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Rule your mind or it will rule you: Practicing Self-Compassion to reduce anxiety and depression

Blog written by: Sejal Patel-Ashby

We all have our stories.  When we own and tell our story, we often find meaning in what has happened to us.  Sharing our story can be healing  and empowering for about the first several times but talking about it too much can be detrimental. The story becomes our default- a way to maintain homeostasis or stability in our lives.  Like a rut, it becomes deeply ingrained in our brain and we often times feel stuck. 

Science shows that the human brain has the ability to change throughout an individual’s life.  It’s called Neuroplasticity. People can change the wiring in their brain by engaging in new behaviors in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.  This means that people have the ability to control their mind, to change their stories, and to live life more blissfully.

Over the last decade, research has consistently shown a positive correlation between self-compassion and psychological well-being.  People who have self-compassion also have greater social connections, emotional intelligence, happiness, and overall life satisfaction.  Self-compassion has also been shown to correlate with less anxiety and depression.

Self-compassion may be a foreign concept for some people.  This is especially true for those who were raised in abusive or unloving homes, where compassion may have been non-existent.  The concept of self-compassion is rooted in Buddhist psychology and has been around for over 2500 years.  Psychologist Kristin Neff was the first person to measure and define the term.  She describes self-compassion as kindness toward self, which entails being gentle, supportive, and understanding.

It means being kind to yourself in good times and bad, even when you make mistakes.  When you have self-compassion, you understand that your worth is unconditional. 

People often find some difficulty in caring for themselves, in receiving love, and in believing they deserve to be happy. Imagine for a moment the amount of energy you expend thinking about the past, comparing yourself to others, and worrying about what might happen next.  Now, imagine all of that energy being returned to you.

Practicing self-compassion means re-wiring your brain.  There are many ways to practice self-compassion:  having awareness of thoughts without judgement, practicing forgiveness, expressing gratitude, and giving yourself permission for imperfections.  The key is to start small and to remember that you are not alone.

When experiencing anxiety or depression, self-compassion may be farthest from your mind but it is precisely what can help change your life.  Cultivating new patterns of thought or behavior takes effort.  Therapy provides a safe environment in which a supportive therapist can help you take control of your mind, your life, and your right to bliss. 

“When we give ourselves compassion, we are opening our hearts in a way that can transform our lives.” ~ Kristin Neff


References:

Abrams, A. (2017).  “How to Cultivate More Self-Compassion.”  Psychology Today, Retrieved on October 20, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/nurturing-self-compassion/201703/how-cultivate-more-self-compassion

Hampton, D. (2015)  “Neuroplasticity:  The 10 Fundamentals of Rewiring Your Brain.”  Reset.  Retrieved on October 30, 2018, from http://reset.me/story/neuroplasticity-the-10-fundamentals-of-rewiring-your-brain/ 

Tartakovsky, M. (2015). 9 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion When You Have Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/9-ways-to-practice-self-compassion-when-you-have-depression/

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