Do you take better care of your friends and family than of yourself? Are you your own worst critic?
Frequently being too critical of yourself or putting yourself last on the list for good care can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health. So maybe you need to stop being so hard on yourself. Treat yourself like you would a friend.
Of course, it’s easier to think about it than to begin doing it. But there are simple steps you can take to give yourself a break.
One is practicing self-compassion — another way of saying to be kinder to yourself. Studies show it can help people live happier, healthier lives. That’s because “beating yourself up” just adds to your stress and unhappiness. That can make you feel cut off from others and anxious.
Can the Criticism
Start simple. Tell yourself positive things, rather than something negative like, “I can’t do anything right.” Briefly step away from a stressful situation and remind yourself to breathe. Give up the guilt of not being able to do everything. Focus on what you can do and cut yourself some slack.
Rather than criticizing yourself, it’s healthier physically and mentally to be understanding and compassionate. Especially when it comes to your flaws and any setbacks in your life.
Be Gentle with Yourself
Offer yourself kindness, care and support when you’re struggling with pain, suggests psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff, co-founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion.
“Most people offer support to their close friends,” said Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “They can be warm, caring and encouraging. But that’s not how we treat ourselves.”
If we feel threatened, we try to fight the problem. Or try to avoid the issue. If we’re helping a friend through their problems, we don’t feel threatened, which makes it easier. We know what to do.
To be kinder to yourself, you first need to give yourself permission to treat yourself that way. Many people fear that if they are kinder to themselves, they will seem lazy or unmotivated. But research shows the opposite happens. People are more motivated.
Another simple step is supportive touch. Much as babies are comforted when they are held, a calming touch works for adults too. Putting your hand over your heart, on your belly or on your cheek is calming. Many people feel the benefits quickly, says Neff, who designed a test to measure self-compassion.
Some people think self-compassion sounds weak. Or selfish. But it’s just adding healthier behaviors to your life. If you’re stronger mentally, you’re better able to bounce back from problems or setbacks. That makes you better able to help your family and others.
Check out ways to get started on treating yourself better on Greater Good in Action, an online resource developed by the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and HopeLab. The site supports people who are searching for a happier and more meaningful life.
Research shows that connection, resilience and even happiness are skills that can be developed over time. But it isn’t necessarily something that comes naturally. People often know more about caring for their bodies than their minds.
Self-care includes choosing habits that support your whole self, mind and body. To promote good mental health, try practicing good emotional hygiene. That means:
- Addressing emotional pain, such as grief, anger or failure. Avoiding it can lead to depression and other health problems.
- Maintaining self-esteem by avoiding negative self-talk after a disappointment.
- Breaking a cycle that can lead to depression by avoiding repetitive negative thoughts.
Feeling lonely or disconnected can hurt. Make time for family and friends. Join a book club or other group. But save time for yourself. Solitude can help you destress from the busyness of life. Take time for yourself each day, even if it’s brief.
And support your body by getting help for any physical problems you have, then focus on eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water. Caffeine and alcohol can make things worse and even trigger anxiety.
Do What You Can
Think about ways you can take care of yourself before things get bad. Making these changes may seem overwhelming, but you can make changes in small bits over time. It’s something that can be learned.
Use this simple checklist to remind you to:
- Connect with others
- Get physically active
- Help other people
- Get enough sleep
- Build your coping skills
- Focus on the positive
- Ask for help when needed
With a little practice, you can be more accepting of yourself and your life.
Sources: What is Mental Health? MentalHealth.gov (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), 2019; How to Build…Self-Compassion, Greater Good in Action; What is Self-Compassion, Self-compassion.org; Practice Self-Care, National Council for Suicide Prevention; Six relaxation techniques to reduce stress, Harvard Medical School, 2016; Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk, Mayo Clinic, 2019; Fitness 4Mind4Body: Factsheet Diet and Nutrition, Fitness 4Mind4Body: Factsheet Exercise, Fitness 4Mind4Body: Factsheet The Gut-Brain Connection, Fitness 4Mind4Body: Factsheet Sleep, Mental Health America, 2018