Self-Compassion

  • 8 Wellbeing Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

    Close Up of Dandelion Seeds

     

    Increased gratitude is a common result of practicing mindfulness. As we start paying more attention to our thoughts, we notice where we block ourselves from appreciating the good things in life.

     

    Say, for example, that you always used to get angry when stuck in traffic, but now when you bring your focus to where you are (rather than where you want to get to) you notice things such as the song on the radio or a beautiful scene beyond the car window. We can’t feel grateful for things we don’t notice, and so mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.

     

    The Science of Gratitude

     

    Robert Emmons, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at UC Davis in California, and has been studying the effects of gratitude on over 1,000 people. The participants in his study ranged in age from eight to eighty, and were split into two groups.

    One group was asked to keep a journal in which they were to write five ‘gifts’ that they were grateful for each day, while the other group had to write down five ‘hassles’.

    Some examples of the ‘gifts’ people noted were generosity of friends, and watching a sunset through the clouds. Examples of ‘hassles’ were things like difficulty in finding a parking space, and burning their dinner.

    What Emmons found was that those who had kept a gratitude journal experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits: a 25% improvement in overall health and wellbeing in comparison with the group focussing on what had gone wrong each day.

    Here are just eight of the many ways in which mindfully practicing gratitude can improve our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others around us.

     

    1. Greater Energy Levels

     

    When we experience sadness or depression, our energy levels slump way down. Sometimes doing the simplest of tasks can feel like running a marathon. However, people who kept a gratitude journal in Emmons study reported that their energy levels improved. Many also started exercising more.

    People with depression are often told that exercise will help, however this study suggests it may in fact work the other way around; that being mindful of what’s good about our life plays an important role in having the energy to exercise.

     

    2. Better Sleep

     

    On average, study participants found that they were not only sleeping 10% longer than they used to, but that the quality of their sleep was improved. They reported waking up feeling more refreshed and ready for the coming day.

     

    3. Reduced Blood Pressure

     

    With our current hectic lifestyles, high blood pressure has become a common problem. However, simply taking moments to focus our attention on our loved ones or friends, or on the beauty of nature, can lower blood pressure, thus taking the strain off our hearts, brains and many other parts of the body.

     

    4. Feeling Less Lonely

     

    Gratitude strengthens relationships, not just with people we know, but with other people in general. When we’re mindful of positive traits and behaviours in others, we feel more supported, and that leads to us feeling more able to support others in return.

    When we feel safer, we become less selfish, as we no longer feel such a need to look out for our own interests above others. This leads to us feeling less lonely and isolated, as we are more able to truly connect with others.

     

    Happy Dog Running

     

    5. Fewer Physical Symptoms

     

    People who wrote down five things they were grateful for each day became less affected by aches, pains and other physical symptoms. This ties in with other studies which have found that mindfulness can ease uncomfortable physical symptoms, even chronic pain.

     

    6. Improved Attentiveness

     

    As we mentioned earlier in this post, mindfulness and gratitude are very much linked. Over time, those who deliberately thought about what they were grateful for experienced greater attentiveness. They felt more alert and aware of life.

     

    7. Taking Better Care of Health

     

    Practicing daily gratitude resulted in many participants taking better care of their physical health. Mindful individuals tend to have better self-control and are less impulsive, in many areas of life, including eating habits. Add this to more exercise and better quality of sleep, and you’ve got an all-round much healthier life.

     

    8. Increased Joy

     

    When we steer our attention to what’s good about the world, we naturally feel a greater sense of joy. It’s important to note, however, that gratitude isn’t about denying what’s wrong; solely acknowledging the positive and avoiding the negative can do us much psychological harm.

    But, noticing good things, when and where they exist, takes us away from seeing the world as a bad place where bad things happen.

    In truth, life contains both good and bad, but mindful gratitude helps us appreciate those lovely moments in life, whilst at the same time enabling us to make more of those lovely moments for others.

     

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  • 5 Common Misconceptions of Self-Compassion

     

     

    There are many misconceptions in mindfulness, and the same can be said of self-compassion.

    Many of those that sign up to the mindful self-compassion course may even find themselves questioning what mindful self-compassion is as they join their first session.

    In this article, we dispel the myths of self-compassion to help explain what it means to practice.

     

    1. Self-Compassion is Self-Pity

    Self-compassion is not the same as self-pity. Self-pity is usually an isolating and lonely experience.

    It makes us feel disconnected from the world, like we’re the only one with a problem. It can lead us to catastrophise or wallow in our problems, which both tend to make us feel worse.

    The truth is; everyone suffers, everyone feels pain, and everyone experiences challenging emotions such as sadness, disappointment and jealousy. It’s not just us, even if it might feel like it from time to time! When we accept that, we’re moving toward self-compassion. 

     

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    With self-compassion we recognise that experiencing difficulty is part of the human experience. This allows us to feel more connected with others and offers a sense of belonging. 

