Last year, 2020 was the year of the ‘be kind’ hashtag. Influencers and media outlets the world over were encouraging us all to take care of one another because each of us has our own private battles to face. This month of Saint Valentine, we consider the benefits of turning that compassion inwards and being kind to ourselves.
Being kind to ourselves, or self-compassion, can be delivered in so many different ways. In a busy lifestyle it may be as simple as carving out some time to spend on doing something that brings comfort or joy. This can be anything from spending time with friends (remotely or otherwise), indulging in a favourite pastime or simply doing nothing, a rare luxury for most. All too frequently we leave our own needs until last. In a busy day we try to tick everything off of the to-do list and then see if there is any time left at the end that can be reinvested in ourselves. What subconscious message do we give ourselves about our own level of importance when we place our needs below everyone in the workplace – all of our friends and everyone in our household including the cat, the dog and the hamster? The constant reinforcement of this message – a lack of self-importance – is fundamental to feelings of low self-esteem and low self-confidence. In turn, a feeling of low self-esteem keeps us at the bottom of our list of priorities. A conscious circuit breaker is required to escape the vortex.
Our lack of self-compassion is also highlighted in the disparity between how we take practical care of our children and our own selves. For example, do we make sure that we have adequate nutrition throughout the day at the right time to keep our bodies functioning optimally? Do we make sure that we have enough sleep? Do we take the time to nurture ourselves and check in with ourselves that we are doing ok? How often do we stop to check on our stress levels? Do we ever stop to ensure sure that we are working within levels of eustress (positive and constructive stress boundaries) and have not tipped into harmful distress, which has a damaging impact on inflammation, decreases immunity and takes its toll on our mental health, too? Would we treat our children’s welfare with the same level of neglect as we do our own?
Self-care is also to be found in our thought processes, too. According to the National Science Foundation, an average person has up to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts. Taking these figures together, it becomes clear that much of our daily thinking is likely to be repeating those negative narratives, leading to the inescapable conclusion that we think negatively much more than we think positive thoughts.
The negative narrative in our mind is often relentless. It is a constantly critical parent telling is that we have been stupid or a reprimanding teacher reminding us that we are not good enough to make the grade. It is an over-controlling partner, checking on our behaviour and decision-making. It is a toxic friend undermining our positivity and creating a glass ceiling which has the potential to forever hold us back from achieving our full potential. If that we were in a room with those people who were telling us the things that we persistently tell ourselves we would not tolerate it. We would leave the room without hesitation. Why, then do we tolerate this behaviour from ourselves? Perhaps it is time for us to leave that negative environment of our own creation…
Being kind to ourselves is a life-style. True and authentic self-care requires a conscious decision to increase awareness of how we are treating ourselves and change our priorities and to move ourselves and Instead of chastising ourselves, we should practice self-compassion: greater forgiveness of our mistakes, and a deliberate effort to take care of ourselves throughout times of disappointment or embarrassment. The lucky amongst us have a good friend in our lives, who is unconditionally supportive. Self-compassion is learning to be that same warm, supportive friend to yourself.
So this February, amidst the hearts and flowers, let’s remember to take a moment to offer some love and compassion to ourselves, this month of Saint Valentine and every day.