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Taking a compassionate approach toward your experiences can help you to cope more successfully with stress and burnout.
In This Episode
00:30 – What Is Self-Compassion?
02:26 – Self-Compassion Helps Us Manage Stressful Events
03:50 – Self-Compassion Helps Us Manage Burnout
04:28 – Self-Compassion Makes You a More Effective Caregiver to Yourself and Others
05:16 – Mindfulness Session for Self-Compassion
Hey everyone, and welcome to WorkMinded. Today we’ll be exploring the idea of Self-Compassion. Taking a compassionate approach toward your experiences and emotions can help you to cope more successfully with stressful events, burnout, and other responsibilities of caregiving toward yourself and others during this critical time.
When it comes to the study of Self-Compassion, one of the key influencers in the field is Dr. Kristin Neff.1 Her definition of Self-Compassion is really approachable: “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” She breaks the concept down into three key components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
- The first component of Self-Compassion, Self-kindness, is all about how we respond when things in life take an unfavorable turn. We can deny or fight this reality, increasing our stress and frustration as we go; or we can accept this reality with an attitude of sympathy and compassion. Rather than judging or criticizing ourselves during painful experiences, we treat ourselves kindly instead. This helps us to navigate difficult emotions and situations more steadily.
- The second component of Self-Compassion is Common Humanity. It illustrates Dr. Neff’s idea that navigating difficult feelings is something that is part of our shared human experience. When we experience something negative, it’s common to feel that we are alone or isolated in dealing with the situation. There can be powerful comfort in the idea that even when you are feeling isolated or alone in your suffering, you are still connected with others who can relate to these feelings in the past, present, and future.
- Mindfulness is Dr. Neff’s third component of Self-Compassion. The power of mindfulness lies in its ability to help us see and experience the pauses between our thoughts, rather than being swept away by how we’re feeling in the moment. Most especially, mindfulness puts us in a non-judgmental state of mind to help us separate our truest selves from our temporary emotions. This provides us the opportunity to welcome in kindness and compassion for coping in moments of difficulty and stress.
Research continues to show that Self-Compassion plays a key role in how we can manage stressful events better. Cultivating mindfulness and Self-Compassion has been shown to improve resilience and coping strategies, and to reduce anxiety and stress levels.2 Self-Compassion also helps us to achieve a good balance between adaptive or maladaptive coping behaviors.3 A good example of this comes from the consumer science arena, which capitalizes on our desire for distraction during challenging times. Approaching a negative mood with Self-Compassion actually offers greater benefits than approaching a bad mood with distraction.4 So next time you’re tempted to act out your feelings by turning to overeating, excessive spending, or numbing yourself with other distractions – which we all do from time to time – you can try to help yourself stay on track by treating yourself to Self-Compassion instead.
The exploration of Self-Compassion as a concept in organizational science has continued to evolve, especially in a caregiver context. You might already be familiar with some of the benefits of self-compassion training for nurses.5 Online self-compassion training has also been used as a successful way of reducing distress and promoting happiness among psychologists-in-training.6 And Self-Compassion can be considered a key competency for those in the helping professions, like healthcare workers and therapists.7
Self-Compassion also plays a significant role in the management of burnout. As universal caregivers, we are all experiencing some kind of burnout in certain ways. Burnout is sometimes classified into three profiles: frenetic, under-challenged, and worn out.8 These profiles have been shown to be related to Self-Compassion, and cases relating to the negative dimensions of Self-Compassion are more susceptible to each type of burnout.9 Think about what this means for you. Is there a burnout type that you identify with the most? And where could applying Self-Compassion help to bring you into balance?
One of the most important takeaways for this episode is the idea that “self-compassionate behavior in others may influence how compassionately one feels and behaves toward oneself.”10 The concepts presented in this series of the podcast all point to the link between more effective caring for yourself and more effective caring for others. A strong foundation in Self-Compassion can equip us be more compassionate and effective caregivers all around. A participant in a study on Self-Compassion even said, “I understand now one must employ self-care in the form of self-compassion and non-judgmental acceptance of self before one can relate and extend these qualities to others.”11 And that’s exactly what we’ll practice in today’s mindfulness session.
In today’s mindfulness session, we’ll practice flipping the script on how our brains tend to process negative situations. We’ll use the practice called “taking and sending” to turn the tables on our tendency to push away negative feelings. By making space to let those feelings in, we can be more effective at managing them, and at sending out care and support to others.
To start, take some time to settle in. Sit up straight, shake out any wiggles, and do whatever you need to get comfortable. Check in with yourself. If this practice at any point feels too intense, either physically or emotionally, just take a step back and go get any space or help you need.
As part of our practice of Self-Compassion, take the extra time today to really tune in to what your body is asking for, and how you can make yourself especially comfortable. If you need to put on a sweater, remove your glasses, adjust your seat, or any other small gestures that would make you settle in even just a little easier, go ahead and do it now. Then take a few moments just to breathe naturally and settle into this moment.
