Self-kindness is a huge part of mental health recovery. Often we’re unkind to ourselves without even realising it! During an Anxiety relapse a couple of years ago friends kept telling me to stop giving myself a hard time and at first I couldn’t understand what they meant. All I knew was that I was consumed with anger that I was once again struggling with Anxiety after battling so hard to be free of it.
Eventually I realised that the anger I was harbouring was actually directed at myself. I wasn’t just angry that Anxiety was back, I was angry that I’d allowed it to come back. I was telling myself I was weak and stupid. I was pathetic for being scared of something that couldn’t harm me. I’d let my blog followers down who relied on me for positive recovery inspiration. I’d never be free of Anxiety and it was all my own fault. And so on – you get the idea.
This constant barrage of self-abusive thoughts were actually keeping me in a horrible spiral. Once I realised I was blaming myself, and was able to begin work turning those thoughts around and treating myself more kindly, I began to feel almost instantly better. Once I felt a little better about myself I felt mentally stronger and came out of the relapse fairly quickly.
It’s almost impossible to recover from Anxiety or Depression if we’re treating ourselves like dirt. And the good news is there are practical tips you can put in place to encourage that self-kindness.
First and foremost you need to deal with your external environment. One of the best ways to be kind to ourselves is to set boundaries in terms of other people and limits on external pressures. Examples include;
- severing or, at least reducing, ties to negative people. Most of us have so-called friends or family members who are a drain on us emotionally or who don’t treat us as we deserve to be treated. Do yourself a favour and avoid contact with these individuals where possible.
- feel free to say no to tasks or pressures you simply don’t have the mental capacity for at the moment. You can always take these things back on in the future when you’re feeling better.
- speak to your boss about limiting work pressures while you recover or take advantage of offers of help with childcare
Recite self-kindness mantras to yourself every day or whenever you feel particularly low. You don’t have to believe them at first, you just have to ritually say them. I used to think mantras and affirmations were hippy nonsense until I tried them myself on a regular basis. Take a look at this article for inspiration or write some yourself. Find examples of my wellbeing affirmations below, I’ll create some self-kindness specific ones in a future post:
Ask others to tell you your strengths
It’s often easier for us to see positive traits in others than ourselves so why not ask the people closest to you to list a couple of your strengths and use these in your self-kindness rituals? On a similar vein, try harder to accept compliments. I know this is something many of us struggle with, especially as Brits, but it’s something you can teach yourself to be better at.
Put yourself first
It’s not selfish to put your needs at the top of the list sometimes. As parents we often put ourselves last but that isn’t in the best interest of your family in the longer term as they need you to be happy and healthy.
Read more: Self-care posts
Treat yourself as you’d treat a friend
This is one we hear all the time but it’s always worth repeating. If we spoke to our friends the way we sometimes speak to ourselves we wouldn’t be very good friends at all! So if you catch yourself in the act of telling yourself something unkind, try to take a step back and ask yourself if you’d speak to someone else that way.
Re-frame your critical self talk
Once you’ve established that you’re speaking to yourself in a critical, negative tone and learnt to catch yourself in the act, you need to re-frame those thoughts. As I wrote here, our minds are extremely powerful and we each have the opportunity to make simple changes to how we think with practice and patience.
Let yourself fail & give up guilt
Nobody is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and then feels awful about it. Dealing with failure is something I personally really struggle with and I need to practice what I preach here. Failing is normal and understandable, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Dwelling on what we can’t do prevents us from taking joy from what we can.
I love social media; it’s allowed me to connect with so many people during my recovery and advocacy journey but we all need a break from time to time. Constantly and mindlessly scrolling through our Facebook feeds and, worst of all, comparing ourselves to others, is not good self-care or self-kindness so why not self-impose brief but regular social media detoxes?
Keep a self-kindness journal
This is the number one way I practice self-kindness. During the acute stages of recovery I would write down every small achievement, along with making note of things I liked about myself, things I was good at and the strengths others told me I had, as above. No matter how low your mood or how loud your inner critic, strongly encourage yourself to put pen to paper each morning or evening (or both!) and note down kind thoughts.
To help with this I’ve created a one-page self-kindness journal as a free printable for you. This has the simple prompts I use to practice self-kindness. You can access yours below.