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The Self-Compassion Break: A Mindfulness Practice for Hard Times

Rather than shutting down or beating ourselves up when we hurt, self-compassion engages our emotional intelligence through kindness and mindful awareness.

One of the facts of life is that every person will face hardship and pain. At some point, we will each experience feelings of loss, inadequacy, and failure. We might feel stretched to our limits or hopeless about all the injustice in the world, or question our ability to help the people we love or even to navigate our own lives.

Another fact of life is that even the most difficult and painful moments don’t last. There is always a path forward; we grow and learn from our mistakes; and in time, things will look and feel different than they do when we’re at our lowest points.

But when we’re hurting, it’s hard to remember that fact. Our brains and bodies perceive feelings of distress as signs of threat, sometimes to our very self-concept, triggering a stress response that overrides our ability to hold a larger perspective.

Instead, we struggle against the discomfort we feel. We shut down, isolate, or lash out. Other times the feelings consume us, and we sink into the quicksand of self-criticism and negative self-talk.

Sometimes we cycle through all of these modes in a self-perpetuating negative habit loop that fuels stress and puts our mental and physical health at risk.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Rather than shutting down or being locked in battle with ourselves when we’re hurting, self-compassion engages our innate emotional intelligence through self-kindness and mindful awareness.

Through her research, educational psychologist Kristen Neff has shown that when we practice self-compassion, the threat-defense response is disrupted. We experience the release of oxytocin and endorphins, which reduce stress and increase feelings of safety.

In this calmer space, we’re able to engage our wiser, more reasonable self, the part of us that can hold a larger perspective, offer comfort, and make rational choices about our next best steps.

And self-compassion is generative. Research suggests that people who cultivate compassion for themselves during difficult times are happier, experience greater life satisfaction, have stronger relationships, enjoy better health, and experience less anxiety and depression. They also exhibit greater resilience to cope with stressful life events.

Be Kind to Yourself

Rhonda Magee

A Moment of Self-Compassion

Micro Practice · 3 mins

How Do You Practice Self-compassion?

Practicing self-compassion means treating yourself the way you would treat a friend who is going through a hard time.

When someone you care for is suffering, how do you act? You likely acknowledge that they’re in pain and reach out to them, providing a caring, safe, and non-judgmental space for them. You might put your arm around them or hold their hand, offering kindness and comfort.

You reflect back to them the good things you know about them, and help them gain perspective on their situation. When they’re ready, you might help them develop a plan for moving forward.

Through mindful self-compassion, we offer the same kindness to ourselves. We acknowledge that This is hard. We are gentle with ourselves, providing comfort and safety and countering the self-critical voice. We remind ourselves that hurt and difficulty are just one part of life—a part that everyone experiences—and that these feelings are temporary. We invite a wise and caring presence into the room.

Listen to Melli O’Brien explain the Self-Compassion Practice

In the Self-Compassion Practice, Neff offers the following three steps:

  1. The first step is to acknowledge that we’re in pain. We’re real about what’s showing up for us in the present moment, without judgment, and say to ourselves or say aloud:

    This is a moment of suffering.

    It doesn’t matter what kind of difficulty you’re facing, when you simply acknowledge it and let it be there without trying to change it or push it away, you stop the struggle.

    This is a moment of suffering.

  2. Next, we recognize that pain is universal. Every human being experiences sadness, loss, disappointment, fear, worry, and shame. Remembering our common humanity can help awaken something bigger in us. We’re reminded that pain, no matter how personal, is not ours alone to carry.

    Suffering is a part of life. I am not alone in feeling this way.

  3. Finally, we extend kindness, caring, and soothing to ourselves. You might even place your hands over your heart center as you say:

    May I be kind to myself. May I be kind to myself.

You can repeat these steps, saying the phrases as many times as you need for them to feel real to you.

If it feels right, you might also ask yourself what you need right now or what action you might take that would feel nourishing and helpful.

Try It for Yourself

Rhonda Magee

STOP for Self-Compassion

Micro Practice · 3 mins

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The Healing Power of Self-Compassion

Are you wondering how to thrive in a post COVID world? Research is showing that self-compassion is the master key to bouncing back from life's challenges. It helps reduce stress, develop healthy habits and unlock creativity.

Join Rhonda Magee as she shares powerful meditations and on-the-spot techniques to cultivate the emotional grounding for a better world for us all.

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