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Fight depression and anxiety with a little self-compassionThe concept of “self-compassion” is currently getting a lot of attention in the world of psychology. Self-compassion refers to adopting a kind, non-judgemental, accepting attitude toward yourself and your problems. Research shows that self-compassion can buffer against anxiety and depression, increase our resilience to stress and even improve our feelings of happiness, optimism and conscientiousness.
In contrast, low self-compassion is associated with self-criticism and rumination (the tendency to get stuck in cycles of over-analysis and worry): the two primary contributors to anxiety and depression, and other mental health issues.
Therefore, if you want to lead a happier life, you must practice self-compassion. Learn to adopt a more compassionate attitude toward yourself with these five ideas:
1. Accept your weaknessesAdopting greater self-compassion means being able to recognise your weakness and vulnerabilities, and feel compassionate toward those misgivings rather than berating yourself for having them. Got huge thighs? So what? At least you have a cute nose! Have a poor memory? OK, annoying at times but at least you have a big heart. After all, what does berating yourself really do anyway? It doesn’t change a weakness; in fact it just gives it more power. Instead, choose to feel compassion for yourself for your vulnerabilities.
2. Reappraise mistakesPerfectionism is the arch-nemesis of self-compassion. Many people struggling with stress, anxiety and depression set themselves (and often others) unrealistic expectations that they can never live up to. Each small mistake or mishap is interpreted as a sign of their failure as a human being, and leads to an onslaught of self-beatings. Sure, it’s important to face your mistakes to learn what to do differently in the future but adding self-beatings adds no value other than to make you unhappy. From now on when you make a mistake, smile, and say something kind to yourself.
3. Embrace your feelingsMost of us don’t like “negative” feelings; anger, sadness, guilt, anxiety, depression so we fight with those feelings deeming them 'bad' and 'undesirable'. Yet negative feelings such as these are a normal part of being human: they make us neither good nor bad, they are mere transitory experiences. Yet when we resist our negative feelings and criticise ourselves for feeling them, we add fuel to the emotion making us feel even worse about ourselves. All of a sudden we feel angry about our anxiety, or disappointed about our depression. Double whammy of bad feelings is the result!
The answer? Don't wallow with enjoyment in your misery, but observe these emotions as you would a good friend who is feeling down – reach out with kind words, a listening ear and a big hug.
4. Visualise a compassionate selfA great way to practice self-compassion is through your imagination. Think of someone you know who is quite a compassionate person; be it a friend, teacher, or some legendary figure like Ghandi. Imagine meeting this person on a beautiful day by the ocean and expressing your concerns. How would this person respond in a compassionate manner? What would they say to you? How would they act? Now visualise adopting this same compassionate approach to yourself. What would it look like? Feel like? Each time you feel down, have a bad day or feel particularly self-critical take a few deep breaths while you imagine a compassionate scene like this one.
5. Understand mindfulnessAs well as a regular practice you can adopt to clear the mind and become more present in life, mindfulness is a way of living in each moment. It involves acceptance of everything that is here in the now; choosing to allow and embrace what already is rather than judge it or resist it or wish it were different. There is a strong link between mindfulness and self-compassion. In fact, research that has investigated the benefits of mindfulness-based psychology techniques suggests that one of the ways it has such a positive impact on wellbeing and reducing mental health issues is because it increases self-compassion.
Adopt a daily practice of mindfulness and also read a good book or listen to a seminar on the concept of mindfulness as a whole. There is an evidence-based approach that psychologists now use called "mindfulness-based stress reduction” and “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” that may also be worth exploring.
Last week: How to manage your anger
Author of De-stress Your Success: Get More of What You Want with Less Time, Stress and Effort, Sacha Crouch is a business, executive and life coach who helps people create the work and lives they love. Read more from Sacha Crouch's blogFor other free lifestyle resources visit Destress Your Success.