Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Self-compassion is one of the most important foundations to building a healthy life. It’s particularly important during COVID-19 as we experience a collective trauma, which ultimately puts our body into a constant stress state where we enter the fight-or-flight mode, which impacts our health in a series of way and causes burnout.
So, what is self-compassion exactly? According to Kristin Neff, PhD, the foremost researcher on the topic, self-compassion is treating yourself the way you’d treat someone else who is suffering. Unfortunately, many of us see self-compassion as an act of self-indulgence, selfishness, or self-pity. However, what we don’t realize is that providing ourselves with a little kindness and compassion can actually make it easier to achieve health goals, particularly when stress is high.
Here are ten nourishing ways to offer yourself the compassion and kindness you deserve:
1. Spend time in nature
Nature can be a very grounding experience for most people and offers a slew of brain and body health benefits—from promoting focus, cognition and mental health improvements, as well as improved fitness. If you’re unable to get outside, some scientific studies show that even listening to nature sounds—like a thunderstorm, rain or ocean sounds—or looking at a photo of a nature scene can quickly and significantly lower stress hormones and anxiety.
2. Take time to just relax
Before our new era of social distancing, most of us were drastically overscheduled. Hitting the pause button is a dramatic shift for us and we are putting a ton of pressure on ourselves to continue to be productive, with our health and wellness goals as no exception. If motivation during this time is taking a hit, honour your body and take time to rest. Create some time to do nothing so you be more present in your body and breath. Sit down and watch your favourite television program, read that book that has been collecting dust on your bedside table or take a long, warm bath with some Epsom salts.
3. Put your weight loss goals on hold
If you are trying to lose weight while spending more time at home than usual, you could be facing issues like being in the kitchen more often and not getting as much movement every day. Until we return to normal, now may be the time to back off your weight-loss goals and simply focus on doing exercise that you enjoy and doing your best to eat nutrient dense foods. There is also evidence that practicing self-compassion can actually help you avoid binge eating, which means you could still meet that weight-loss goal after all in an indirect way.
4. Limit news and social media consumption
I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with clients about their anxiety and stress levels with recent news and happenings. Stress triggers cortisol, the stress hormone. By taking steps to feel less overwhelmed, it can assist in reducing cortisol levels. With uncertainty being one of the highest causes for spikes in cortisol, take steps to reduce it by limiting social media and news exposure to no more than an hour at most per day. Replace your early morning and before bed social media check-in’s with a good stretch routine and meditation practice. In return, anxiety will reduce and so will your stress levels.
5. Tackle that complicated recipe you’re dying to try
One of the great benefits of being in self-isolation, is spending more time at home and having more time to prepare our meals. Take advantage of the additional kitchen time and prepare yourself a complicated or more indulgent recipe you have always wanted to try but never seemed to have the time. Plus, having the time to make and enjoy it will allow you to appreciate the meal in a more mindful way. Mindful and sensual eating can lead to more enjoyment and less guilt around the indulgence.
6. Embrace the basics again
Many are really stressing out the fact that they don’t have access to a gym or complicated equipment to keep active and fit. There is not time like the present to get back to basics. Get outside for a walk or a run. Use items around your home during exercise, like stairs or a chair for step ups, and focus on body weight movements to improve your quality of movement. When you do this, you create a better mind-muscle connection that takes the concentration off the weight you’re lifting and focus it on form. Not only will this approach take the stress and pressure off of working out at home, but it can also reduce your risk of injury, and even allow you to improve performance when you start heavier lifting again.
7. Try breathwork
When you feel anxiety of stress getting high, breathwork can be a quick and easy way to bring you a sense of calm. I teach my clients the 5-5-7 breathing method. Set aside two minutes whenever tension gets high. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and breath out for 7 seconds. This will pump your body full of oxygen and put your body into a relaxed parasympathetic state, which is the optimal state for digestion and healing.
8. Be more self-accepting
Habits are changing for us all right now. Chances are, we aren’t our best version of ourselves during unprecedented times. As our world can feel like its upside down, we need to embrace ourselves and actions without judgement or shame, and allow yourself to indulge or go a little astray. It’s ok to have that glass of wine or use profanity more so than usual. You may need it a little more than you would under normal circumstances.
9. Practice an attitude of gratitude with your body
One of my clients started this practice during the pandemic. Instead of stressing about not being able to go to the gym and do her usual routine, she started reminding herself that she still had ways to keep healthy and fit, but also that she was healthy, strong and unencumbered. Recognize all that your body enables you to do each and every day. Think about all the ways your body has enabled you to experience peace or enjoyment. By reframing your perspective from being critical of your body to actually appreciating it, you will be more inspired to take better care of it.
10. Write a letter to yourself
When a situation is causing you stress or pain, write a letter to yourself describing the situation, how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way. Use this exercise to nurture all of your feels. Working through your feelings and actually allowing yourself to experience them deeply enables you to recover from them more quickly.
Tell me, what do you do to practice self-kindness and compassion these days?