    Self-Compassion invites us to notice when difficult feelings or thoughts come up and take steps to avoid slipping into self-pity. Instead of listening to inner doubt, judgement or self-criticism, we tune in to our self-compassionate voice and create space for what we really need. 

    With self-pity we’re digging ourselves a hole that might be hard to get out of. With self-compassion, we’re offering ourselves a ladder out of a difficult situation! 

     

    Sad Dog

     

    2. Self-Compassion is Self-Indulgent

    You may have heard the phrase 'self-care isn’t selfish’, and the same can be said of self-compassion. It’s not self-centred or indulgent. And here’s why…

    When we’re investing time in our own wellbeing, we’re investing time in those around us. Our friends and family want us to be happy. Self-compassionate can help us to feel happier.

    When we take the time to work on ourselves, it increases our resilience and inner strength. Strength that we can save for when it’s most needed, reducing the need to lean on others. It also enables us to offer others greater support when they are having a difficult time. 

    We’re keeping our battery charged, so we have more to offer the world. We can’t do that well if we’re depleted.

    What’s more, self-compassion breeds compassion. When we are more self-compassionate towards ourselves it can be much easier to be compassionate towards others.

     

    "Self-care isn't always baths and chocolate (sometimes it will be), but it is an intentional stance to do what you need to do for yourself."

     

    -- EMILY MITCHELL

     

    The big question in mindful self-compassion is ‘What do I need?’. We’re getting into the habit of asking ourselves this question, letting the answers be what they are, then offering kind encouragement to meet those needs.

     

    3. We Can Use Self-Compassion To Let Ourselves off the Hook

    Sorry to break it to you but self-compassion isn’t about giving us an excuse to not do something or allowing ourselves to always take the easy path. It’s better than that. It’s about making choices that help us instead of hindering. 

    In some cases, letting ourselves ‘off the hook’ might be the right thing to do. But in others, it might serve us best to take the tougher course of action. 

    This is where self-compassion can really come in handy. 

    Let’s take an example…

    There’s an event that in the right frame of mind we would really want to go to. Yet we’re feeling nervous or insecure about attending. 

    Many of us have been there, we’ve tried on six different outfits, the room is a mess, we’re starting to feel flustered and we’re on the edge of putting our pyjamas back on and eating an entire tub of Haagen Dazs. We're on the edge of self-pity. 

    Without self-compassion we might find we talk ourselves out of going, make excuses and later feel regret. 

    With self-compassion, we’re able to acknowledge how we really feel. 

     

    “I’m worried about what other people will think of me” 

    or;

    “I’m nervous that I won’t know anyone.” 

     

    And we can reply – in our heads or out loud – with words of encouragement.  Just like a friend might, we can say;

     

    “You can do this”

    “You’re a good person, if people don't like you then it doesn’t matter”

    “It’s OK, you’re just a bit nervous”

    or even; 

    “If you really don’t like it when you get there, you can leave”

     

    In giving ourselves this gentle encouragement, we can help to meet our actual needs with what will serve us well in the long-term.

     

    4. Self-Compassion Shows Weakness 

    Firstly, let’s start by saying that there is nothing remotely ‘wimpy’ or ‘weak’ about noticing that something is hard and trying to do something about it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  

    Think about the last time you faced a challenge and didn’t act with self-compassion. Perhaps you got irritated, jealous or even found yourself in a state of despair. It’s easy to do.

    When we’re dealing with a difficult emotion or challenge we often gravitate towards distracting ourselves or burying our heads in the sand. 

     

     

    When we act to support ourselves with self-compassion or seek to understand what we really need, it can be more challenging. We’re coming up close to how we feel – not in a harsh or mean way – but asking ourselves what we really need. We’re being honest with ourselves instead of slipping into reactive habits, and that can be hard to do. Which brings us to… 

     

    5. Self-Compassion is Easy

    So by this point you may have decided to give this self-compassion thing a try? Easy, right? 

    Well, just like mindfulness, self-compassion will take practice. (A lot of practice.) One day it might be easy and the next it might be more challenging! 

    If we’ve been lacking self-compassion for ourselves for a while it may feel completely alien to start cheering ourselves on. We may come up against feelings of ‘backdraft’ - a resistance to offering ourselves compassion.

    The trick is to keep trying and to build a regular practice. Attending an 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course can be a great way to do this. It might take patience and we will inevitably stumble. Just as we wouldn’t expect to learn any other valuable skill overnight, the same can be said of self-compassion. A teacher's input and the support of a group can really help. 

    Every time we don’t get it quite right it’s a learning curve... and an opportunity to practice self-compassion. As Hugh Grant’s character once said in Notting Hill, we can simply say ‘whoops a daisies’, give ourselves a pat on the back for trying and approach it from a new angle. 

     

    Build a Regular Practice on the 8-Week Self-Compassion Course.

