Many of the stressors in our lives are out of our control. However, we have the power to change the internal chatter in our heads. I often lovingly referred to this as the monkey brain, the part which tries to keep me safe.
Through treating yourself with loving-kindness and compassion, you can build resilience to challenges you may need to face, so is it time to tell those inner monkeys where to go?
If self-care is all about being kind and carving out some time for yourself, then self-compassion is genuinely at the heart of self-care.
What do we mean by self-compassion?
Dr Kristen Neff, PhD from self.compassion.org, has researched the topic extensively after noticing the power of self-compassion through Buddhist meditation.
"Self-compassion is not a way of judging ourselves positively; self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly - embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all."
Approach it from the inside out
The expert says that the big difference with self-esteem is that it uses others validation and comparing ourselves to others to find external success. On the other hand, when we are self-compassionate, we accept that we are imperfect and recognise that our flaws are part of being human.
Self-esteem is all well and good when things are going great, but what happens when life is not so good? Or worse, something goes wrong? What does your inner voice tell you then? Does it shout, analyse and criticise you?
Sometimes that inner monkey can be really loud and cruel too.
A great way to encourage self-kindness is to talk to yourself as if you would to your best friend. We are often our worst enemy, but you wouldn't tell someone you care about that they were stupid/unworthy/unfit. Why not show yourself the same love and respect?
We all make mistakes now and then, and what's important is how we treat ourselves in these moments.
You can use some daily habits to nurture a kinder internal dialogue. Small things can make a big difference too. For example, learn to compliment yourself while you're getting ready for your day - start listing all the things you love about your body. This might seem hard at first, and your list might be small, but it will give you a boost of oxytocin to provide you with a warm, cosy feeling.
Other ideas include:
Write a love letter to yourself. Include all the little things you love about being you. Start with three things about your mind, then three things to do with your body, and finally three things about your personality. If you find this difficult, try thinking about all the support your body has given you over the years.
Try this mantra: I am wholeness. A mantra meditation reduces stress hormones to shift your mood dramatically.
Go on nature walks as it helps to keep you grounded. When we put our phones away and notice the beauty and magic of nature, flowers and new growth, it encourages feelings of peace and calm.
Keep it real
Being kind to yourself is not self-indulgent, far from it. It's vital to be honest with yourself and acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, including those that are not so nice. Self-compassion allows us to accept what is in the moment without judgement.
When we are kinder to ourselves, we are more likely to treat others with more compassion too. The more we can keep our hearts open to ourselves and nurture our energy, the more we can give to others.
I have numerous self-care practices that I use to find balance.
1 – Sit and listen to your body and mind
Let your body and mind tell you what you need. Are you rushing around a lot? So, do you need to still your mind rather than exert it through more exercise and stimulus? Or are you feeling down and anxious about factors in your life? So maybe take a walk in nature, seek out the sun, some fresh air, or some barefoot walking and be soothed by the great outdoors.
2 – Choose one self-care practice
Especially if you are new to self-care, this could be a physical self-care practice or a mindfulness one. As above, you will know what your body needs. Be open to what presents itself to you and explore something that has caught your eye before. Ask friends and family, search the internet, read reviews and see what sparks your interest. You can attend many classes for free as a trial, and apps offer a 14-day trial. Aim to stick at this practice long enough that you see the benefits.
3 – Practice something you love or interests you
When you engage in something you love, your heart will tell you it is right for you. You will come away feeling lighter, softer and you will smile naturally from the heart. You will feel it, so really listen to your body. Use your instincts about what works for you and what doesn't work for you. It's ok to walk away from something that doesn't gel with your body, mind, time or travel distance.
4 – Surrender to the self-care and love yourself throughout the process
Let go of everything. Truly surrender to yourself. Your day, your future, your current worries, your plans. Look within, and you will find yourself. Grant yourself one hour of your time. Put the phone away, turn off the TV, pop the wonder woman shield out of view: just you and your self-care practice. Let the self-care take over and guide your path. The more you surrender, the more you will feel the benefits of your practice. If your ego creeps in - the monkey mind (and it will), just tell it to go away; you are busy looking after yourself right now.
"A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day.
A string of such moments can change the course of your life".
- Christopher Germer.