Posted in compassion, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, self care, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 7 ways to be kind to yourself when you’re struggling

In today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to be talking about something which I believe many of us struggle with and that is self-kindness. At school, we’re taught to be kind, respectful, patient, forgiving and gentle with others but do we apply this same compassionate attitude to ourselves? I know I certainly don’t, and I also notice that I’m particularly harsh and critical when I’m struggling. So, here are some ways in which being kind to ourselves can help our mental health and 7 ways you can show yourself some kindness right now.

Benefits of self-kindness which are particularly relevant during periods of difficulty

  • better self-esteem
  • increased resilience
  • less self-criticism
  • increased self-acceptance
  • helps us cope better with stress
  • improved self-confidence
  • decreases anxiety and depression
  • helps us feel more optimistic

7 ways you can be kinder to yourself

Practise self-compassion

During times of difficulty, many of us tend to be really unkind to ourselves. We place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves, say engage in negative self talk, criticise ourselves when things don’t go right, place blame unfairly, find fault in what we do and fail to celebrate our achievements. Sounds pretty harsh right? And it makes us feel ten times worse than we already do. Instead, what we would really benefit from is practising self-compassion, where we offer ourselves warmth, gentleness, understanding, acceptance and empathy. A good way to do this is to imagine what you would say to a friend who was going through a period of difficulty and was dealing with the same issues that you are. Then apply that compassion to yourself. You can even take this a step further and write yourself a compassionate letter where you offer support and encouraging words and then read it back. You can find out more about the therapeutic benefits of writing here.

Focus on the good

When we’re struggling, we tend to get into a negative frame of mind. Try to break this by thinking about your positives. Here are some ideas for you to try:

Congratulate yourself on your achievements no matter how small – maybe you got dressed and went out for a walk, maybe you completed something from your to-do list or maybe you dealt with a difficult situation assertively. Just getting out of bed can be a huge achievement if you’re struggling with depression.

Use positive self-talk – I’ve written before about the impact that negative self talk can have on us and how we can reframe it. As part of being encouraging and supportive towards yourself, you can counteract negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Some examples are: I am kind to myself during difficult times, I am doing the best I can, I can get through this, I have the ability to cope, I am brave and strong.

Make an all about you list – things you’re good at, your best qualities, a ‘done list’ of all of the things you’ve achieved today/this week. Try writing a different list each day to really improve your relationship with yourself.

Nourish your body and your brain

When you’re struggling, it can be really tempting to reach for high calorie snacks full of sugar or fat and eat processed foods for your meals. The reason we crave these items is because they temporarily increase our mood boosting endorphins leaving us feeling happy, blissful, calm or soothed or provide you with a chemical sugar high. Unfortunately, these feelings don’t last and can lead to overeating and poor diet overall. And of course, an unhealthy diet can create all sorts of problems including reduced energy levels, weight gain, obesity, depression, weakened immune system and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Be kind to yourself by focusing on eating a balanced diet which includes a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Something that I find really helpful is to plan my meals in advance. This means that I’m more likely to eat healthily but also that I can ensure I’m eating a balance of different foods and a range of fruit and vegetables. And don’t forget, you are allowed a treat every now and again but it’s best if you really take your time eating it so you can savour the flavour and really appreciate it (search ‘mindful eating’ online for more info).

Get moving

When life is hard you might feel tired and lacking in energy and this might mean that even the though of exercise too much. But, something gentle, like a walk in your local park, ten minutes of basic stretching exercises or a short yoga session could make you feel so much better. Exercise releases feel good endorphins which help to boost your mood and if you engage in a mindful activity you will also be focusing on the present moment and forgetting about other concerns in your life which can lead to feelings of calm and relaxation.