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  • Comparing Ourselves with Others

    Selection of Fruit

     

    It makes sense that we compare ourselves with others; social belonging is important to us, so we look around at our peers and make judgements on how well we’re fitting in. Whilst it's natural for us to compare, this doesn’t mean it benefiting us.

     

    Fear and anxiety are natural functions of the brain, designed to help us survive. Yet when these traits, including social comparison, become overstimulated they can cripple us, rather than keep us safe.

    If we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves lacking in some way, this will leave us feeling not good enough and unable to express and enjoy our individuality.

    Reversely, if we’re comparing ourselves to others and feeling that we are better, this can put us into a self-righteous or judgemental mindset; one we might then feel we need to maintain.

    So how can we find peace with who we are, as we find ourselves, rather than basing our sense of self-worth on how we shape up in comparison with other people?

     

    Self-Esteem Relies on Comparison

     

    We may think that the antidote to being affected by social comparison is to have high self-esteem; to cultivate the belief that we are clever, good at our job, attractive, kind and loving, etc. However, rather than softening the sting of social comparison and helping us to accept ourselves, our desire for self-esteem actually drives us to compare in order to feel good.

    For us to feel attractive, self-esteem requires us to judge ourselves as above average in looks. If we’re to feel clever, we must achieve higher grades than our classmates. If we’re to feel like a kind person, we must try not get caught up in anger or selfishness like other people do, and so on.

     

    “The pursuit of high self-esteem has become a virtual religion, but research indicates this has serious downsides. Our culture has become so competitive we need to feel special and above average to just feel okay about ourselves (being called “average” is an insult).

    Most people, therefore, feel compelled to create what psychologists call a 'self-enhancement bias' – puffing ourselves up and putting others down so that we can feel superior in comparison.

    However, this constant need to feel better than our fellow human beings leads to a sense of isolation and separation.” 

    DR. KRISTIN NEFF

     

    Not only this, but when we compare ourselves to others and feel that we are less attractive or less successful, this really puts a dent in our self-worth.

    We might ask ourselves questions like, “How can I consider myself successful when my friend is earning more money than I am? That must mean I’m not successful.”

    Yet it is possible to untangle ourselves from thinking about our worth in terms of how we compare with others.

     

    Accepting Ourselves with Self-Compassion

     

    Whilst it’s true that we all share many things in common, including the pain and isolation of social comparison, it’s also true that we are unique in many ways. No one else has had quite the same life. No one else has exactly the same mind.

    We’re all dealing with a unique mix of personal history, brain wiring, physical abilities, personal limitations, emotions and thoughts. Remembering this can help us to become more grounded in the presence of who we are, not in relation to family, friends, colleagues or celebrities, but as an individual who is equally as valid as anyone else. 

     

     

    By adopting a more self-compassionate attitude towards ourselves, we can start to frame our lives differently. Instead of feeling that our achievements only count if they’re better than other people’s, we can start to realise that they count simply because we’ve achieved them.

    Say for example that we struggle daily with depression; if we come from a place of self-compassion, rather than self-esteem, we can see that our achievement of getting out of bed in the morning counts.

    These achievements are not because we’ve won some imaginary competition with others, but because it was hard for us to do, and yet we did it! And on days when we don’t manage anything, we can give ourselves a break and not add to our suffering by ranking ourselves as less than others.

    It can be useful to reflect on how we feel about ourselves, acknowledging our successes with an awareness of what it took for us to achieve them. We can view our failings with self-compassion, rather than belittling ourselves because other people seem to be doing much better.

     

    Self-Soothing Exercise

     

    1) A quick and effective way of accessing more self-compassion in this moment is to place our hands on our hearts.

    2) If it feels right, gently stroke that area, with the same kindness you might use to stroke a friend’s arm if they are feeling upset or a pet.

    3) Remember to breathe, noticing any unkind or judgemental thoughts that might arise and gently releasing them. 

    4) Acknowledge the presence of thoughts, yet if you can, try not to hold onto them.

    5) Just be with those thoughts, as a habitual chattering of the mind, rather than placing any sense of truth onto them.

    6) If it’s useful, you could try reminding yourself that you are always doing the best that you can in any moment, perhaps offering yourself some gentle words of encouragement. 

     

    Experiment with practicing this self-soothing technique whenever you notice that you’re judging your worth as a person in comparison to the worth you perceive in others.

     

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  • What Is Mindful Self-Compassion?

     

    An interview with mindfulness teacher and supervisor Jiva Masheder, as she reflects on the practice of mindful self-compassion. 

     

    Firstly, Can You Tell Us a Bit About Yourself?

    I came to mindfulness in 1997 and loved it immediately. In 2007 I started the Masters programme at Bangor University to train to teach mindfulness which I finished in 2012. 

