What is Self-Compassion?
Adopting from Neff and Pommier (2003), this post if focused on three main characteristics of a self-compassionate individual when facing mistakes made or when there is a difficult circumstance:
a. Kindness and inward understanding to oneself instead of engaging in harsh self-judgements when mistakes are made
b. Offer self-comfort instead of being consumed by challenging situations
B. Understand shared imperfect condition of all humans
a. Recognize that one is a human and is therefore imperfect when mistakes are made
b. Recognize that one’s inadequacies are shared amongst other humans as well, developing a sense of interconnectedness to others; Little sense of isolation
C. Being mindful of challenging situations
Taking a meta-perspective on the challenge which creates a mental space that allows mindfulness, instead of being caught up with self-judgements/negative emotions.
Mental Well-being And Its Correlation with Self-Compassion
Mental well-being is influenced by a myriad of social, psychological, and biological factors (WHO, 2018) that cut across multiple domains in an individual’s life. Extensive research has suggested that self-compassion is strongly correlated with one’s psychological health (Neff & Pommier, 2003), with the most consistent finding being the correlation between greater self-compassion and less anxiety and depression (Kelly et al., 2009).
Coping with challenges in life: Using Self-Compassion
A. Bad Results And Transition Stress: Find Your Compassionate Voice
Singapore is well-known for its academic competition and emphasis on social accomplishment. A number of university students in Singapore frequently suffer from stress driven by exam results and general worries about their future after graduation and transition to society. Many students are usually recommended to work harder for their future but this might provoke severe mental stress and even depression.
It has been studied that self-compassion can help attenuate one’s stress as it “may enable a positive processing of a negative situation” (Ewert et. al, 2018). One technique is to process a negative situation in a positive way and to avoid engagement in self-judgement and criticism (Ferrari et al., 2019). This can be done by talking to oneself as if talking to a friend. Germer and Neff (2013) recommends to expand beyond the loving-kindness practices to murmur a compassionate conversation oneself. Some examples are: “I love you and don’t want you to suffer.”, “You can do it,” “Have courage,” “May I forgive myself,” or simply “I love you.” (Germer & Neff, 2013).
“Talking to myself was definitely something new to me so I had to struggle a bit. But as I forced myself to do, I’ve slowly realised that telling myself that I am worth being loved is more inspiring and important than scolding myself failing to get an A on exams.” - Yelim
B. When there’s overwhelming workload
Just thinking about the numerous presentations, group projects, and assignments due within a single semester of school is enough to make us feel stressed out. In the process of rushing from deadline to deadline, we can forget to take care of our own mental and physical welfare. Often, we only start taking measures after we feel the burnout but we should be taking small steps regularly throughout.
Technique: Self-Compassionate Thoughts (Leary et. al, 2007). Reflect on heavy workload in 3 ways:
List ways in which other people also experience similar events. (Common Humanity)Write a short note on how you would express kindness and concern to a friend who is in the same situation and express it to yourself. (Self-Kindness) Describe your feelings about the situation in an objective and unemotional way. (Mindfulness)
“When trying out this technique while facing my mountain of deadlines, I often find myself making the excuse that I have no time to do this but by forcing myself, I realised the actual time spent is negligible. I actually became more productive as I felt less stressed slightly after each practice.” - Rosemary
Interpersonal relationships encompass the day-to-day interactions with people around us. Variations of such relationships are dependent on the relational context and expectation between one another - friendship, romantic, familial, professional (Sravanti, 2017).
Among teens, severe & leading cases of suicide are primarily due to interpersonal relationships, including the feeling of social isolation and loneliness, recording a total high of 409 cases of people killing themselves and 6,455 calls relating to suicide risk (Mohammad, 2016). Thus interpersonal troubles should be handled with utmost care and compassion. Here are some tips to practice self-compassion:
“Don’t say this” when people confide in you (Mohammad, 2016):
● Avoid phrases discounting or dismissing emotions, e.g. “You will get over it”
● Use phrases of affirmation, empathy and exploratory questions, e.g. “I’ll be here if you need me”, “How are you feeling?”, etc.
● Focus on listening mindfully
Easy and time-efficient techniques for students to foster self-compassion and gratitude:
● ‘How Would You Treat A Friend?’: Think of a time when a friend or family member had come to you with a difficult situation, what did you say to them? Tell this to yourself.
“Giving ourselves a chance to believe that others genuinely understand our thoughts, it will make us feel better. Similarly, to leverage on something significant to comfort ourselves.” - Daniel
● Express Gratitude - You can choose to write a gratitude journal or go for gratitude walks. Move the focus from your faults and mistakes to the blessings around you in your life and in nature. (Nazish, 2018; Ohlin, 2016; Sterns & Emmons, 2013).