Do something that brings you joy

Try to make it a habit to do something you love each day. Try to carve out at least half an hour for your own enjoyment. Here’s some ideas:

  • Hobbies – sewing, watercolour painting, papercrafting, drawing, playing a musical instrument, baking.
  • Outdoors – time in the garden, nature walk, sculpture trail, sit in the sunshine.
  • Retail therapy – a new houseplant, a scented candle, a pretty scarf, some sweets you haven’t had since childhood, some stationery.
  • Brain stimulation – crossword, word search, sudoku, jigsaw puzzle, board game.
  • Movement – yoga, stroll along the beach, mindful walking, dancing to some upbeat music, ten pin bowling, try out a team sport.
  • Socialise – coffee with a friend, take a class e.g. flower arranging, phone a relative.

If you’re struggling with depression right now, you might be thinking that nothing brings you joy at the moment so there’s little point in doing anything. However, research has found that if you do some of the things that you normally enjoy, you will still reap the benefits of the activity so try scheduling something in and then congratulate yourself for finding the motivation to do it.

Add some soothing activities to your day

When you’re struggling with your mental health or life is extremely busy and stressful, it’s a really good idea to plan something soothing to help yourself feel calm and relaxed. The activity you choose is very much a personal preference but you could try one or more or the following:

  • a hot bath with scented bath oil or a bath bomb
  • a foot massage with refreshing peppermint oil
  • read a book, under a blanket with optional hot chocolate
  • light a scented candle and watch the flame flicker
  • buy some flowers and spend time arranging them in a vase
  • cuddle something – a pet or a soft toy
  • watercolour painting or colouring in

Make good sleep a priority

A good night’s sleep benefits us in so many ways including better mood, more energy, improved cognition and stronger relationships with others. However, when we’re struggling, we’re likely to find that the quantity or quality of our sleep is affected so it’s important to take steps to fix it. This can include doing relaxing activities before bed (and avoiding known stimulants), spending time journalling about your day so you can process what’s happened and prepare yourself for tomorrow, and making sure your bedroom environment is just right. If sleep is an issue for you right now you might want to check out this blog post. Or, for really in depth look at sleep issues, the NHS has a long self help guide which can be accessed here.

Final words…

I hope that today’s blog post has been useful in providing you with some ideas about how you can be kinder to yourself. However, if the thought of doing all of these things seems a little overwhelming, trying choosing one suggestion which you think might make you feel a little better and start from there. Remember tiny steps can lead to a big impact.

Posted in CBT, compassion, lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness

Monday Matters: The beginner’s guide to self-compassion

Photo credit: kaboompics.com for Unsplash

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post which explored different ways to practise self love and gave some ideas for bullet journal spreads you might like to try. Today’s writing is an extension of this them and focuses on self-compassion. I hope you find it both interesting and useful.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is all about showing yourself warmth, love, kindness and understanding, especially during difficult times. It’s about accepting ourselves as we are, learning to be less self-critical and avoiding judgement. It’s about being mindful of our different emotional states and the situations we find ourselves, recognising that we all make mistakes, that no-one is perfect and that we all struggle at times so we’re not alone in our suffering.

Why should I practice self-compassion?

There has been a lot of recent research into the benefits of being self-compassionate and how it can work wonders on our wellbeing. Individuals who practise self-compassion have been shown to be much happier, more optimistic, grateful for what they have, and enjoy better relationships with their loved ones. They’ve also been shown to have lower stress levels as they avoid being judgemental towards themselves, others and situations, recognise and accept that we all find things hard at times and, through mindfulness, become more in tune with their thoughts and emotions. Self-compassionate people are also likely to have a higher level of resilience as they are easily able to bounce back from difficulties and can accept and learn from their mistakes.

Self-compassion is also a great antidote for perfectionist tendencies, which I, for one, have always struggled with, right from childhood and I’m sure many of my readers will have too.

How can I bring self-compassion to my life?

Today, I’m going to share with you some simple ways to bring self-compassion into your life so that you can start being easier on yourself and show yourself the love and kindness you would demonstrate to someone else you care about.

