It’s hard enough to practice self-compassion when life is a hum of usual activity. When our world explodes, it feels impossible.
But self-compassion doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a simple definition derived from the writings of the Dalai Lama: Compassion is “a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it” (from his 1995 book The Power of Compassion).
As such, below you’ll find a list of five small ways you can practice self-compassion inspired by the Dalai Lama’s powerful words:
- Write about your pain. Listen to yourself—to the ugly thoughts, the inconvenient feelings, the crawl-out-of-your-skin sensations—like you would a good friend, without interruption and without judgment. Put on headphones with your favorite music, and let everything out. Shift your entire focus into your writing. Set a timer for 15 minutes, if you’d like.
- Slow down. Temper your workaholic ways. Take a nap or two. Sit down by a window and stare at the sky. Don’t let busyness block your ability to acknowledge that you’re hurting, and that rest is what you need to feed yourself.
- Avoid the substances. It’s all-too easy to pour yourself a glass of wine—then two, then five, then more, and more. Try to replace drinking with something else—something that gets to the core of the pain. That might be a heart-to-heart with a friend, or an appointment with a therapist. As Aidan Donnelley Rowley wrote, “alcohol makes the hard stuff harder.” Or, if you’d rather not think about the pain right now, that’s OK. Pick a healthy distraction. Paint. Bake. Take a walk. See a funny movie. Read a good book. Dance.
- Listen to a loving-kindness meditation specifically for cultivating self-compassion. This excellent 20-minute practice comes from self-compassion researcher and psychologist Kristin Neff. Guided meditations are wonderful to listen to in general. There are so many options, so keep searching if you don’t find one that speaks to you. Some other free options to try: from Tara Brach; the UCLA Mindfulness Center; and UCSD Center for Mindfulness.
- Pen a letter to yourself. According to an article on Mindful.org, you can use one of these formats—whatever resonates most with you: Write a letter from the perspective of an imaginary friend who’s unconditionally wise, loving, and compassionate; write as if you’re talking to a friend who’s struggling with the same stuff as you are; or write from the compassionate part of you to the you that’s struggling.
Self-compassion is always available to you; you can access it at any time.
And it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Self-compassion during a difficult time can simply be taking a few deep breaths; acknowledging that yes, this feels terrible and awful; and saying, I am here for you. I always am.