We tend to be hard task-masters, tough on ourselves. We sometimes view gentleness, compassion and kindness as weaknesses. Does this sound familiar?
Our media and the world around us is aggressive and harsh, cruel and judgmental. This further supports the idea that kindness and self-compassion are soft options.
Yet a shift from anxiety to self-compassion is empowering. Here’s how:
Firstly, acknowledge when you’re going through a stressful time.
Let yourself feel how your body is dealing with it. Acknowledge your stomach may be fluttering with anxiety or your heart beating faster with an underlying fear. Or that there is physical ‘pain’ from grief.
This acknowledgement is incredibly important because what we usually do is the opposite. We find ways of running away from the feeling.
Often by keeping even busier, or turning to other ways of ignoring and acknowledging the present moment. If it’s physical pain we turn to medication.
‘Be your own inner ally’
Place a hand over your heart centre (the centre of your chest). This is a gentle gesture which stimulates the brain’s association with care-giving.
Remember how you might place a hand on a friend’s shoulder or give someone a hug? These gestures of comfort to friends and family in need are the same kinds of gestures you can apply to yourself. They physically stimulate your brain to produce a soothing response.
A hand or both hands on your heart centre.
A hand on your abdomen.
You could hold both hands together with thumbs gently touching.
Or a hand softly laid towards your throat.
Even a gentle smile on your lips sends positive messages to your brain.
Any of these will support your body’s direction towards tenderness and self-care. Our bodies are designed to respond to these gestures. They’re naturally in-built within us.
You may remember being held by a parent or loved-one when you were a child. And if you didn’t experience this unconditional love, you can provide that for yourself now.
If you are experiencing physical pain, this too helps the experience. It doesn’t necessarily heal the pain but lets you relax and lessen tension.
The Language of Love
In addition to this gentle touch, find warm soothing words. We’re usually quick to give ourselves a range of insults –
‘I’m no good at this’
‘I’m a mess’
‘What does this pain mean’ … and so on.
And we think we are alone. Remember all humans experience similar doubts and difficulties!
Transform your negative words to acknowledge your situation without harshness. State simply how you feel.
‘This feels tough.’
‘I’m feeling overwhelmed right now.’
‘I feel very upset.’
And describe what the pain or discomfort in your body is really like.
Soften and Relax
Allow your body to soften and relax. Let the discomfort be there, rather than resisting it.
Then give yourself some moments of quiet meditation. This doesn’t mean you’re zoning out. It can simply be sitting still in your own company.
Continue the steps outlined above, and focus on your breathing.
Bring your awareness to the simple physical act of stillness. Let the rhythm of your breath soothe you.
Keep your focus on your body, directed away from overwhelming stories and spiralling negative thoughts in your head. Imagine you are breathing replenishing breath into all areas that may be physically hurting.
Shift from Anxiety to Self-compassion
When we push negative thoughts and emotions away this is a defensive reaction. It always involves tensing the body and experiencing fear in some shape or form.
Breathe in calm, and breathe it out. As you breathe out the calm, you create a cocoon of calm and harmony around you.
If we ‘Attend and befriend’ as Tara Brach calls this process, we soften into the experience. This lets us stay calm and far more in control!
So your soothing words to yourself may now be:
‘I’m doing well right now.’
‘This feels great.’
‘I feel calm and strong.’
‘My feet keep me grounded.’
‘I breathe in calm, I breathe out calm.’
Explore simple language that comes to you from your settled, tender space of stillness. Your brain listens to these words and responds. Physical discomfort may lessen.
All of the above steps can take place in seconds:
- Stop and notice what’s going on for you – a moment of anxiety or overwhelm.
- Let your body help you to be caring and tender, with gestures of kindness to yourself.
- Acknowledge what is happening: this is tough.
- Focus on your body: the breath and your grounding.
- Use kind language to yourself: All is well.
Now you’re in a position of strength. You don’t have to continue re-playing anxiety. Gentle self-compassion empowers you to move on undaunted.
And that’s powerful strength!
Useful to know each year: around 19 November (2019) is Self-Care Week. It highlights how each of us can be engaged in our own health and well-being.
Being mindful helps you build a connection with your health; mentally, physically and spiritually. When you are self-compassionate you’re taking care of yourself!
If you’d like more guidance on meditation and self-compassion, browse my website, Place of Serenity.
Authors associated with Self-compassionate Meditation:
Yvette Jane at Place of Serenity
Helping you empower yourself with peace
Updated blog post first published 11 November 2016