Self-care means many things to many people, but whether it’s a yoga class, a candle, simply changing the sheets or just ringfencing time to sit, think and drink a brew that’s actually warm, most of us know that we feel far better after tending to our needs, and treat others more gently as a result. While some of us cringe at the concept of self-care , one of the most fundamental aspects of boosting our sense of wellbeing isn’t tied up in incense or getting the laundry done: it’s kindness, and it’s crucial.
The kindfulness movement
You’ve been instructed to “be kind” since childhood, but Lord knows we could use some use some warm and fuzzy feels in the public arena at present: the World Cup (I’m taking our semi-finals status as a positive), sunshine and royal wedding aside, world news is bleak, and politics at present possibly even more so.
It seems that psychotherapists and psychologists, as is their skill, have taken the temperature of the global mood, and prescribed us food for thought on kindness and compassion by way of 2018’s ‘kindfulness’ publications. There’s addiction specialist Shahroo Izadi’s The Kindness Method , psychotherapist Padraig O’Morain’s Kindfulness and Lizzie Velasquez’s Dare to Be Kind , about Lizzie’s path to self-acceptance, tolerance and compassion in the face of a rare genetic condition, cruelty and bullying. Cultivating a culture of kindness, building ourselves and others up and letting go of our perceived “imperfections” is a tall order in these filtered, FOMO inducing times when trolls appear to (literally) rule, but actively practicing compassion brings far-reaching benefits that can improve everything from anxiety to sleeping patterns and drinking habits. Buckle up for some altruism, and it starts with you…
Five ways to be 'kindful'
It starts at home
Just like when you were told to be kind to others by your elders, only now you’re bringing it home (veiled football reference) in a more direct sense, by kicking this whole thing off by being kind to yourself, which is far, far harder than you might think, but small, decisive actions will get you there. One very important trope of kindfulness you must remember is…
You’re not selfish
In a way, kindness is directly correlated with being unselfish and putting others before yourself, but the Insta caption cliché of “you can’t pour from an empty cup” (and all of the culinary variations on said phrase), ring true for being kind for yourself and much as they do for getting enough exercise or making sure you’ve fed yourself breakfast as well as your brood. If you’d like scientific confirmation of the fact that showing yourself some love isn’t selfish, here’s Kindfulness author Padraig O’Morain:
“Self-compassion increases empathy for others and this is evidenced by greater activation of the insula, a structure in the brain that is involved with awareness of the body and in empathy. Empathy means being more ‘in tune’ with how other people are feeling. It isn’t mind reading- there’s no magic here! It’s about having a greater ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. For us, as social animals, it is a truly valuable skill.”
Harness that skill by actioning one essential tenet of kindfulness…
Develop coping strategies for negative inner chat
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” may be a biblical golden rule, but the opposite is also true- treat yourself in a forgiving, accepting and kind way and you’ll not only in turn have more to give to others, but you may find yourself exceeding your own expectations, whether work, health or relationship wise, as addiction expert and author of The Kindness Method Shahroo Izadi explains:
“In the context of changing habits, being kind to yourself is remembering at all times that you deserve to live your best possible life and that if this internal chatter becomes louder in the short term, and discomfort comes about, you can withstand it. In order to get where you want to be in the long-term, you need to be okay with curiously and consciously listening to your self-sabotaging thoughts and willingly feeling your impulse, instead of trying to push them to the back of your mind as soon as they pop up.”
If you’re feeling low or in a negative spiral, not beating yourself up for those emotions is key- support yourself through them as you would a friend rather than chastising yourself for having them in the first place.
Don’t chase perfection
Not because you shouldn’t be go-getting and ambitious, but because the P word doesn’t exist, and your mental health will benefit from letting it go, as Padraig reminds us:
“Even if you become the ‘perfect’ person you think you ought to be, you will still criticise yourself. You cannot impress the critic in your head so much that he or she shuts up. That’s why you need self-compassion. Self-compassion isn’t about becoming a better person and liking that person- it’s about liking who you are.”
Don’t put boundaries or ‘limits’ around your friendship with yourself, and remember that no one on this planet qualifies as ‘perfect’ (thank goodness), and that you’re not alone in negative internal monologue stakes either:
“You are not the only person having these thoughts or a thought that is very similar. Realising that you are not unique in these experiences is a necessary step towards self-compassion.”
A useful reminder for those days when social media is presenting you with a glossy, happy showreel and you just spilt coffee down your top and have a case of imposter syndrome.
Be aware of your triggers and practice daily kindness
Izadi details common causes of a kindfulness lapses, from fatigue to hunger to stress and worry, all of which can leave you feeling emotionally and physically exhausted, but the extremities of which can vary from person to person and day to day. Changing habits around any number of these, and keeping long-term compassion rather than short-term relief in mind can help you to overcome low self-worth, as can simply being aware of when you might be more susceptible to self-criticism and accepting why. For Izadi, daily resilience exercises help her to make kind choices- from getting off the tube earlier if the sun is shining and walking through a park to buying herself flowers or calling a funny friend on a sad news day. A contingency plan for self-compassion will make you feel good in the moment and in a more sustained way overall, and when you feel good, and accept that you deserve to treat yourself well whatever else is going down, you’ll give that back to others without a second thought. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it (and so are you- I’ve been resisting quoting that ad but here it is).
For more theory, ideas and practical exercises in kindness, read The Kindness Method , £12.99 and Kindfulness , £14.99