A few weeks ago, I began planning what I wanted to blog about this month, and today was the day I planned to post about self-compassion. It’s funny how things work out because this weekend was pretty tough, and I had to be compassionate toward myself in a way I’ve haven’t had to be for quite a while now.
Nothing bad happened. Quite the opposite; we went to a family party and caught up with people we haven’t seen for a couple of years. It was lovely, but it was also exhausting. All that talking and smiling and having the same conversation over and over again – I haven’t had to work so hard in ages, and it wore me out. I went to bed at 6pm on Saturday and didn’t even get out of my jim-jams on Sunday. It took me be surprise. I’ve been feeling pretty bright and bouncy lately, fueled by my creativity and all the work I’ve been doing on myself, but expending all that social energy knocked me for six, and yesterday I found myself feeling down and frustrated. I started criticising myself: come on, girl, it’s been a year, you should be back to normal buy now … pull your socks up, woman … get in the shower, you lazy moo. That kind of thing. It look me a little while of thinking like this to remember that being hard on myself doesn’t do me any good. In fact, it’s bad for me.
Anyhoo … On to what I was planning to write about. The picture at the top of this post is another page from the bullet journal I was using last Spring. It’s part of the notes I made from a workshop called ‘Compassion Focused Skills’ that I attended while in hospital. It consisted of two three-hour-long sessions, so I won’t go into all the detail, but we talked about compassion, what it is and what qualities people who are compassionate have. We learned about the brain, about or ‘old’ brain and our ‘new’ brain and the roles they play in our thinking and our responses to threat. And we learned about the three emotion systems that influence our behaviour and motivation: the drive system, the threat system and the soothing system. We also learned how we can identify what system we’re in at any given moment, particularly, how we can activate our soothing system to regulate our threat system. It’s pretty cool stuff.
Being self-compassionate can play a big part in regulating our threat system, the system that’s triggered when we sense a threat and that sends adrenaline and cortisol coursing through our body, making us feel angry, anxious or scared. It’s our flight, fight, freeze and appease system. Being compassionate toward ourselves can trigger our soothing system which helps us manage our distress via the release of oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘love’ hormone. It makes us to feel safe and protected, cared-for and contented.
So what does self-compassion look like? Well, for me I try to think about how I would talk to my best friend if they were experiencing what I was experiencing. I wouldn’t say things like: come on, girl, it’s been a year, you should be back to normal buy now … pull your socks up, woman … get in the shower, you lazy moo. I’d say: you’re doing so well … it’s only been a year; it can take a long time to recover from such a severe depression … don’t forget you’re still taking medication, so you’re not completely well … and don’t forget the medications have side effects too … they can make things hard work. I’d say: why don’t you take a bath, lie back and relax … take it easy for a few days … just do something nice … something that nourishes you … light a candle … have a hot cup of tea … an early night … meditate … visualise your happy place … listen to music … watch some TV … doodle in your sketchbook.
It can be hard to be compassionate toward ourselves. We may worry that we’re really just making excuses or being lazy. We may worry that we’ll become less resilient and weaker. We may worry that being kind toward ourselves will open some floodgate of emotion that we’d rather not wash over us. I think it’s important to get support when we feel like this. There are times when I only start being self-compassionate after my husband has given me a pep-talk. Somehow it feel okay to believe myself if I hear it coming from him first.
I think it’s important to identify ways of being self-compassionate when we are in a well period, because in some situations, it could be easy to choose the wrong things to soothe ourselves with. I know that I’m a ‘comfort eater’ and I know that I over-indulge in unhealthy foods to try to activate my soothing system, but I also know it’s a short-term solution that has long-term health implications, so I’m trying to soothe myself in other ways, such as doing something creative that will occupy my mind and body until the threat I’ve sensed has passed. I’m also very mindful of the way my mind works these days and can spot when I’m getting into a negative thinking loop or unhelpful thinking habits. Through self-compassion, mindfulness and creativity I’m starting to retrain my brain and even though it gets tired and overwhelmed sometimes, I know it’s more resilient than it was a year ago.
Gosh! This has turned into a long post. I’d better stop and save the rest of my thoughts for another day. I hope you’ve found this helpful. Have you any experience with self-compassion? What do you do to activate your soothing system?
Thanks for reading! See you soon. xxx