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4 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself

May 29, 2023

Your parents probably taught you to be kind to others – but did anyone teach you to be kind to yourself?

This need for self-compassion and being kind to ourselves is especially key in today’s hectic world, where professional work and work at home can be emotionally and physically draining, says Jennifer Ferrand, PsyD, director, Hartford HealthCare Well-Being Department.

“It cannot be overstated that self-compassion and being kind to ourselves regularly is a boost to our health,” she notes.

But how does it work?

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First, what is self-compassion?

Dr. Ferrand cites the work of Kristin Neff, PhD, a research psychologist who defined self-compassion 20 years ago, when she describes it as “being compassionate with ourselves.”

“It’s easy to criticize ourselves – aloud or in our heads – when something goes wrong or we feel inadequate,” Dr. Ferrand explains. “Instead, we need to treat ourselves like we’d treat someone else, being comforting and supportive. This helps us develop resilience and the ability to confidently face challenges.”

It takes practice to tune out our inner critic and, instead, provide the same encouragement we’d give others, she continues.

“Contrary to what people think, being hard on yourself is not helpful,” Dr. Ferrand says. “It doesn’t motivate you to do better, or make you humble. It actually erodes self-esteem and motivation.”

Research supports this theory: A 2019 study published in the Behavior Therapy demonstrated that people with self-compassion are less likely to suffer from stress and depression.

> Related: What to Do About Work Anxiety: A Therapist’s Top 3 Tips

How can I do it?

Start practicing self-compassion, Dr. Ferrand says, with these four steps:

  1. Silence your inner critic. It’s the voice that calls you names, heaps blame, compares you to others. Once you recognize it, you can take steps to quiet it. “It’s like bullying, and we pretend it’s okay because it’s ourselves. It is not okay,” she says.
  2. Learn from mistakes and move on. Dwelling on errors serves no purpose, she continues. Simply understand what happened and how to avoid similar mistakes in the future, then chalk it up to being human. “We all make mistakes, but it doesn’t detract from our worth,” she says. “We gain experience and insight. And we move on.”
  3. Pretend you’re someone else. Not for comparison, of course, but spin the Golden Rule. We treat others like we want to be treated, but how about treating yourself as well as you treat others? “If you wouldn’t say something to a friend, don’t say it to yourself,” Dr. Ferrand says. “Support yourself as much as you support others.”
  4. Get out of your head. If mirror affirmations aren’t your style, try activities that help you focus on something other than negative thoughts. Head outdoors for a hike in the woods or a bike ride, try mindfulness through yoga or meditation, sing along to your favorite music, or dig into a craft.

“It takes practice, but we all deserve to create a judgement-free zone where we can nurture ourselves and become happier, healthier people,” Dr. Ferrand says.