How To Have More Self-Compassion During A Pandemic And Beyond
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes compassion as the "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." Self-compassion, then, is the ability to become mindful of your own distress and work to alleviate it. As nurses, we need to develop self-compassion to be more compassionate with others.
But having self-compassion isn’t always natural — often, it has to be learned. You may have to discover how to show yourself loving kindness, then practice it on a daily basis. Over time, compassion for yourself can become a healthy habit.
“With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend,” says Kristin Neff, PhD, who is largely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion. “Research shows that self-compassion is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to create health and happiness.”
As a professor of nursing and psychiatric clinical nurse specialist at Chatham University, Kathleen Spadaro, PhD, PMHCNS, RN, agrees with Dr. Neff’s views on self-compassion. She takes the insights a step further by focusing on nurses in particular.
“Nurses are notoriously hard on themselves,” said Dr. Spadaro. “They need to learn how to be kinder and gentler with themselves, and they can do this by strengthening their own self-compassion.”
Showing yourself the same kindness you show a friend isn’t as easy as it may seem. It takes daily effort to engrain it into your routine and lifestyle. You might try to:
- Become more mindful: Recognize when you are feeling critical of yourself or thinking negative thoughts. Pause and take a deep breath. On exhalation, imagine breathing out the negative thoughts.
- Approach negative self-talk like you would with a friend: Treat yourself with understanding, not harsh judgement. Take a step back and remind yourself that it’s OK if you’re not “perfect.” Use positive thoughts and mantras to stay grounded.
- Wish yourself well: Loving-kindness is a huge part of compassion. Show it to yourself. Comfort yourself with kind thoughts and talk to yourself with kind words.
- Turn to what comforts you: Stressed and overthinking? Sit outside in the sun, take a walk, play with your pet, soak in a soothing bath — do something that’s good for your body, mind and spirit.
- Repeat: As you face difficult situations that result in discouragement, stress, or negativity, go back to the beginning of this process.
- Model it: Nurses are role models to patients, coworkers, family, and friends. If someone comes to you in a time of need, share your process for self-compassion. Talk to others about how you self-soothe and self-care.
How Nursing Leadership Can Promote Self-Compassion
Studies show many nurses have a need for permission or support to give themselves self-compassion and accompanying self-care. Can they find that permission from nursing leadership? And if so, how can nursing leaders ensure their staff feel comfortable practicing self-compassion?
The main way nurse leadership can promote a culture of self-compassion is by modeling it themselves. If nurses see their bosses and mentors approaching themselves with kindness and positivity during difficult situations, they are more likely to repeat the behavior. They are more likely to accept that self-compassion is the proper response to times of stress, negativity, or grief.
If you are in a nurse leadership position, incorporate more self-compassion into your unit by:
- Leading a brief self-compassion meditation during a staff meeting
- Encouraging time for self-reflection and mindfulness between shift changes
- Providing staff with access to trainings on self-compassion
- Printing and distributing self-compassion materials
- Providing small cards with a short self-compassion meditation to go behind a nurse’s ID badge
- Using a positive approach when providing constructive criticism and feedback
- Sharing examples of how you cope with your own negative self-talk
Most of us, no matter our profession, are good at self-criticism. But we’re not always good at self-compassion. It takes practice to break old habits, which means it takes practice to truly implement self-compassion.
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