This practice will use the breath to acknowledge the difficulties we would normally turn away from, and send out positivity and support instead. Our natural tendency is to push away the negative, and welcome the positive. Today we’re going to switch that up, by welcoming in the negative and pushing out the positive. We’ll breathe in space for any difficult feelings or emotions, then breathe out positivity or support to share with others.
As an example, you might think of the anxiety you feel at caring for your children while they aren’t attending school as usual. Breathe in how this feels for you – it might be worry, stress, uncertainty, or many other things. Then while you breathe out, focus on what kind of support you would wish for others in a similar situation. You might exhale a sense of patience, or a feeling of confidence for every parent learning to teach, or maybe a wish for the health and safety of all in this new normal.
So bring to mind a difficult situation you’re dealing with. It could be something where you feel frustration for yourself, or on behalf of someone else or even a group of people. Try not to pick anything too distressing to focus on while this muscle is building. But call to mind a challenging situation, and recall any negative feelings you felt or witnessed.
Now take a nice, deep breath in. And as you breathe in, focus on the reality of how this situation and these negative feelings felt. Don’t spend any energy trying to run from the negativity or chase it away. Instead, just acknowledge that it’s there, and try to make a little space for it to sit for a just a second. Then, let out a nice deep sigh. And as you breathe out, picture any support that could make the situation more manageable, and imagine sharing this support out to others going through it now.
On each inhale, breathe in an acknowledgment of any difficult emotions, letting them sit just for a minute. Then on each exhale, send out a picture of the support you wish to share for others. This could be health or healing or kindness, or a wish for space so others can acknowledge their own challenges, or anything else that resonates with you and the situation.
On your next inhale, acknowledge and make space for the difficulties of the situation. And on your next exhale, send out the support you want to share with the world.
As we finish up with a few last rounds for this practice, continue to focus on the intention of each breath. Breathe in with the intention to acknowledge the challenges you or others are facing. Then breathe out with the intention to provide support. Maybe remembering, if it resonates with you, that the more space we create to acknowledge the negative, the more we can transform it into something positive to share with ourselves and others.
And now we’ll start to wind down our practice. Slowly start to come back to being present. Hear any sounds around you. Start to make small movements with your fingers and toes, then your hands and feet. And finally, gently open your eyes to take in the space around you.
Your call to action for this session is to practice this breathing when you witness something distressing or frustrating. You can’t control much of what’s happening in the world, including the way others respond due to their own stressors and pressures. But you can work toward cultivating Self-Compassion to help navigate these situations more effectively. This will help you to be a more compassionate caregiver toward yourself and others.
Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
1 Neff, K. (2020). Self-Compassion. Self-Compassion.org. https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/
2 Perez-Blasco, J., Sales, A., Melendez, J.C., & Mayordomo, T. (2016). The effects of mindfulness and self-compassion on improving the capacity to adapt to stress situations in elderly people living in the community. Clinical Gerontologist: The Journal of Aging and Mental Health, 39(2), 90-103. DOI: 10.1080/07317115.2015.1120253.
3 Sirois, F.M., Molnar, D.S., & Hirsch, J.K. (2015). Self-Compassion, Stress, and Coping in the Context of Chronic Illness. Self and Identity, 14(3), 334-347. DOI: 10.1080/15298868.2014.996249
4 Odou, N. & Brinker, J. (2015.) Self-compassion, a better alternative to rumination than distraction as a response to negative mood. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(5), 447-457. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2014.967800
5 Delaney MC (2018) Caring for the caregivers: Evaluation of the effect of an eight-week pilot mindful self-compassion (MSC) training program on nurses’ compassion fatigue and resilience. PLoS ONE, 13(11), e0207261. DOI: doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207261
6 Finlay-Jones, A., Kane, R., & Rees, C. (2017). Self?Compassion Online: A Pilot Study of an Internet?Based Self?Compassion Cultivation Program for Psychology Trainees. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 73(7), 797-816. DOI: 10.1002/jclp.22375.
7 Sinclair, S., Kondejewski, J., Raffin?Bouchal, S., King?Shier, K.M., & Singh, P. (2017). Can Self?Compassion Promote Healthcare Provider Well?Being and Compassionate Care to Others? Results of a Systematic Review. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 9(2), 168-206. DOI: 10.1111/aphw.12086.
8, 9 Montero-Marin, J., Zubiaga, F., Cereceda, M., Piva Demarzo, M.M., Trenc, P., & Garcia-Campayo, J. (2016). Burnout Subtypes and Absence of Self Compassion in Primary Healthcare Professionals: A Cross-Sectional Study. PLoS ONE, 11(6), e0157499. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0157499.
10 Miller, K., & Kelly, A. (2020). Is self-compassion contagious? An examination of whether hearing a display of self-compassion impacts self-compassion in the listener. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 52(2), 159-170. DOI: 10.1037/cbs0000150
11 Newsome, S., Waldo, M., & Gruszka, C. (2012). Mindfulness Group Work: Preventing Stress and Increasing Self-Compassion Among Helping Professionals in Training. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 37(4), 297-311. DOI: 10.1080/01933922.2012.690832