Jamie Price is a meditation and wellness expert and co-founder of Stop, Breathe & Think, a personalized emotional wellness app that offers mindfulness and meditation activities to help you navigate life’s ups and downs.
If you’ve ever felt really down on yourself, you are not alone. When it comes to ourselves, we tend to focus on our weaknesses or the things we need to improve. We can be especially critical when we compare ourselves to other people on social media, and feel like we don’t measure up. It’s as if we have an inner-critic, picking ourselves apart for where we fall short. But this kind of negative self-talk just creates more stress and anxiety.
The good news is that you can actually change the conversation in your head so that you become your own inner ally. When you treat yourself like you would a good friend, with more kindness and understanding, it can increase your physical and mental health, improve your sleep, and even improve your relationships. (1,2,3,4) You will begin to feel a little more comfortable in your own skin, and be able to accept yourself, just as you are.
Follow these three self-compassion boosting steps to start treating yourself like you would a BFF.
Step One: Check in with yourself like you would a good friend.
When you’re rushing from A to B, caught up in your to do list and the momentum of the day, it’s easy to forget to turn a little attention inward to see how you are feeling. You probably know what it’s like when someone asks how you are and really means it. You can actually do that for yourself! Try it right now—turn your attention inward, and check in like a good friend.
Take a few moments and notice how you feel mentally. What is your state of mind? Are your thoughts racing about from one thing to the next, slow and foggy, or maybe calm and clear?
Check in with how you feel physically. It’s easy to just notice the places that hurt, but see if you can also notice the places that feel neutral or good.
Check in with how you’re feeling. Ask yourself “how are you?” If you’d like you can place your hand on your heart, and get a sense of how you are feeling emotionally. It’s common to feel multiple things at the same time, for example, I write this, I’m feeling excited and hopeful, but also a little stressed and nervous.
What’s interesting about check-in is that it’s an effective mindfulness practice in itself, and often just by checking in and naming how you feel, the intensity of what you’re feeling can be reduced, helping you gain some distance and perspective.
Step Two: Become aware of how you talk to yourself, and shift your inner dialogue to be more compassionate.
When you feel compassion, you tend to notice others’ pain and suffering. It can inspire a sense of warmth and caring, and even the desire to help. You are more likely to be understanding when someone makes a mistake, because you realize that mistakes are part of what makes us all human (5).
Imagine what it would be like if you had this perspective towards yourself! The good news is that if you don’t treat yourself so kindly right now, you can start to change that with a simple exercise called “How would you treat a friend?”
Imagine a close friend is feeling badly about themselves, or struggling in some way. What would you do?
When you are at your best, what would you say to them, and how would you say it? Think about your tone of voice.
Now think about when you feel badly about yourself, or have experienced some kind of failure or mistake. How do you speak to yourself? Do you have a critical voice? What kind of things do you say to yourself?
Think about what it would be like if you treated yourself the same way you would treat a friend. How do you think you would change if you used that same voice you use with a friend when talking to yourself?
Step 3: Practice self-compassion.
Research shows that self-compassion is linked to increasing many of the ways you can feel well-being, like optimism, connectedness, and self confidence. When you are able to be patient with yourself and use kind words, or when you can be actively soothing to yourself when things go wrong, you will feel less stressed and more resilient (6). To strengthen these skills, try a self-compassion exercise in the Stop, Breathe & Think app, or follow the steps below.
Call to mind a situation in your life right now that is challenging or difficult. Perhaps you made a mistake, failed at something, or worry that you’re not good enough. If you are new to this exercise, I recommend picking something easy, and not too intense.
• Without getting caught up in the storyline of what happened, just notice how that situation makes you feel.
• Notice the thoughts and emotions that come and go, and any changes in your body, or sensations that arise.
• As you identify what you’re feeling, acknowledge that what you’re experiencing is suffering. It can be as simple as saying to yourself “Oh, this is suffering,” or “This is stress.” or this is what pain feels like.
Now think about how you’re not alone in your suffering.
• Experiencing suffering, making mistakes, failing, and not always getting what we want are all part of being human. Even though the way each of us experiences suffering may be different, it’s part of life for everyone.
• Reflect on how as a human being you are not alone in your suffering. It can be with a phrase like “I’m not alone,” “we’re all in the same boat,” or maybe something like “we all have challenges.”
Then place your hand on your heart.
• Notice the sensations there. Maybe you feel your heartbeat, or a sense of warmth.
• Whatever you feel, see if you can be with it with a sense of kindness and understanding
• And finally, make a kind wish for yourself.
Try something like, “May I be strong and healthy.” “May I feel feel peaceful, safe, and content.” Or take a moment to ask yourself what you need to hear right now, and repeat that a few times.
Stay with these kind and compassionate feelings for as long as you’d like.
This is part one in Jamie’s self-compassion series for Mental Health Awareness Month. Read part two here.