    I find the practice so beneficial in terms of improved emotional stability and mood and greater clarity about my own internal processes, which gives me choices about how I want to be. 

    After 20 years of mindfulness practice, I still felt something was somehow missing. Mindful Self Compassion filled that space and has been enormously helpful to me in viewing myself more kindly. 

     

    What’s the Science Behind Self-Compassion?

    This works because we are very sensitive to an internal climate of criticism and judgement - it's like having someone nagging at you, all the time, and this contributes to anxiety and depression. 

    As mammals, we are hard-wired  to respond well to kindness and tenderness, and cultivating that as our internal climate is enormously beneficial for our wellbeing. It's also quite possible to do. 

    It turns out a kind internal motivator works better than a harsh one! Just think of the best teachers or coaches you've ever had - were they kind and encouraging? Or did they berate you at every turn?

    Dr. Kristin Neff, who co-wrote the Mindful Self-Compassion programme with Dr. Chris Germer, is a researcher on the subject of self-compassion. She has written three books on the subject; ‘Self-Compassion’, 'The Mindful Self Compassion Workbook’ and ‘Fierce Self-Compassion’.

     

    Cat Relaxing

     

    What Are Some of the Benefits of Self-Compassion?

    There's a mass of research to show benefits such as reductions in anxiety and stress, depression, and building resilience.

    It can help to improve communication and relationships, support healthy living and allow us to self-regulate emotion. It also offers a general sense of well-being and self-worth.

     

    Isn’t Self-Compassion All About Bubble Baths and Chocolate?

    The research shows that actually, when we are more self-compassionate, we are more likely to have good health behaviours. So while the occasional bubble bath and chocolate might be just the right thing, people are also more likely to eat healthily, exercise and get enough sleep.

    Self-compassion can also help us to draw clear boundaries so that we're choosing where, when and how to spend our time. When we focus on our values in a self-compassionate way we can protect what is important to us.

    For example, if we value family time it might mean declining an invitation to a work event we don't really want to attend to ensure we have the time (and energy) to dedicate to our family. 

    We don't get more self-indulgent - which is a common concern - we are more like a good parent who makes sure their child eats their broccoli!

     

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    Will Self-Compassion Help Me To Silence My Inner Critic?

    We do spend a session looking at the inner critic. People often feel that without it, they'll just lie in a bath and eat chocolate all day. 

    Instead, we learn to develop compassionate, encouraging motivation, which over time will come to replace the inner critic. This does take time. 

    Whilst self-compassion might not silence our inner critic, we can learn to relate to it differently and find a kinder motivation which can gradually replace the inner critic.

     

    Heart-Shaped Coffee & Fern

     

    How Does the Course Differ From the MBSR and MBCT Course?

    It's superficially similar - eight weeks, group course, practices and sharing. However, it includes more reflective guidance and written exercises. There’s also more discussion and exploration in small groups than you typically do in MBSR or MBCT. 

    As you'd expect, it also has a far bigger emphasis on self-kindness and a wider range of self-compassion practices to engage with. Many participants appreciate this as they're more likely to find a couple of practices that really resonate. 

    The course works well whether you've got experience in mindfulness or not. It's also a great follow-on course after a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course.

     

    Is There Any Home-Practice on the Course?

    From the first week there are practices to engage with and they are a crucial part of the course. They are shorter than MBSR, typically 15-20 minutes, and there's a wider range to choose from

    The suggestion is to do 20-30 minutes a day of guided practice. As with anything, the more time you give yourself to engage with the course, the more it will give you. The programme also equips participants with ongoing practices and reflective exercises beyond the course.

     

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  • My Mindfulness Journey : Attending an 8-Week Course

     

    I’ve been a self-taught mindfulness enthusiast for some years now. I’ve read articles, listened to talks, and sporadically practiced meditation, and found all of this to be useful in dealing with the depression and anxiety I’ve experienced since my pre-teens.

     

    So, when I decided to do an 8-Week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course, I just thought it would be a good way to solidify my existing knowledge, and maybe help me start practicing mindfulness meditation more regularly.

    I didn’t realise then how much deeper the course would take me, or how much of an impact the following eight weeks would make.

     

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    My Shaky Start

    I had a lot of anxiety before and during the first session. As someone who feels anxious about talking to new people, I found it quite challenging. But I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, which was comforting.

    I also found the first body scan meditation emotionally difficult – I found unexpected physical and emotional pain arising. But again, after listening to other peoples experiences afterwards, I learnt that I was not alone in this.

    The gentle guidance and support from the teacher, helped me to see that my difficulties were not a sign of failure or of ‘not doing it right’, just that I was getting in touch with myself.

    The challenges of the first session made me realise that I was not being as present with myself as I had thought, and although it was difficult, I was excited about continuing the MBSR course.

     

    Mindfulness Has Become a Lifestyle

    Having always practised mindfulness alone in the past, it was really useful to have structured guidance from the teacher, and to be given homework assignments to do each week.

