Tag Archives: emotions

Self compassion takes self discipline

I say self compassion and many will think, at best it’s airy fairy, at worst it’s self indulgent or even hedonistic. But I just want to spend a few minutes putting this in perspective.

So, what is compassion?

People holding hands with caring and compassion

Firstly, you need to notice some suffering, you then need to feel moved, in some way, by this pain and thirdly, you need to feel some warmth or desire to change the situation. For most people it is fairly easy to feel compassion for someone else. For example, if you hear the plight of families in your local area who cannot afford food (step 1), if you’re moved by this (step 2) you may wish to help the situation, while doing your weekly shop, by donating some canned goods (step 3). Easy, isn’t it?!

Feeling compassion for ourselves can be a lot harder.

Most of us are incredibly quick to judge and criticise ourselves for falling short, for making mistakes and for our various inadequacies. But if we can be compassionate to fellow human beings, why do we raise the bar so high when it comes to judging ourselves? Self esteem is a fragile enough entity, why do we insist on making it so hard for ourselves?

It’s a common technique, when recovering from mental illness, to imagine how you would treat a friend in a similar situation. Some people struggle with this, if your self esteem is low enough, you’ll think you’re not good enough to be treated as a friend; but consider this, is what you’re doing, the way you speak to yourself, the way you treat yourself, at the moment, work? If not, you need to try something different.

To feel compassion and to care for ourselves may be at odds with our inner beliefs but it can have such wide ranging benefits it’s worth taking time to think about this.

Self compassion can be put as simply as feeling compassion for others: step 1 – be aware of your pain, step 2 – feel moved by the pain, step 3 – have a desire to change it. But it’s not that simple is it?!

Instead of judging ourselves we need to practice self-kindness. If you’re constantly beating yourself up for making mistakes, this only leads to a negative spiral of stress. If you’re doing your best and you fall short, it’s ok, being kind to ourselves take practice and discipline to replace habitual thought patterns.

We are all human, mortal, vulnerable and imperfect – we can find solace in sharing our humanness rather than feeling isolated in our suffering. Instead of believing we are failing and experiencing suffering as an individual, consider these experiences part of a shared human experience.

2 people looking at a figure on the ground. One person sees a 6, the other person sees a 9.

Remember, sometimes perspective is everything – if you’re a new mum or dad waist deep up nappies, you’ve not had a adult conversation for days, your baby’s got colic and you’re exhausted, it’s likely, you will feel you’re doing something wrong and you’re totally alone. If you pick up the phone and speak to a friend, how will they view the situation? They will think you’re doing an amazing job, your baby is alive aren’t they?!

In all seriousness, sharing experience puts it in perspective and helps us realise we’re all human, stumbling through life, what we perceive as our failings and imperfections are all part of the human condition.

Being mindful of our emotions allows us to experience our emotions in their fullness without suppression or exaggeration. We are able to do this when we’re able to view our emotions within our situation as a larger picture. Mindfulness allows us to view all emotions, (whether perceived as “positive” or “negative”) simply as they are, without judging them or trying to change them.

I do not believe there are negative emotions – all emotions simply serve the purpose of telling us more about a given situation (the negativity is only the judgment we place on the existence of the given emotion).

While identifying and being aware of our emotions, we will enable ourselves to avoid over-identifying and getting caught up in our emotions, thus avoiding negative reactivity.

Element of self compassion by Kristin Neff. Self kindness, recognising our common humanity, mindfulness.

This self-compassion sounds quite complicated, doesn’t it?! It’s certainly not some passive pleasure seeking, it’s an active choice that takes discipline, you decide if the benefits are worth it:

  • Improved self esteem
  • Increased sense of self worth
  • Reduce stress
  • Improved resilience

To start trying self kindness, catch your thoughts and turn them around, you don’t have to become your own cheerleader (unless you want to!) but be more gentle than harsh with yourself:

  • Replace “I’m useless” with “I’m doing my best”
  • Replace “I always mess up” with “it’s ok to make mistakes”
  • Replace “I can’t” with “I’ll try”
  • Instead of always saying “yes” to requests, consider what’s best for you and say “no” or “I’ll think about it” or “I could find time next week”

It’s going to take practice. Some people will find it helpful to write down their common harsh thoughts so that they can think of concrete replacement thoughts and seeing them in black and white can be eye opening.

“You got this” written in flouncy text

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with a situation and feeling isolated. Remember you are human, stumbling and being vulnerable is part of the human condition – talk to a friend, a problem shared really is a problem halved! But this, again, takes discipline, it’s so much easier to dwell in our self pity or not want to both anyone else but you deserve to feel better and you never know, the friend you phone may need you just as much as you need them!

Are you someone who tends to ignore your emotions or do you get carried away with them? Being mindful of emotions as they happen will aid a more balanced approach and will help prevent maladaptive coping mechanisms from kicking in. Emotions do not come with a health warning so being mindful of them, to catch them as your feeling them, to notice them, non-judgementally and allow them to just be, will take discipline and practice!

