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Alcohol and Mental Health

7 Scientifically-Supported Self-Compassion Exercises To Try

October 12, 2023
12 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 12, 2023
12 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
October 12, 2023
12 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 12, 2023
12 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 12, 2023
12 min read

Many of us believe that being self-critical and hard on ourselves is a good thing. We mistakenly think that if we show ourselves kindness during painful or challenging times, we’re demonstrating weakness. However, research is proving the opposite. Scientific data is showing that self-criticism makes us weaker in the face of failure, more emotional, and less likely to assimilate lessons from our failures. 

Self-compassion, on the other hand, is proving to be incredibly beneficial for our well-being. In fact, people who practice more self-compassion tend to have greater happiness, life satisfaction and motivation; better relationships and physical health; and less anxiety and depression. 

What Is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves, particularly when we are suffering, feeling inadequate, or feeling like a failure. It involves treating ourselves with the same kindness, care and support that we might extend to a friend. For instance, think about what you might say to a good friend who came to you and told you they were struggling. Would you criticize or berate them, and tell them they’re a failure? Of course not! You would be loving, encouraging, and supportive. You’d help lift them up. In other words, you would show them compassion. Self-compassion works the same way. 

There are three main components of self-compassion:

  • Self-kindness: Instead of using negative, shaming, and judgmental self-talk, self-kindness is about shifting toward gentle warmth and acceptance for our suffering, pain, or sense of failure.
  • Common humanity: This is about being aware that all humans fail and make mistakes, and suffer disappointment and loss. This can help us extend self-compassion more easily, as we recognize that encountering failure, suffering, and disappointment is a normal part of the human experience. 
  • Mindful approach: A mindful approach involves looking at what has happened in an objective, curious way without overidentifying with the experience. It encourages us to recognize and accept our thoughts and emotions without judgment.

Benefits of Self-Compassion

As noted above, studies indicate that self-compassion leads to improved health, relationships, and overall well-being. It also leads to greater resilience to cope with stressful life events, such as divorce, health crises, and academic or career failure. 

Furthermore, research suggests that learning to extend compassion to ourselves in the face of suffering can reduce anxiety, depression, rumination and fear of failure. 

When we relate to ourselves in a kind, connected and compassionate way, it reduces our levels of cortisol — our body’s main stress hormone — and increases our heart rate variability, ultimately putting us in a healthier state of mind and body.

Self-Compassion Exercises To Try

Given the numerous benefits of self-compassion, it’s worth incorporating more of it into our lives. Here are 7 scientifically-supported self-compassion exercises to try: 

1. Write a Self-Compassion Letter

Research has shown that writing self-compassion letters to ourselves can decrease depression and increase happiness. Consider writing something kind to yourself, talking like you would to a child, friend, or someone in need of kindness. 

If this is challenging, we can also try writing a letter to ourselves from the perspective of an imaginary friend who is unconditionally loving, kind, compassionate, and accepting. If we’re feeling inadequate or like a failure, think about what this friend would say to us. Would they berate us for our feelings of inadequacy? Or would they encourage us to accept ourselves as we are and remind us of our strengths? Then write a letter with the friend’s feelings for you in mind. 

2. Check Your Inner Critic

A big part of self-compassion is changing how we speak to ourselves, especially during hard times. Whenever you find yourself speaking harshly toward yourself, try standing up to your inner critic. We can do this by remaining curious and asking questions. For instance, ask yourself why you’re saying these negative things to yourself or whether you’re being fair given the circumstances. You might also ask yourself how you would stand up to a bully who said these things about someone you loved, like a spouse, friend, or family member. Use these types of questions to challenge your self-critical thoughts.

Furthermore, when something bad or shameful happens, try to catch yourself before launching into a negative inner dialogue. For instance, stop what you're doing, take a moment, and ask: “How would I speak to a good friend in this moment if the same thing happened to them?” And then speak kind, loving, supporting words toward yourself. 

3. Let Go of Negativity 

Negative feelings, thoughts, and emotions can be difficult to escape. But the more we focus on the negative, the more power it has over us — and the harder it is to squelch this vicious cycle. 

We can practice self-compassion with feelings of negativity by becoming an objective observer. For instance, when we’re stuck in a negative mindset, try to imagine a blue sky with fluffy clouds. Assign each one of your negative thoughts to a cloud and watch them as they pass by. This exercise allows us to gain greater control over our negativity and helps us see that we can release negativity, which can help it fade away.

4. Practice Loving-Kindness

Loving-kindness is a meditation practice that involves turning our attention away from a negative internal dialogue and toward positive thoughts. It can be used to reduce stress and boost well-being, and it has been shown to activate nurturing pathways in the brain that can restructure our thinking.

We can practice this meditation by focusing on sending good, loving thoughts and energy toward ourselves. For instance, we might wish ourselves peace, happiness, and joy. We can even repeat different phrases, such as “May I be kind and loving toward myself today,” or “May I be peaceful, happy, and joyful.” 

5. Forgive Yourself

Many of us are hard on ourselves because we feel guilt, shame, or regret for doing something bad in the past. This makes it difficult to move forward and can take a toll on our mental health. Practicing self-forgiveness can significantly lower self-condemnation and psychological distress. 

We can practice self-forgiveness by recognizing that we are imperfect human beings who all make mistakes. This doesn’t mean we don’t accept responsibility for any harm we may have caused, but it does mean we don’t have to beat ourselves into the ground for it. Remember to apply the friend rule: how would you console a friend who was full of guilt or shame? Try talking to yourself using the same words you might speak to them. 

6. Take a Self-Compassion Break

Sometimes, we all just need a break, including a break from being hard on ourselves. If we find ourselves talking negatively about ourselves or in a difficult situation, try taking a self-compassion break. Take a pause, put your hands over your heart, and speak loving words to yourself. For instance, we might say, “May I give myself the compassion that I need,” or “May I learn to accept myself as I am.” We can also ask ourselves, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Sometimes, we just need to tell ourselves that we’re experiencing a tough moment and it hurts. 

7. Celebrate Small Wins 

If we’re beating ourselves up, it’s likely that we aren’t recognizing our strengths or taking note of our small accomplishments. It’s important to acknowledge our achievements (no matter how small!), since a sense of achievement is often connected to self-esteem. There’s nothing too small that we can’t acknowledge. For instance, maybe you had a bad day, but smiled back at someone in the check out line. Or if you set a goal to work out five days per week, but only went one, you can acknowledge that the goal was attempted and that you’re working toward consistency.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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