    Even though I may not have always stuck to the homework, having it to come back to as a reference point was invaluable and encouraged me to stick with it, whereas in the past when I’ve practised alone it was all too easy to let long periods of time go by in between meditating or practicing being aware.

    The MBSR course has helped me incorporate mindfulness into my daily life, to the point where I would now notice its absence; in the same way that you would notice a difference if you stopped exercising after exercising regularly for a couple of months.

    New habits take time to develop, and I found that the course gave me the perfect space to develop those new habits in a supportive environment. The process was gentle; there was no pressure to do any of the practices. You were encouraged to adapt the practices if you needed to in a way to suit you.

    This relaxed and down-to-earth approach therefore created very little mental resistance in me that sometimes happens when we’re told what to do or how to do it. The focus was on intention and that in each moment we have a fresh opportunity to try again.

    This really suited me, and made me feel safe and supported.

     

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    Surprising Benefits

    Before the mindfulness course started, I thought that the only benefit I would get would be a slightly calmer mind. However, the actual benefits are far greater than that, and have taken me by surprise.

    The main difference I have noticed is that I now have the mental strength to make healthier choices.

    As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety since childhood, I’ve been told so many times that regular exercise and eating healthily will help, yet depression can make those things seem impossible.

    Some days it takes all my willpower just to get out of bed and face the day, so I haven’t felt able to develop a regular exercise routine or take the time to prepare healthy meals, even though I’ve tried many, many times throughout the years.

     

    Feeling Healthier

    Having completed the eight week mindfulness course, I find that my choices are changing in a natural way.

    I can’t say that it’s been effortless, yet feeling more present in my body and having greater mental clarity enables me to give myself that little push to make choices that nourish my body, rather than deplete it.

    For example, I’ve always been the kind of person who reaches for comfort food, cigarettes or alcohol to make me feel better in times of stress or upset.

    However, the mindfulness course has given me the skills to be able to soothe myself without always turning to those unhealthy things, which often didn’t really make me feel better anyway.

    That’s not to say that I don’t still smoke, drink or eat unhealthy food, but I feel more in control now. Those things have become something to indulge in from time to time, rather than an automatic, mindless coping mechanism.

    In fact, I’ve never felt so healthy in my life! I now feel like I can give my body the healthy things it needs, like giving a gift to myself.

     

    Learning to be Self-Compassionate 

    I’ve also noticed that I’ve become kinder to myself in other ways.

    For example, I don’t beat myself up so much for feeling depressed, anxious, angry or upset. I have a more compassionate space for those feelings within myself.

    Going within and getting to know ourselves better is never an easy journey; it can bring up challenging or uncomfortable feelings sometimes.

    But I’ve also discovered that it can be very freeing, and has made me feel hopeful about the future, something I’ve rarely ever felt. Being guided through this process sure beats trying to do it alone!

     

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  • How To Make Self-Care A Priority – This Week and Every Week!

     

    As this week is national self-care awareness week, now might be a good time to ask yourself the question... How do I care for myself?  

     

    Self-care in its simplest terms is our ability to care for our own well-being. In the media, the term is often presented with an emphasis on the outer self and the health of the body -- including exercise, diet and grooming.

    While this is true to a certain extent, a more holistic definition of self-care is one that encompasses both mind and body.

    Self-care is as much nourishing and nurturing the relationship we have with our mind as the one we have with our body.

     

    The Power of Practice

    The power of this practice is not to be underestimated – when we take actions to protect, maintain and improve our mental, emotional and physical well-being, we can expect to see a reduction in the negative effects of stress, a boost to our mood and improved resilience.

    Mindfulness is so crucial to the act of self-care. With the awareness that the practice gives us, we gain greater clarity of the relationship we have with ourselves. 

    When we weave mindfulness into our day, we are practising self-care.

     

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    We notice habits and addictions that don’t serve our well-being, or unkind judgemental thoughts about ourselves that have a negative impact on our actions and experiences.

    Often, this new awareness can precipitate a shift in mindset, and a desire to start treating ourselves with more care.

    It’s worth noting that mindfulness is especially important in the context of self-care because it allows us to ensure that we use it for the right reasons.

    Without a mindful attitude, we may use self-care as a form of distraction to avoid our feelings and edge around the reality of our experience.

     

     

    Developing Self-Compassion 

    At the heart of self-care is self-compassion -- an understanding, acceptance and kindness towards the self, and we can use this as a sign-post for developing a daily self-care habit.

    Building self-care into our lives needn’t be overwhelming -- it’s as simple as making time for a few small acts of care and kindness towards ourselves each day, whether that’s yoga, meditation, getting more sleep or cooking a tasty meal.

    Over time, this will build long-term feelings of well-being and resilience -- and self-care will no longer be something that we come to when we need it, but something that we have already embedded within our lives.