Notice and reframe your critical self-talk

I’ve spoken before about the negative ways in which we tend to talk to ourselves before in my blog post about self love. We can be so good at saying unkind and unhelpful things such as “I’m such an idiot”, “Other people are so much better than me”, “No-one likes me” and “I’m just no good at…” etc. And, as you can imagine, this critical inner voice can destroy our self confidence and lead to feelings of worthlessness and depression.

So how can we put the lid on this damaging talk? The very first step is to start noticing when you are being self-critical. Take the time to examine the situations in which you use negative self talk, the exact words you use and the tone of voice that you adopt. You could even try keeping a little notebook of examples to reflect on. Now consider how you could reframe things in a more positive way. Focus on being self-compassionate, non-judgemental, supportive and mindful of the situation. If you find this difficult, think about what a really compassionate friend would say to you. Changing how we talk to ourselves might be hard at first but it will get easier with time and practise so keep working on your skills and congratulate yourself on your efforts.

Write yourself a letter

This is a great exercise to do if you are going through a difficult time or are struggling to accept something which has caused you mental pain. Start your letter by outlining the situation that you find yourself in and how it has or is affecting you. Next, go on to identify your thoughts and feelings and what you were hoping for or needing to make things easier. Now offer a message of common humanity which will remind you that you are not alone and encourage you to feel connected to others e.g. ‘we all make mistakes’ or ‘everyone has times when they feel…’ etc. Finally, offer yourself some guidance and positive encouragement like you would to a friend who needs your support. Sign your letter with a loving message and add some stickers, washi tapes or little drawings of something nice if you would like to. When you have finished your letter, you can either read it out loud to yourself straight away or put it away somewhere special for when you need to show yourself some compassion.

Start a self-compassion journal

Keeping a journal is a great way to reflect on how you are feeling and what is happening for you right now. I like to spend about ten minutes each evening writing down my thoughts. What I chose to write about differs each day but might include:

  • what I have achieved today
  • what I learnt today
  • ways in which I am proud of myself
  • things I’m grateful for
  • anything I found challenging today and why
  • what I’m looking forward to tomorrow
  • anything I’m feeling apprehensive about

You can finish your writing by adding some kind, understanding and sympathetic words to yourself. For example, ‘most people would get annoyed in that situation and it’s okay that you lost your temper’ or ‘things were difficult today, but hopefully you’ll have a better day tomorrow’ etc.

Use affirmations

Another great way of showing yourself loving kindness it to write your own personal affirmations and practise saying them to yourself each day. I like to create a decorative spread of them in my bullet journal every few months – it is a great way of practising my brush lettering too. Here are some examples:

  • I am enough
  • I talk to myself with love and kindness
  • I’m proud of myself and my achievements
  • I accept my flaws because no one is perfect
  • I’m doing my best and that is enough

Engage in self-soothing activities

If you know you’ve had a difficult day, your week isn’t going quite as planned or you’re finding yourself in a negative mood, you can help to make yourself feel much better by engaging in some self soothing activities.

Here’s some examples of things I like to do:

  • take a walk in nature and use my senses to explore the immediate environment
  • get under the duvet and read a good book
  • do some drawing or colouring in
  • listen to a guided meditation
  • make a collage in my bullet journal of things I love
  • do some watercolour painting
  • mindfully eat a bar of my favourite chocolate
  • watch a funny film
  • paint my nails

If you would like to read more about using self soothing for emotional regulation, you can check out this blog post I wrote last year.

I hope today’s blog post has helped to develop your understanding of self-compassion and how important it is. Let me know which of the activities I suggested appeal to you the most and if you try some of them, be sure to share how you got on.

Posted in CBT, compassion, mental health, Mindfulness, psychology, wellbeing, wellness

Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? The unhelpfulness of ‘I should’ and ‘I must’ expectations

As part of my compassion group learning over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking unhelpful and more helpful thinking styles. I’ve previously talked about the psychology of using the term ‘I can’t’ (click here to read this post) when we really mean we find something difficult. In today’s wellbeing post, I’m going to focus on the pressure we put on ourselves using terms such as ‘I should’ and ‘I must’.