Self compassion isn’t airy-fairy-self-indulgence. You’re probably someone who finds it easier to feel compassion and care for other people. There are no simple answers but practice makes perfect and as you start to have compassion for yourself, you’ll have even more to give others!

1 piece of broccoli and 1 cherry tomato on a plate being eaten with a knife and fork bound with tape measure

Why “going on a diet” doesn’t work!

TW – Trigger Warning – I’m aware many of my readers have eating disorder either currently or in their history. Please be aware this blog talks about food frankly and openly. If this may be a trigger for you, please click onto another blog!

One of the hardest things I feel I’ve had to contend with while recovering from anorexia is full-on diet culture! It’s everywhere, from magazines in waiting rooms to everyday in the office. A day doesn’t go by where someone talks about the weight they’ve lost, or put on, or what diet they’re going to try next.

I’ve found it quite shocking, when I was ill, I was in a bubble of denial about these kind of things, I didn’t talk to people about food, nor them to me so I had no idea there was so much rubbish out there.

I think the most bizarre, to date, has to be the potato diet – you’ve guessed it – all my colleague ate for weeks was potatoes! I’m guessing the logic is that you’ll be so bored of them that eventually you’ll just stop eating and you might lose a bit of weight. But seriously…who dreamt this up?! How can just potatoes sustain a human being?!

I’m taking this back to basics. Very broadly there are 3 reasons we eat:

1. Food is available
Buffet table full of food

This may be simple, someone has brought some cakes into the office and they’re offered round. You eat one because they’re waved in front of your nose. You may feel “it’s rude not to” or you may just fancy one.

We also follow this rule when we live by strict habits. For example, lots of people eat 3 meals a day, each day fairly similar no matter how different their needs are on each day. Habitually, it’s 1pm, you prepare lunch and eat it because it’s there.

This is also the case when we live in family groups. “We eat dinner at 6.30pm because that’s when most people are likely to be hungry”.

2. We’re emotional

Females are renowned for this but it can happen to anyone. For some it’s a case of stuffing their feelings down, “If I eat, I don’t have to feel”. Or it may feel like a comfort, food just makes everything feel a bit better doesn’t it? All sorts of emotions may work in this way, living in the western world, food is available as a coping mechanism.

3. We’re hungry

Our body’s pretty clever, when it requires more food, you experience symptoms of hunger and we can use these as a signal to eat. Your stomach may physically feel empty or may be making noises, you may feel light-headed, irritable or lacking in concentration. If you’re feeling these things but you’ve only just eaten, they’re unlikely to be hunger, but if it’s been a couple of hours, they may signal hunger.

None of these reasons to eat are wrong

If you’re at a dinner party and not hungry, it’s totally fine to eat when food is available. It’s not just polite, it’s a sociable thing to do. If you’ve had a shocking day at work and you just fancy a a massive ice cream or block of chocolate, that’s ok.

However…
Square of carrot cake on a plate

It’s important to be aware of why you’re eating. When you’ve met up with your girlfriends for a coffee and chinwag, if you just fancy that slice of carrot cake because you saw it on the counter, do it – but make sure you know you’re eating it because it was there. Don’t pretend to yourself you’re hungry, or you’ll “make up for it later” or any other “excuse”. It’s ok to say “I’m having it because it was there and I want it.”

If however, you know you’re a grazer and you tend to just eat food “because it’s there”, try to become more mindful about this. Do you need snacks in the cupboard?

Emotional eating is a really important one to be aware of – eating our feelings is dangerous. The only healthy way to manage feelings is to fully experience them a talk about them. Say to yourself, “I’m having this bar of chocolate because I’m really sad” – you may then decided you don’t need the bar of chocolate and may express your emotion in a different way but as long as your acknowledge it, you can make sure that you deal with the underlying emotions as well.

As a generalisation, people are over weight because they have consumed more calories than they have expended. This is likely to be because they have done more eating for reasons numbers 1 and 2. I reiterate, these are not wrong, but we need to be mindful of them in order to keep them in check.

Being mindful of what we’re eating and why is the most important part of having a healthy relationship with food. Having a healthy relationship with food is not about say “yes” or “no” to “good” or “bad” foods, it’s not about having rules, it’s about listening to our body and being aware of what it needs and when.

(I’m not entirely sure I’m as in tune with my body as I’d like to be – I say I’m fully recovered form anorexia but I still struggle to know when I’m hungry, what it means when I’m craving food and most of the time I feel totally disconnected from my body – it’s work in progress!)

“Going on a diet” doesn’t change anything
Potato

Eating potatoes [insert latest fad] for a month may help you lose a few pounds but if you’ve not changed your relationship with food, when you come off the diet, it’s fairly predictable what’s going to happen…!

