Hope for the haters: How to do self-compassion

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Do you criticize yourself repeatedly? Are you hard on yourself for even small missteps, like leaving your apple core decomposing on the counter or reading the wrong chapter of social psych? If so, you might be a hater. In 2016, make self-compassion your priority.

People who cut themselves more slack are happier, less stressed, and more productive, studies show. Read on for students’ questions on self-compassion. No judgment here.

Q&A Give yourself some loving kindness

Question: How does someone learn self-compassion? I never grew up around it so I don’t really know how.
—Second-year graduate student, Lambton College, Ontario

Answer: Self-compassion is something we learn rather than something we are born with. It takes practice to develop the habit of being kind to yourself. Get started with these steps:

  • Pay attention to yourself. Do you feel sick, tired, or stressed? Are you struggling with something?
  • Rather than criticizing yourself, think about what you would say to a friend in the same situation. Say that to yourself.
  • Give yourself a healthy break: Take a power nap or a hot bath, go to yoga with your roommate, check in with a friend.

Question: How do you stop yourself from judging others?
—First-year graduate student, University of Guelph, Ontario

Answer: The judgment cycle is a hard one to break. With a little bit of effort, you can get a handle on the negativity. Here’s how:

  • Spot the judgments: Rather than preventing the thoughts, start by identifying them. Judgments can sometimes be tricky to spot. They include:
    • Any thought about liking or not liking something or someone
    • Any thought assessing whether something is “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong”
    • Opinions that masquerade as “facts” (e.g., he’s a loser; anyone who believes that is an idiot)
  • Acknowledge the judgment without being critical. Say to yourself: “There’s a judgment,” “Here comes the judge,” or simply “Judgment.” Keep the tone of your acknowledgement light and humorous—no judging your judgments.
  • Let the judgment go without buying into it. To let a thought go, simply move your attention elsewhere. If you practice this response to your own thoughts, the judgments eventually start to slow down, leaving more room for happier stuff.

The best way to step up your self-compassion and silence your inner judge is to practice loving-kindness meditation. It’s not as strange as it seems.

Question: What if I’m so stressed I can’t fall asleep or get any work done? My mind is often flooded with negative judgments about myself, especially regarding my ability to complete tasks in the face of anxiety and depression.
—Third-year undergraduate, Wilfred Laurier University, Ontario

Answer: If you are severely stressed or depressed, the self-judgment can be overwhelming, which leads to a cycle of more stress and more criticism. You may need to consult with an expert to find a way through it. As an act of self-compassion, contact your campus counseling center or wellness services and make an appointment. Their support and guidance can help you get back on track.

+ Loving kindness with Koru Mindfulness

Dr. Holly Rogers co-developed the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and co-author of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).