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The Best Thing I've Learned to Do for My Mental Health

The best thing I’ve ever learned to do for my mental health is also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever learned to do: practicing self-compassion.

I first learned about self-compassion through reading “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion” by Christopher Germer. Since then, the concept has become my refuge in the tumultuous journey of anxiety and depression. In some ways, it has even formed the basis of my spirituality. I love knowing no matter what life throws my way, the experience can be softened by simply treating myself kindly.

That being said, practicing self-compassion is often difficult for me because it goes against the grain of how I’ve treated myself for so long. My anxiety is almost the antithesis to self-compassion. Although I think my anxious thoughts are trying to “protect” me by preparing me for the worst, they end up being abusive by the constant way they make me feel like crap. For me, anxiety also coexists with negative self-talk, making me think I’m a horrible person and can’t handle what comes my way. Beyond just learning about self-compassion, I’ve had to practice it repeatedly, almost as if it’s a new musical instrument I’m trying to learn from the very beginning. Thankfully, when I remember to practice it, I tend to feel a sense of softening and relief almost immediately.

The biggest way I practice self-compassion is through letting it seep into my self-talk. I try to notice when I’m struggling and when I do, I usually realize I’m also having negative thoughts about myself. Then, I’ll try to say something kind to myself, like “Ouch, this really hurts,” or “I’m sorry, sweetie.” Sometimes I don’t even have to say anything to myself. I can just put a hand on my heart, or even just having the intention to be kind to myself makes me soften a little bit. It doesn’t take the pain away by any means — sometimes it actually makes me more aware of the aching in my heart — but it makes me feel like I’m not the enemy, that I’m not fighting myself. It helps me remember I’m here with myself, I’m my own friend and we’re in this together. It gives a little bit of breathing space to the painful experience.

When I’m really struggling, sometimes it’s hard to change my self-talk. When that’s the case, and when I remember to do it, I’ll try to practice self-compassion by doing soothing activities. This can mean taking a bubble bath, watching a show, cuddling up under lots of blankets, drinking a hot mug of coffee or tea, getting into comfy clothes, putting a heat pack on my stomach, writing a message to a friend — anything that makes me feel like I’m being a mother to myself.

Self-compassion has given me a completely new way to relate to myself and to my struggle. It helps me open up to the pain, accept it and most importantly, to be kind to myself while I’m feeling it. It helps give me a shred of peace and comfort when things get really hard, no matter how hard things may be.

If you are interested in learning more, I recommend beginning here.

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Thinkstock photo via dariooo.