Kristin Neff, a seminal researcher on Self-Compassion, developed a short and affirming exercise called the self-compassion break (2019) and it is a favourite of mine. For this adapted exercise, you begin by closing your eyes and recalling a person or event that is triggering a stress response. Focus on the situation, engaging your heart and mind so that you experience the stress of that moment. From this space, you will talk to yourself just like you would talk to a dear friend. You will begin by mindfully reminding yourself that:
1. “This right now is a moment of stress” (or hurt, pain, suffering, whatever sounds most natural for you).
2. “You aren’t alone, these feelings (pain, suffering) is a normal (natural) part of life.” “Other’s struggle in this way too.”
3. Think of a phrase that you most need to hear right now, something that expresses empathy and kindness. For this, you can speak in the I, or continue to speak to yourself as you would a dear friend, whichever enables you to receive it best. For example, you might say:
“you deserve compassion in this moment”
“I fully love and accept you as you are right now”
“May you forgive yourself for not knowing then what you know now. Making mistakes and learning and growing as we go is part of life.”
“May you have the courage to be imperfect.”
“Even though I feel…. I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”
This self-compassionate exercise reminds us that difficult emotions are a part of life, that we are not alone, and that we are deserving of unconditonally positive regard.
Neff, K. (2019). The Self-Compassion Break. Retrieved from https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/
… like a diamond, pressed down time and time again, until all that is left is a powerful gem, shining for all the world to see. May you take this journey, fully and deeply realizing that the path that led you to today, the suffering you continue to feel, is no longer a threat to you my friend, it is a vehicle to awaken to a new, more authentic, and more empowered way.
May this journey help you cultivate a community of individuals that will remind you of who you are when you forget, that provide you with a mirror that fills you up with a felt sense of unconditional positive regard, so that you can freely express your magnificent self.
May you cultivate a love so deep inside you so you can find rest in an inner home, that safe place where you are so filled with unconditional positive regard from others and for yourself that it spills into the world around you. This is the journey through suffering, awakening to a new way…
… like a diamond, pressed down time and time again, until all that is left is a powerful gem, shining for all the world to see. May we take this journey, fully and deeply realizing that the path that led us to today, the suffering we continue to feel, is no longer a threat to us friends, it is a vehicle to awaken to a new, more authentic, and more empowered way.
May we cultivate a community of who witnesses who we ‘real’ly are, reminding us of who we are when we forget. May we allow ourselves to believe and receive a felt sense of unconditional positive regard so fully that we can mirror the same inwardly. From this place of safety and acceptance, we will have the courage to freely express our magnificent selves.
May we cultivate this love so deep inside us that we find rest in an inner home, that safe place where we are so filled with unconditional positive regard from others and for your that it spills over onto this sacred planet and the precious beings that move upon it. This is the journey through suffering, awakening to a new way.
May we step into the river of life, letting go of the effort to calculate and control how and where it flows, surrendering to the point where we find joy in the means of the journey, trusting in a benevolent and enriching end.
And finally, may we let go of the old belief systems that rely on willpower and perfectionism, fueling all sorts of unnecessary suffering. Let’s choose a new journey, one full of opportunities to fuel ourselves with endless pools of unconditional (unconditioned) love, acceptance, desire, and even fun – fuelling our confidence to express ourselves in this magical world. From this place of joy and wholeness, we can truly love and serve one another and this gracious planet we share life with.
Between unresolved trauma and biological imbalances, dropping into the inner space to self-soothe can be too painful, making it difficult, and for some even impossible, without an intervention. We all have unique needs. Some people may resolve much of their anxiety and depression by removing the the emotional charge of past trauma, using cortisol lowering tools, and engaging in mindfulness, while others will need something more to drop in, to self-sooth. There is no shame in reaching out for external support to work with our biology, promoting greater contentment, optimism, and objectivity (all components of sense of coherence). In fact, many will find that when they find an intervention such as a particular therapy, a supplement or medication that works for them, they wonder how they have survived so long without it. Canadian data is limited but according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (Pratt, Brody, & Gu, 2017), 17% of Americans between the ages of 40-59 years and 19% of people over 60 use anti-depressants to treat symptoms stemming from anxiety and depression. Females are more likely to take antidepressants than males. To be clear, medications, including herbs and the supplements that provide the building blocks that enable us to produce important chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, are not the focus of this curriculum, but they are additional and often necessary tools to manage biology and emotions, enabling a greater ability to self-soothe. For these reasons, medications and external therapies are worth mentioning.
Besides traditional pharmaceuticals and therapies, plant-based remedies are emerging in the research, many of which are showing promising results. For instance, we can support our brains ability to make serotonin (associated with happiness and contentment) and dopamine (associated with a sense of reward/pleasure) by focussing on specific foods and supplements that bolster the key amino acids necessary to support their production. We also now have access to a host of botanicals, adrenergics, and nootropics, which can reduce the production and management of stress hormones.
Though not yet mainstream (or approved by Health Canada), an emerging example of how people are using natural remedies is the use of Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of hemp and marijuana, working for many to reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression (Corroon, James, Mischley, & Sexton, 2017; Soares & Campos, 2017; Zuardi, Rodrigues, Silva, Bernardo, Jaime, Hallak, Guimarães, & José, 2017). An example of a supplement that can work with our biology to bolster serotonin is 5-HTP (Kious, Sabic, Sung, Kondo, & Renshaw, 2017). Among those that can bolster Dopamine are L-Dopa and Tyrosine (Lampariello, Cortelazzo, Guerranti, Sticozzi, & Valacchi, 2012).
Ultimately, if we are committed to thriving, we must be open to our unique needs, removing barriers in whatever way we can; doing so, is another way to practice self-compassion.