    Self-care goes a long way in helping us to better cope with everyday stresses, and far from being narcissistic or selfish, it is in fact the key to a fuller life -- because the more we look after ourselves, the more we have to give to our family and friends, helping us to mindfully connect with others. More time to the life that we lead. 

     

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  • How Mindfulness Can Help Prevent and Ease Burnout

    Pug Wrapped in Blanket

     

    Most kinds of work brings some level of stress, whether we’re in a position that entails a lot of responsibility or whether we have deadlines and standards to meet.

     

    We may find ourselves doing more than one person’s job without the extra pay. Or we may simply just not enjoy our work and find that we are feeling stressed and low because we feel unfulfilled.

    Work-related stress may leave us feeling exhausted, disillusioned and all out of compassion or care for our fellow colleagues or clients.

    Burnout doesn’t just affect us as individuals, but also the people we work with and provide services for. We may find we’re more impatient with customers, or may get overly defensive when a co-worker offers some constructive criticism.

    Fortunately, mindfulness helps us spot the signs of burnout before they become severe, and can also improve existing symptoms.

    For example, studies have shown that after participating in an eight-week mindfulness course healthcare professionals saw improved scores on the Maslach Burnout Inventory – a test which measures factors such as emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation.

     

    Recognising the Signs

    For some, burnout can creep up unnoticed. How many of us let our job take precedence over our individual well-being?

    Of course selflessness is admirable in certain circumstances however, when this attitude goes unchecked, we may start to see serious consequences in regards to our mental and physical health.

    Whilst we may think we’re doing a good job by dedicating ourselves so fully to the role, if our actions lead to burnout we’ll find ourselves no longer able to care about the role at all.

     

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    Although it may sound like a small thing, recognising and acknowledging how we are feeling is of vital importance.

    We can’t seek support without first noticing that we need to, and it can mean the difference between taking a few days off work to rest and being forced to take a long absence because of severe burnout.

    Through practicing mindfulness we become more aware of subtle changes in our mood and physical health, and can start to notice more quickly when we are struggling.

    Rather than waiting for a full meltdown before we take action, we can read the signals of our minds and bodies and start to take better care of ourselves.

     

    Using Creativity to Re-Focus

    It’s hard to pay attention when we’re exhausted or disillusioned. Whether it’s paperwork, or interacting with a client or colleague, tiredness and disinterest can lead to us making mistakes. When those mistakes are to do with someone’s health, finances or important services the consequences could be serious.

    However, staying focused becomes easier when we notice new and different things about a person or situation. Simply changing some of our fixed routines can help us see things in a new light, therefore keeping us engaged.

    For example, if you’re struggling to feel compassion towards a difficult client, practice mindfulness when you’re talking with them. Notice your beliefs about the person, and imagine that they may not be completely true. Try to see that person with fresh vision, as if you were meeting them for the first time.

    Or if the problem is repetitive paperwork, make small changes to help you focus. Try sitting in a different place. If you can’t do that, change the layout of your desk. Use a new pen and notice how it feels in your hand, notice how the ink looks on the paper.

    Although these may at first sound like pointless exercises, studies have shown that making simple changes to our environment or to our relationship with an object or action can greatly improve attention and focus.

    When we’re engaged with an activity, responding in a mindful way, we’re less likely to make mistakes or feel stressed.

     

    Self-Compassion & Self-Care

    How often do we show the same level of compassion to ourselves as we do for our loved ones and friends? Preventing or healing from burnout is impossible without taking care of ourselves and practicing some self-kindness.

    Far from being a fluffy or airy-fairy concept, self-compassion allows us to perform better in our jobs in a practical way, by preventing harmful burnout. Self-criticism and compassionately noticing where we can improve are not the same thing.

    Many of us confuse being hard on ourselves with being driven, yet without kindness we are likely to drive ourselves into a breakdown rather than towards long-term happiness and success.

    Using mindfulness to become aware of the ways in which we give ourselves a hard time, and to step out of habitual unhelpful ways of responding to our own emotional needs, helps us overcome or avoid symptoms of burnout and will also make us better at our jobs.

     

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  • The Importance of Rest

    Beach Path

     

    It’s easy to tell when a baby or small child is tired. They might cry, get super grouchy or throw an almighty tantrum. As we get older, we learn to regulate our behaviour more, and we become better at hiding our tiredness.

     

    We may still feel grouchy, but we can function. If we weren’t able to do this, commuting home at the end of the day would reach a whole new level of unpleasantness! However, just like when we’re small, our mood changes when we get tired. Whilst we’re able to hold back from crying and screaming, we might express our discomfort in other ways.

    For example, how many arguments with our partner/children/colleagues started because one of us was tired? Tiredness can result in poor judgement, mental fogginess, lowered capacity for compassion (for ourselves and others), and when it gets really bad we become more likely to have accidents.

