As we are coming into the fall and winter months, oftentimes depression is more prevalent for people. It can show up as low energy, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, or even frustration and irritability (just to name a few). Just like depression, we can experience grief in the same regard. Grief and depression symptoms usually go hand-in-hand, and can be incredibly difficult to experience. As mentioned before, we are also coming up on the end of the year and holidays, which can trigger feelings of grief, as it reminds us of our loved ones or even expectations we had that were never met this year. (psst, grief doesn’t just pertain to loss of loved ones, it can show up as unmet expectations, transition to different seasons of life, and feelings of loss in general).
Regardless of what is coming up for us, I’ve noticed that when it comes to either subject, we as humans are really hard on ourselves. Think about the classic saying of, “We are our own worst critic”. It is so true. We can be hard on ourselves through depression or grief by saying, “I need to get over this” or “I am so stupid for feeling this way”. We lean into the criticism because we are hard-wired for this line of thinking. But does this actually help us? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Self criticism increases our symptoms of anxiety and depression. So, what is the solution for self criticism? Self compassion.
Self compassion is essentially having compassion for ourselves in situations such as, being in a tough season of life, noticing things we do not like about ourselves, or failing. Typically, we can show compassion to others with ease, so how can we use that same compassion and turn it back onto ourselves?
I use the example of: imagine your friend is telling themselves critical thoughts, what would you say to them? Maybe, it would be things such as: “I am so sorry you’re going through this tough time,” or “This is a really difficult season or moment you’re experiencing.” With this in mind, are we able to say these compassionate phrases or words back to ourselves when we’re going through a tough time?
We can practice self compassion when experiencing depression and/or grief through these resources:
- Treating yourself like you would treat a friend: i.e. from the example above, can I speak to myself in the same, compassionate way I would speak to a friend going through the same experience?
- Changing your self critical voice. There are 3 steps to this practice:
1) Notice when we are being self critical. What does our self critical voice sound like? Is it harsh or loud? Are there phrases that we typically use over and over again? Try to understand what it sounds like so you’re able to identify it each time.
2) Work on softening your self critical voice. I often say our voice is there, not because it’s trying to be a bully, but because it’s actually scared, angry, etc. Talk back to it using a self compassionate voice (i.e. I know you’re trying to protect me or motivate me, but this isn’t working).
3) Finally, try to reframe the voice using neutral or positive statements. If your inner critic says, “Gosh, you’re so stupid for feeling this way”, try to change it to, “It’s ok for me to have these emotions, they are valid”.
- Visit Self Compassion Guided Exercises for guided meditations and resources. Kristin Neff, the leading psychologist on self compassion, has multiple guided practices ranging from 5-25 minutes long on various topics such as loving-kindness meditation, compassionate friend, and motivating self compassion.
Self compassion can be a hard practice to implement because it feels unnatural, but with practice, it becomes easier to use. We all need to be more gentle with ourselves, especially when we are facing mental illness and/or grief.
May I give myself the compassion I need. May I learn to accept myself as I am. May I be patient with myself.
You’ve got this, and I believe in you.
Megan Chase, LPC-MHSP