Self-Compassion: The Antidote for your Critical Thoughts and Unrealistic Expectations
Guest Post by Alexis Tomchuk, RD
It is always a pleasure to share this space with like-minded individuals. Alexis Tomchuk is a fellow dietitian and colleague who shares my interest and passion for nutrition and its connection to mental and physical health. When Alexis accepted my invitation to share her wisdom with my readers I was thrilled, and I know you will be too!
Read on, as Alexis bestows upon us her knowledge of self-compassion and how it can help mitigate negative self-talk, self-criticism, and unrealistic expectations.
Do you tend to beat yourself up when you make a mistake or don’t reach a goal? Do you frequently pick yourself apart for your actions or appearance? Do you struggle with perfectionistic tendencies? You are definitely not alone. Self-compassion can be the antidote for our overly critical thoughts and unrealistic expectations we have for ourselves.
What is self-compassion?
In short, self-compassion is no different than the compassion you would give to others! This may look like having non-judgemental understanding and kindness for someone who is struggling or has made a mistake (1). You realize that failure, suffering, and imperfection are all part of the shared human experience. By providing yourself the same warmth and understanding when you make a mistake, you are being self-compassionate! (3) When you are going through a difficult time, instead of judging and criticizing yourself harshly, self-compassion includes acknowledging your pain and asking yourself “how can I comfort and care for myself right now?” (1) Self-compassionate people understand that imperfection, failure, and experiencing difficulties in life are inevitable, and that this is the reality of the human condition that we all share (1). It is important to be gentle with ourselves and hold our painful thoughts and feelings in mindful awareness instead of avoiding them, or overidentifying with them (4). This means having the willingness to observe our negative emotions and thoughts with openness, and without trying to deny or suppress them (1).
What are the benefits of self-compassion?
By practicing self-compassion, we can improve our mental health and overall well-being (2, 7). Self-compassion has been linked to lower levels of anxiety and depression, greater resilience, strength, happiness, and improved life satisfaction (2,5). Self-compassion can also protect us from the negative consequences of stress and critical self-talk (2, 3, 5). Harsh self-judgment can activate our fight-or-flight response system, which tends to be overactive in many of us and can be responsible for many of the negative emotions we face (2). On the other hand, self-compassion can calm our fight-or-flight response by activating our soothe system (2, 5). Another benefit of self-compassion is increased productivity (5). By remaining calm during times of failure, rejection, or criticism, you will maintain your peace of mind and experience higher well-being allowing for continued productivity (5).
How does this relate to perfectionism?
Perfectionism is when someone has unrealistically high expectations for themselves and/or others that are unlikely to be met. People with perfectionistic tendencies are less likely to be self-compassionate and more likely to have self-critical thoughts. This can lead to distress and decreased well-being, particularly increased levels of depression (6). By practicing self-compassion, we can realize and accept that it is human to struggle, make mistakes, and be imperfect. This can alleviate the stress many of us put on ourselves to be perfect and help us speak kindly to ourselves when we don’t meet the unrealistic goals we have set.
What does self-compassion have to do with food?
Food and eating is another area of the human experience that many of us harshly criticize ourselves for. For example, some may beat themselves up for consuming a certain food, eating too much, or “falling off the wagon”, etc. If we apply self-compassion in this area, we can improve our relationship with food and get greater enjoyment from our meals. A study looking at the role of self-compassion in mothers’ eating behaviors showed that those who had higher levels of self-compassion had a higher diet quality, greater levels of intuitive eating, and lower levels of emotional eating (7). These links occurred partly due to that those with higher self-compassion had better body esteem which lead to these positive eating behaviors (7).
Tips for practicing self-compassion
You may be wondering where to start with self-compassion or how to easily integrate it into your life. Here are a few ways to practice self-compassion during a difficult time:
Write yourself a letter. You can describe a situation that is causing you distress along with all of the negative self-talk accompanied by it. Then, write a letter to yourself as if you were giving advice to a friend who was struggling with the same situation (2, 5).
Comfort your body. Lie down and rest, take a walk, brew your favorite cup of tea, massage your neck or feet. Anything that soothes your body is a dose of self-compassion (2)!
Develop a self-compassion mantra. Come up with an easy-to-remember phrase that you can repeat to yourself during difficult times or when negative thoughts arise. For example, “I am doing the best I can”, “It is human to make mistakes”, or “This is a moment of suffering, which is a part of life. May I be kind to myself and give myself the compassion I need” (5).
Mindfulness. Even if it is a short exercise or meditation, being mindful can help us to practice acceptance and can be a great way to nurture ourselves during tough times (2).
In summary, self-compassion is mindfully accepting painful moments, providing kindness and comfort in response, and remembering that struggle and imperfection are something all humans experience (2). Giving ourselves the care and support we need to get through difficult moments will allow for greater emotional regulation, decreased anxiety and depression, and improved overall well-being.
Self-compassion is at the core of what I teach my clients at The Daily Grind Nutrition, as it is essential for change and healing to happen.
To learn more about my practice philosophy and how I help women living with anxiety and depression navigate their food-mood relationship and restore wellness to their body and mind, book a free Discovery Session, subscribe to the newsletter, or follow me in Instagram.