Why Being Kind to Yourself is so Important for Mental Health
Kindness towards ourselves and towards others has the potential to help you move forward from difficult feelings
Author Gill Hasson explores the potential of self-compassion and the hope it brings
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Self-compassion isn’t a ‘poor me’ feeling of self-pity; it’s just recognising that sometimes life is very difficult and that you need to do things to make life easier. To a greater or lesser extent, you need to allow yourself to take it easy. This isn’t a bad thing.
It means you are creating conditions that allow you to integrate what’s happening – or what has happened – into your life.
It’s hard to look forward to each day when you know you will be experiencing pain and sadness. So, each day decide to have something to look forward to. No matter how small it is, have something you can do that you enjoy.
Comfort yourself. Think of pleasant things you can do. Eat healthy comfort food. Wear a favourite piece of clothing. Have a warm bath or a hot shower.
Do something nice for someone else; a small kindness that will take your mind off what you’re going through.
Watch an uplifting film, or funny pet videos on YouTube.
Look at a book or website with beautiful scenery or beautiful art. Whatever brings you moments of pleasure.
Listen to music. Music can help you access a range of feelings: anger, sadness and happiness. Music can soothe or uplift you. If you play an instrument or sing, then play that instrument or sing. If you have a hobby or passion that you can ‘lose yourself’ in, it can help you feel engaged and connected.
Whatever it is that you get comfort and enjoyment out of, make yourself do it. Do something that gives you pleasure and comfort each and every day.
Doing things that you enjoy can help you move through sadness and difficulties, even if you don’t initially feel like doing them.
There isn’t one right way to take care of and be kind to yourself when you’ve been through a really difficult experience. When times are tough, what works for you might be different to what works for someone else. And what works for you today might be different from what
helped a month ago, or what will help in a few months’ time. Nothing stays the same – part of being kind to yourself is to be flexible.
At some point, the feelings of sadness, anger or upset that you are experiencing now will just be a sad memory.
When you’re ready, you can work towards that. However, when things are really difficult, it can seem like nothing is going to change; that you won’t be able to move on. You need a catalyst; something that will bring about a change. That catalyst is hope. Hope is an inherent aspect of kindness; hope encourages you to believe that things will eventually improve and be good and that you’ll feel better.
With hope there is possibility. With hope there are alternatives.
Create hope; visualise images for yourself – pictures where you are coping and things are going well. Imagine new possibilities. The more you imagine yourself coming out the other side, the more likely it is to happen. Your mind can create a world of possibility, in the present, which will give you hope for the future.
You will need to make a decision that you are going to move on. It won’t happen automatically, you have to decide that you want to move forward.
Have patience though; take things one step at a time.
While it can be helpful to have goals to help you look to a brighter future, try to avoid rushing into things. Sometimes, in an effort to distract yourself and move forward, it’s easy to make rash decisions.
Is there anything that needs to be adjusted or changed in order to go forward? Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Think along the lines of ‘It might help to … ’, or ‘I might try … ’, or ‘I could … ’, or ‘Now I’m going to … ’.
Note the things, no matter how small, you achieve each day. Noting small achievements can help you to see that you can do things and you can build on those things to help you move on.
What gets included may depend on how you’re feeling that day. Sometimes it might simply be that you got out of bed and got dressed. Sometimes it might be household chores or work tasks, or cooking a nice meal.
Regularly write in an achievement journal and every now and then you’ll be able to look back through it to reflect on all that you’ve learned and achieved. It will all add up to quite a lot of small achievements.
Look for the positives. When life feels like it’s weighing you down, it can seem like everything is wrong, bad or hopeless; there’s nothing positive.
But there are positives – you just have to look for them.
Again, it might only be small things – this morning’s coffee, hearing birds sing in your garden, a funny text from a friend, something good on TV – or it could be bigger things; maybe you have a good job, or a supportive boss, family, partner, neighbour or friend.
Make a contribution. If you can help other people, in the process, you help yourself. You could sign up with a voluntary organisation or you could simply do something kind for a friend, family member, neighbour or colleague. Even helping just one person is a start. It will take the focus off yourself and your situation in the most positive of ways.
Expect, though, to have bad days. Weeks, months, over a year after a difficult time in your life, you might have a day or more when, although it feels like there is no reason at all to feel knocked back, you just are. If you’re having a bad day, especially if it’s after a period of better days, there’s no need to wonder ‘What’s wrong with me?’ Bad days do happen. They will pass. Accept that sometimes you have a bad day for an obvious reason
and sometimes for no apparent reason. On those days, be kind and gentle with yourself. Phone a friend, stay in and eat pizza and have an early night. Or whatever works for you.
As the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke said: ‘Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.’
If, however, you’re concerned that you’re not able to move forward, do speak to your doctor or a therapist.
This is an edited extract from Kindness: Change Your Life and Make the World a Kinder Place, by Gill Hasson (published by Capstone)