to go for a walk that afternoon, but the day was quickly getting away from me.  The days are shortening now, but fortunately the mild temperatures are mostly holding and daylight still extends at least until 6:30 or 7:00.  So despite the late hour, there was still time to get at least half an hour or 45 minutes worth of walking before the light expired.  But I was in the grip of inertia.  In case you’ve forgotten your high school physics, the basic law says that a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  We’ve talked many times about how hard it is to get moving again after we’ve stopped.  This applies to the short term also.

My tasks had kept me sitting in front of the computer and now all I could think of was all of the things I had not finished and still needed to do.  But I forced myself to get out of the chair and put on my walking shoes.  “I can finish all this later,” I thought and repeated it like a mantra until I began to believe it.  As usual, within 10 minutes of putting one foot in front of the other I was so glad that I had gotten outside that all of those undone tasks quickly faded into the background.  My whole body responded to the movement, the air, the sunlight, the colors and smells of the great outdoors.  When I finished my walk I was so glad I had taken the time.  And, amazingly, I was still able to get everything done that I wanted to complete that day.  Anything left undone was really not so important after all.

Sometimes we feel the lure of perceived demands and deny ourselves the nourishment we need for our own mental and physical health.  You may have heard it said, “when I’m on my death bed the last thing I will regret is not spending more time cleaning my house” or at the office or doing any number of mundane things that we convince ourselves are necessary.  Certainly completing these jobs can give us a sense of satisfaction.  In the case of employment-related tasks sometimes our income may seem to depend on their timely completion.  But how often does an extra 10, 20 or even 30 minutes really make a difference? Even when you imagine that other people are depending on you, surprisingly in most cases all those other people will find a way to manage on their own during your absence. If you get up from your desk and walk around the room, or go up and down the nearest staircase, or outside in the parking lot, or simply spend 15 minutes stretching, will you even remember next week, or next month or next year that you took that time off?  In the long run it really won’t matter.  Most of us expect a level of perfection from ourselves that is usually not required.   Unless you’re a surgeon.  But even then, you still need to take time off and recharge your own internal batteries or your skills will decline and that precision will fade away.  I certainly wouldn’t want that overworked surgeon operating on me!

Think about how you treat yourself if you miss a deadline or fall short of your own exacting standards.  Now think about how you would treat a friend if they did the same thing.  Chances are you would make allowances for the friend.  You might say, “Don’t worry about it.  You did the best you could.”  Would you give yourself the same leeway?  In general, we are much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else in our lives.  Try letting yourself off the hook.  After all, you will most likely have another opportunity to do that same task at another time and maybe you’ll do it differently next time.

In the long run the time you take to boost your physical and mental will serve you well.  In all aspects of your life.  Not taking that time may be far more dangerous than any consequences that might arise when you take that time.  And here’s a surprising fact:  even if you don’t complete all the tasks you set for yourself, the world will still turn, daylight will still arrive on time and the people who care about you will still care about you.  I suppose there are always cases for argument.  But instead of wasting your precious time making those arguments, how about going for that walk instead.  Or build time for a class into your schedule.  Most of you know I teach classes so I consider myself committed to that time.  But just like everyone else I need my own renewal time in order to be the best I can for those who come to my classes.  I consider my “alone time” to be sacred space.  I try not to let anything encroach on that space.  Surprisingly it is really not that hard to schedule around the time you take for yourself.  It just takes a commitment.

Moving your body is a great way to nurture yourself and renew your energy.  No matter what it is you need to do, you will be able to do it better if you take care of yourself first.  Then, instead of berating yourself for your shortcomings, you can pat yourself on the back for making a positive difference in your own life.  What could be more important than that!