The way to a healthy body is a healthy mind

Biscuits are on the side during a tea break/cake is handed ‘round during someone birthday/chocolates are “calling you from the sweetie draw” – do you have one? Do a quick check with yourself:

  1. Are you hungry? – is this an appropriate thing to be eating at this time of day to satisfy the hunger you have?
  2. Are you feeling emotional? – is this an appropriate thing to eat to cope with how your feeling? Would you prefer to manage your emotions in another way?
  3. Do you want it just because it’s there? – that’s ok, but make sure you’re making a conscious decision and be aware that you are not eating this because you need it.
Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most. Quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln with background of mountains and trees

Because diet culture is so much the norm, language around food is really unhelpful. If you say “no” to the birthday cake, other people (who are probably feeling guilty* about eating some) will say “oh, you’re so good”. But it’s not about being “good” or “bad”. It is entirely up to you whether you say “yes” or “no” when feeling peer-pressure to join in, only you know why you’re eating it and whether you have a healthy relationship with food.

*I recently heard Raymond Blanc completely baffled by the question “what’s your guilty pleasure?” – he couldn’t comprehend why anyone would feel guilty about feeling pleasure from food. (Obviously) he’s right! We should never feel guilty about eating. If you’re eating, no matter what you’re eating, if you’re aware of why you’re eating it, no matter whether it’s reason 1, 2 or 3, and you’re ok with your reasoning, and it’s giving you pleasure – just enjoy it!

People end up feeling guilty when their relationship with food is such that they lie to themselves about why they’re eating. Tackling the reasons will in turn address the guilt. We should not feel guilty about nourishing our bodies!

Say no to fad diets text written using food to form the letters

We may need to re-educate ourselves about what a healthy diet looks like. For our bodies to function healthily and feel good we need a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fruits and veg. No foods are “off limits” but some may need to be eaten less often. A good relationship with food is about mindfully saying “yes”!

Woman looking out the window calmly

Should we be normalising mental illness?

Awareness around mental illness is certainly getting better, reducing stigma and discrimination is important but are we doing the general population a disservice?

1 in 4 mental health awareness. 4 silhouettes, 3 are blue and 1 is has words such as “there’s too much to do” and “why does it always happen to me?”

The figure is 1 in 4 people will suffer with a mental illness at some point in their lives. There are also statistics out there about how many anti-depressants are prescribed each year or the number of sick days mental illness costs companies. Some say “mental illness is on the rise”, perhaps due to the state of our economy, social media or life stresses from other sources.

But, perhaps we need to stop and think. Not coping is different from mental illness.

Talking recently to someone working in Child and Adolscent Mental Health, she said she is seeing a rise in children being referred to her service but this is not due to a rise in mental illness, she is seeing a rise in children not coping and a decrease in resilience.

This seems to be the same across all sector of the population.

The phrase “panic attack” has become synonymous with feeling anxious. Now, I do not want to diminish anyone’s anxiety but if you’re stood in a queue in the supermarket “having a panic attack” but you “kept it in” – you did not have a panic attack. You may have experienced extreme anxiety, and I’m not saying that is ok, you may need to learn some techniques to manage feeling anxious but please do not use a medical phrase for a normal emotion.

An outline head and shoulders with thought bubbles saying, “worry”, “anxiety”, “fear”, “tension” and “panic”.

The language around mental illness is diffciult because they’re standard English words. You can feel depressed without being diagnosed with depression, you can feel paranoid without suffering panaroia (a symptom of mental illness), you can feel anxious without having a diagnosis of anxiety. By raising awareness, we’re making all these words more accessible and they’re falling into common use. But bandying medical words around in common parlance diminishes their meaning in the context of illness.

If you suffer severe fluctuations in emotions that feel uncomfortable, please do talk to someone, you are allowed support, I do not want to take that away from you. After all, apparently Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living”. You do not have to be ill to access support, explore yourself and your life and to develop better coping strategies. Nor do you need to justify your struggles by using medical terminology.

I started training to be a counsellor because I want to help people diagnosed with mental illness but the more I learn, the more I see how incredibly helpful it can be for people who’re struggling with life’s ups and downs. It’s ok to seek counselling or other support when things just don’t feel right.

Words on a rainy back ground, “it is perfectly okay to admit you’re not okay”

It’s great that people are getting more comfortable in talking about their emotions but we need to be able to differentiate between people who’re struggling and people who’re ill. It’s ok to say “I’m having a bit of a tough time” or “I’m not feeling so great today” – the #hashtag #itsoknottobeok is falling into common use and this is helpful for everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

If you’d sprained your ankle, you wouldn’t say you’d fractured it, put it in a cast and use crutches would you? A sprained ankle needs appropriate support. If I had a sprained ankle but I acted as though it was broken and treated it as such, i.e. immobilised it etc, it would get worse, not better.

By normalising mental illness and by normalising the language, we risk normal struggles being treated as illness. Since recovering from mental illness, I’m not immune from normal life struggles but I’m acutely aware they are just that.

By raising awareness of mental illness, we need to be careful we don’t label all emotional struggles as “illness”. We need to make sure we’re also raising awareness of the differences between illness and not coping.

Quote “The unexamined life is not worth living” accredited to Socrates. On a black and White Sea scape background