○ Gratitude walks: Take a short 15-30 minutes walk and focus on every step. Take focused breath while not forgetting to observe and appreciate the world around you.
○ Gratitude journal: Spending 5-10 minutes logging down at least five things you’re grateful for.
“Gratitude walks are nice because you can get some exercise in and it allows you to take in the air and view as well. One suggestion would be to walk around a familiar path so you don’t get sensory overload in noticing all the new things. For SMU students, Campus Green is a great choice to start.” - Long Phan
“Gratitude journals help at first but it gets a bit repetitive if you do it too often, I personally find that twice a week or once at the end of the week is a good start to get into the habit.” - Long Phan
A. Death of a Loved One
Family issues tend to have a greater influence on our mental well-being. While a good family unit can be of great emotional pillar of support and a psychological resource that improves self-regard, loss of one family member can have a great negative impact of the same magnitude on an individual (Thomas et al., 2017; Bussolari, 2018).
To cope with grief, first acknowledge the presence of negative emotions and accept that you are not coping as well as you expect yourself to (Bussolari, 2018). Secondly, be self-regarding and pay close attention to your feelings and fully experience the emotional pain. The Dual Process Model can also be practiced, where you alternate between not thinking about it for days by using distractions, and constantly thinking about it. Continue until the pain subsides (Bussolari, 2018). Also, seek external help from just any trustworthy friend, family member, professional counsellor, or religion.
“The technique helped me in coping with the loss of my grandma 1.5 weeks before O levels. During the 5-day wake, I took 4-5 hours a day to study at a nearby Macs with friends to take my mind off my late grandma. In other times of the day at the funeral, I would think of my grandma and spend time by her casket, allowing myself to cry it out. I realized that losing someone is part of life, even though it was not easy to see this when she just left us.” - Nina, friend of Gladys
“It is very hard to even accept the event and to be ok with the little progress that I am making even when it’s months since it has happened. Practicing this made me realise that it’s ok to be reacting like how I am and has forced me to make conscious efforts to not let this disrupt my daily routine and work in particular.” - Madhuvanthi
A. Coping with long-term medical issue that is non-fatal
Long-term chronic pain and other health conditions can hinder our ability to be kind to ourselves or be acceptive of the pain. For example, prolonged hours of sitting down to study results in bad posture triggering pain. Clinical tests show the efficacy of mindful meditation over allopathy by helping us rekindle a new and more stable relationship with our diagnosed medical condition (Oxford Mindfulness Centre, 2019). For long-term health issues in particular, yoga poses coupled with mindful meditation is clinically proven to relax the nervous system, hence, enable coping with stress related to the health issue and also scientifically reduce occurrence of pain (Buckingham, 2017).
Table 1: Yoga poses for specific health condition
Image 1 : Paschimottanasana Image 2: Bhujangasana Image 3: Uttanasana
“Did breathing exercises and light meditation with the Uttanasana pose about 4 times a week on selected days together with my warm ups for my theatre rehearsals. As such, it was easy to include this in my daily routine. I felt very dizzy and found it hard to focus on my breathing initially. It took me days of practice to be able to divert my attention to my breathing while ensuring that my posture and timing is right so as to not strain myself or do it wrong. I felt much calmer and more able to not be distracted by the pain, while the frequency of pain has also reduced greatly.” - Madhuvanthi
“Cobra pose, cat and cow, and downward dog are the most helpful as they force me to straighten my back and neck when I might have been slouching without knowing it. Once my back and neck are straight, it’s easier to consciously keep them like that. After a while, your body will feel much less slouch-strained. Of course, sitting correctly is also essential but these practices help.” - Long Phan
The above-mentioned techniques to tackle stress factors of individuals are all very subjective in terms of outcomes and requires one’s conscious effort to practice. There is no one technique that fits everyone’s needs and/or comfort level.
Explore these techniques to find the ones that help you to be more self-compassionate!
By Ong Yuhang Daniel, Tan Gwendolyn Gladys, Phan Hoang Long, Madhuvanthi Souderrajan, Tan Mei Ting Rosemary, and Kim Yelim -- with compassion for their fellow SOSS students
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(2019). Bhujangasana vector image. Retrieved from https://www.vectorstock.com/royalty-free-vectors/bhujangasana-vectors
(2019). Paschimottanasana vector image. Retrieved from https://www.vectorstock.com/royalty-free-vectors/paschimottanasana-vectors
(2019). Standing Forward Bend Uttanasana Yoga Pose vector image. Retrieved from https://www.vectorstock.com/royalty-free-vector/standing-forward-bend-uttanasana-yoga-pose-vector-11768516