At the beginning of the year, I went through a really difficult patch with my mental health. I was suffering from debilitating anxiety and everything was a constant struggle. I was having panic attacks and my mood was very low. I spent a lot of time worrying that I wasn’t going to get better and found it extremely difficult to motivate myself to do anything but cry. I’m pleased to report that I’m now feeling much better and life is good. However, my improved mood and elevated motivation levels did start to cause a few issues with my self talk and my thinking and it is this which today’s post focuses on.

As soon as I started to feel better, I totally went into what is known as ‘drive mode’ and felt like I needed to make up for lost time by doing it all and not stopping. I had finally found the joy in achieving things in my day and my head was full of ideas and thoughts. I was writing huge to do lists and spent my time flitting from activity to activity in a frenzied way from when I got up at 6.00am to when I went to bed at 10pm. My head was filled with talk such as ‘I need to…’, ‘I have to…’ ‘I should…’ and all of the other terms associated with the intense desire to be productive and get a buzz from it.

The therapists in our compassion group helped us to see, however, that constantly being in drive mode and making these unrealistic assumptions of how to live can be really unhelpful. Terms such as I need to, I must, I have to and I should, put undue pressure on ourselves to perform and create expectations of ourselves that are very difficult to keep up with.

The effects of using these rigid terms have been studied by a number of psychologists and was a key part of the work of Albert Ellis. He coined the term ‘musterbation’ which has certainly stuck in my mind since reading about it online! The following quote I found online sums up the effects nicely:

“Musterbation” is a term coined by famed psychologist Albert Ellis to describe the phenomenon whereby people live by a set of absolute and unrealistic demands that they place on themselves, others and the world. For most of us, these rules come out in a series of should statements that we repeat to ourselves over and over again. These “should” and “shouldn’t” statements leave us feeling bad about ourselves because they set up standards that we cannot realistically meet. They also leave us feeling frustrated and hurt by others when they inevitably fail to fulfill our expectations. Recognizing this habit to set rules for yourself, others and the world gives you the opportunity to relieve some of the stress these messages cause. When dealing with “should” statements, it is important to keep in mind that while it may be nice to reach your goals and be treated the way you want all the time, we are human and live in an imperfect world. Therefore, the pressure to be anything all the time is more likely to cause harm than good.

Rowan Center BLOG, 2015.

If you would like to read more of their interesting article click here.

I’m now much more aware of when I’m using these terms (I haven’t stopped using them and I’m very much conditioned to their use, I’m just more mindful of when I do) and I try to reframe my thinking to be more helpful. This is taking time, but I do think it’s a really important step in increasing my good mental health. I’ve also noticed that my husband is fond of saying ‘I’ve got to…’ ‘I need to…’ and the like and so we laugh about it and then help each other to create more compassionate thoughts and beliefs too. Here are some examples and how I’ve re-articulated things:

  • I need to get rid of all of the weeds in the garden this week >>>> it would be great if I found some time this week to do a little bit of weeding as it would make the garden look a little nicer
  • I must take new and improved photographs of my products today >>>> If the lighting is okay today, I might take a few new photos of a couple of my products and upload them to Etsy
  • I really should get all of that washing done whilst the weather is okay >>>> it would be good if I did some washing this week as the basket is getting pretty full. I might do a load tomorrow and hang it out in the sunshine

You’ll notice that I’ve been more gentle and kind with my expectations too as another way of putting less pressure on myself. This is a big part of being more self compassionate which is what our wonderful therapy group is all about.

I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting and helpful. Maybe it’s made you think about the expectations you set and how you might re-frame your thoughts. Perhaps over the next week, you might notice yourself using ‘I must…’, ‘I need to…’ and ‘I should…’ a lot and you might try to be more mindful of what you say or think. It would be great if you let me know in the comments, but remember, you don’t ‘need to’ or ‘have to’, you just might like to or want to!

Much love and kindness.