You might take regular tea breaks during the day at home or at work, but how about taking a 5-minute ‘self-compassion break’ when you feel upset or when something is causing you stress?
Speaking to yourself as a kind friend might, this exercise accesses your own internal soothing system.
- Pause and take some slow deep breaths.
- Place one hand on your heart and the other hand on top and feel the warmth of this gentle touch.
- Say to yourself, either silently or out loud:
- “This is painful” or “this is a difficult experience.” Maybe even whisper to yourself “Ouch! This hurts.”
- “Suffering is a normal part of life” or “everybody feels this way sometimes.”
- “May I be kind to myself in this moment.”
You can adjust the wording to find what works best for you.
The three statements allow us first to acknowledge our own pain or suffering, secondly they remind us that what we are going through is a human experience and we are not alone in what we feel, and lastly they allow the parts of us that are hurt or anxious to receive some care and gentleness.
There are so many things in our lives that we can’t control, and lots of experiences that can be uncomfortable or distressing. It is natural to want to move away from difficult feelings, but this generally increases feelings of sadness or anxiety. We can maybe ignore those feelings for a while, but pushing painful feelings down and trying to avoid them doesn’t make them go away for good. It may sound like a contradiction, but the way to reduce suffering is not by pretending it isn’t happening but by acknowledging that it is.
Self-compassion involves noticing our feelings, accepting that some moments just are painful and giving ourselves some kindness and care to help us through. The process works even if feels unnatural or forced at first! Developing self-compassion is like building up a muscle – the more we do it, the stronger it becomes. The ability to offer compassion to ourselves can be very powerful. For many people it’s life-changing.
This self-compassion exercise comes from Dr Kristin Neff. You can learn more about her work on self-compassion and download free guided practices here