    And yet, despite all of this, sometimes we are just as oblivious to our need to rest as a toddler having a tantrum. We have become so skilled at hiding our tiredness that even we can’t tell when we need to rest.

     

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    Running on Empty

     

    We can stumble through our daily duties without noticing much about what’s happening around us, or what’s going on within. Before we know it, we can end up totally exhausted, without having noticed how we got there. Our bodies might be tired enough for rest, but our minds are still racing away, thinking and worrying about all the things we need to do.

    When we aren’t mindful, we can easily strain ourselves. For example, we might drink caffeine to stay awake, until we crash. If we’re self-critical, we can put too much pressure on ourselves to work long hours and not give ourselves adequate time to relax. We might forfeit sleep in order to get more done, and then wonder why we can’t switch off when we do eventually go to bed.

    Over time, this way of being will deplete us. Despite everything we might achieve through pushing ourselves, we will inevitably lose our sense of joy and our peace of mind. When we’re tired, the world can seem so grey. But by slowing down and paying attention, we can start to notice the beauty of life again.

     

    Listening to the Body & Mind

     

    Being mindful helps us tune into ourselves so that we can hear those subtle signals from our bodies and minds that tell us it’s time to rest. Whether it’s through meditating daily, or setting reminders throughout the day to prompt us to take a moment to check in with ourselves, the important thing is to make the time to listen.

     

    Are our muscles tight? Do parts of our bodies ache or hurt?

    Do we feel lethargic?

    When did we last eat something or drink some water?

    And how do we feel emotionally?

    Are we feeling stressed, depressed, angry, overwhelmed?

     

    If we receive a ton of yes answers, it might be time to get some rest! By paying more attention to how our bodies feel, we become less likely to get snappy or irritable when we’re tired, and more able to take positive action.

     

    Give Yourself Permission to Do Nothing!

     

    Doing ‘nothing’ may seem in total opposition to society’s obsession with ‘achieving’, and so for some of us it can be really hard to do. But it’s important. Apart from food and water, rest is our next most basic and essential need. So why do we feel so bad about giving ourselves time for it?

    In the same way that we set aside time to exercise, we need to deliberately take time to rest, both physically and mentally. Developing a mindful bedtime routine is a good way to wind down at the end of each day.

    For example, switching off our phones at least an hour before we go to sleep can help us mentally switch off from work and life stresses. Setting aside a regular time to meditate is also useful, and gives us a chance to check in with how we’re feeling.

    Just remember that any thoughts about being lazy, not deserving the time out, needing to do other things first, whatever, are all just thoughts. We do deserve to enjoy life from a rested mind!

     

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  • 3 Mindfulness Tips for When Life Gets Hectic

    Busy Bee on Lavender

     

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if life was just a gentle unfolding of events? If work and family stuff and exams and big changes were all neatly spaced out and we never had to think of more than one thing at once?

     

    Although we may find ourselves regularly wishing for such a life, the truth is that life gets hectic! And sometimes there’s so much to get done or to think about that we might feel like our minds might overflow.

    Wishing for life to be different tends to make our to-do lists seem even heavier, so what’s the alternative? How can mindfulness help when we seemingly don’t have any spare time for it?

     

    Write It Down

    Trying to keep mental to-do lists can be highly stressful. We worry whether we’ve forgotten anything, or become anxious about potentially forgetting something unless we tell ourselves about it again and again.

    This constant stream of forward planning can make it hard to sleep at night, or makes us grouchy with our loved ones.

    Instead of storing everything in your mind, try writing it down. This can give the mind an opportunity to let go and relax for a while. As well as being practical, this is also a great way to take care of your well-being.

     

    Journal & Pencil

     

    Make Use of the Breath

    There are lots of great quotes out there about how we must ‘make time’ for the important stuff, and while the sentiment is true and sometimes useful, at other times it can just make us feel guilty or irritated.

    If we’re rushed off our feet it can be really hard to find time for things like a seated meditation, even though we know it will help. During busy periods it may be more beneficial to simply make better use of something we’re already doing, and that is breathing.

    When we’re busy trying to meet deadlines, moving home, revising for an exam, looking after the children, etc., we’re breathing throughout all of these activities. So whilst we’re breathing anyway, we might as well make the most of it!

     

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    Whenever you notice that you’re feeling tense, or that you’re not paying attention to what’s happening because you’re thinking ahead to everything else you need to get done, try just deepening the breath for a short while.

    It won’t slow you down or get in the way of what you’re doing; in fact by becoming a little more present and mindful you’ll probably make less mistakes, and feel less stressed out too.

     

    Heart-shaped Coffee

     

    Small Acts of Self-Compassion

    The stress of being busy can take its toll, and we may find that we’re feeling angry, irritable, tearful or depressed as a result.

    It’s during these moments of distress or discomfort that we could really do with a little self-compassion. And a little goes a long way! Regular, small acts of self-compassion can drastically transform your day, as can weaving mindfulness into our day.

