A significant contributing factor towards stress, anxiety and chronic pain can be self-induced pressures. Many people have personality traits that cause them to treat themselves much less kindly than they would ever treat close friends or family members.
Do you have a tendency towards self-criticism and being overly critical towards yourself? Find it difficult to put appropriate boundaries in place? Are you a people pleaser? A constant high achiever striving for perfection?... If you have some or all of these traits, you may want to take an opportunity to work with my top tips below on how to be kinder to yourself:
- Know that ‘done’ is usually enough and whatever it is doesn’t need to be perfect. You may work with an affirmation ‘Done is better than perfect’
- The writer Enuma Okoro said ‘Words make worlds...the stories that we tell ourselves become the stories that we live by.’ If you catch yourself talking negatively or unkindly to yourself, ask yourself if you’d say that out loud to someone else? If not, reflect on the unkind self-talk and see if you can change or switch the statement into something more positive, for example, rather than ‘I’m so useless at cooking’ it could be ‘I don’t have to be perfect/great/amazing at everything, my cooking is actually pretty good’. You could work with an affirmation such as ‘I will only say kind things to myself’ every time you’re about to tell yourself something unkind.
- Take some time out for yourself with a mind-body connection practice – I find that yin yoga (longer held seated or lying postures that allow for a turning of attention inwards in a mindful way), qi gong (more flowing movements, typically standing, that work to connect movement with the breath) or mindful meditation are especially good for this. They provide an opportunity to move us from place of constant thinking and doing, into a place of just being, feeling and experiencing what is happening in that moment alone. I use the affirmation ‘breathing in, I know that I am breathing in, and breathing out, I know that I am breathing out’ inspired by the work of zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh to help me stay present when I am doing these practices.
- Learn how to relax – most people find it really hard to relax – you probably feel like you should be doing something else or feel guilty for putting your own needs first. But it’s really important to spend just a short amount of time actively relaxing on a regular basis. There is a short, simple mindful exercise developed by Dr. Herbert Benson called ‘The Relaxation Response’ that provides a physical state of deep rest that can change your physical and emotional response to stress. Find a quite place to sit or lie down comfortably. Focus on breathing slowly and evenly (ideally through the nose if possible). Choose a word such as ‘calm’ or ‘relax’ (or other word that really resonates with you) and repeat it inwardly to yourself on every exhale. The focus and repetition of your chosen word on each exhale enables the body to relax and the nervous system to become more balanced. Repeat this practice for 10 minutes once or twice a day.