    Research showhttps that treating ourselves compassionately triggers the production of oxytocin – a hormone which helps us feel loved and safe.

    In her book, ‘Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind’, Dr. Kristin Neff explains how when we give ourselves a comforting hug, oxytocin is released in the same way as when someone else hugs us.

    So we don’t have to wait until someone else reaches out a caring hand; giving ourselves the same kind treatment has the same effect.

    Next time you notice that you’re feeling distressed or uncomfortable, try wrapping your arms around yourself for a compassionate hug, or try gently stroking your own arm or face, whilst gently acknowledging how hard things are for you right now.

    Talk to yourself, either out loud or inwardly, in the same way you would to a friend who was feeling overwhelmed or pressured by having so much to do. See how it changes your experience.

     

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  • Communicating Mindfully When We Are Upset


    communication

     

    Communication is the bridge which links our innermost thoughts and feelings to the outside world. Yet, if our emotions get the better of us we can cause problems with unskilful communication.

     

    Sometimes we may be so caught up in our emotions that we’re not even sure of what it is we are trying to say. If we are mindless of our tone and the type of language we are using, we may appear hostile, angry or just confusing to the people we are trying to communicate with. This could leave us feeling misunderstood and isolated.

    But if we can communicate mindfully, we have a much better chance of being heard and understood, as well as understanding others.

     

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    Understanding Ourselves First

     

    The first step to mindful communication is to become really clear on what we’re thinking and feeling. Unless we pay attention to our own experience, we don’t have much chance of successfully expressing that experience to others.

    Say, for example, that we are angry with our partner. We are upset because they have been neglectful in some way. We may spend days, or even weeks feeling angry at this person for what they’ve done, or haven’t done. Without us necessarily being aware of it, our emotions may affect how we communicate with them.

    We might become snappy or unkind, and although this might give us the impression that we are expressing our feelings, it isn’t a mindful, clear way of communicating. What’s likely to happen is that the other person picks up on our upset, feels upset or defensive in return, and we end up in a vicious cycle of bitterness and emotional outbursts.

    Through practicing mindfulness, however, we become more in tune with our inner experience, and recognise fluctuations in our mood.

    If our partner has upset us, instead of holding onto the resentment we feel, or wishing it had never happened, we can acknowledge our feelings and the situation with honesty. For example, “My boyfriend didn’t remember our anniversary, and that makes me feel sad/angry/unappreciated, etc.”

    By seeing and owning our feelings first, we can approach communication with clarity and build stronger relationships.

     

    What Do I Want From This Communication?

     

    As well as being mindful of our true feelings, it’s also useful to become clear on what we want to get out of communicating with a particular person.

     

    Do we want them to feel bad about how they’ve made us feel?

    Do we want to punish them with our words?

    Or do we want to feel understood?

    Do we want to find a resolution to a problem?

     

    Maybe we want to understand the other person better, as well as helping them understand us.

    If we feel like we want to use our words to get revenge on someone because they have hurt us, this is a natural feeling and doesn’t mean that we’re a bad person. Yet do we really want to act on these feelings and say things which might cause someone pain?

    It may be a good idea to just sit with these feelings for a while, rather than verbally lashing out and saying something we may later regret.

     

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    If we want to feel understood, or find a solution to a conflict or problem, it’s helpful to take a few moments to think about the kind of tone or language we want to use in order to help us meet our communication goals.

    Noticing Our Tone & Language

     

    How we choose to phrase our feelings is important. The types of words we use can make a big difference in how we are understood, as can our tone. Even if the words we are using seem diplomatic, if our tone is bitter, sarcastic or mean, those words will count for very little.

    Most of us get defensive when we feel attacked, and so it makes sense to try and limit this if we want open and meaningful dialogue with someone. After all, the person may not even be aware that they have caused us any bad feelings!

    Rather than listing all the things we feel that the person did wrong, it might be more helpful to speak openly about how we feel, and why.

    For example, instead of saying, “You ignored me! I’m really angry at you!” we can mindfully rephrase it and say something like, “I don’t know if you meant to, but I felt ignored by you earlier. It made me feel really hurt and angry. Can we talk about what happened?”

    We can notice our tone, and try to take as much blame out of it as is possible. This way, we are allowing space for a real, two-way conversation. We are staying open-minded about what really happened; although we feel upset, we recognise the fact that we may have misunderstood something, or that the other person is going through their own emotions.

    Mindful communication isn’t about getting it right all the time. We’re all dealing with our own internal worlds, and sometimes we just can’t avoid misunderstandings and heated conversations. But we can become more mindful communicators at any time, just as soon as we notice that we’re stuck in a blaming mindset.

    Even if we notice half-way through an argument, we can make efforts to re-evaluate our stance and approach the situation with more mindfulness and compassion.

     

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