4 Step Self-Compassion Break

There have been many times in my life where I have struggled with understanding how to proceed after a difficult situation. It was like the old adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” was just not working for me. Because of this, I have often found myself wondering how so many people could think or act positively after something that would be horrifying to anyone, while I could not. The truth of the matter is that everyone has moments like this; everyone goes through moments where they feel no one else can relate. And we all struggle in those moments.

It is situations like these that have made me wonder: Is it just me who is unable to see the positives? Was I the only one who, when given a difficult situation in my life, just didn’t know how to deal with it? The truth is NO; I am not the only one. I am not the only one who struggles to have compassion for myself when I am handed a challenging or painful situation. I had to learn that I cannot always just sit there and live in the moment of pain in my life. I could not just be upset about feeling or struggling with the hard stuff. Instead, I had to learn to hit pause for just a moment.

One of the ways that I have found effective for myself and many others is the use of a Compassion Break. Compassion Breaks are when we allow ourselves to pause, tune in, and feel our emotions. In fact, there is a four step break that when we are going through the hard stuff, can be important for us all to follow. These four steps include pausing, tuning into our bodies and noticing how our body is affected by our emotions.

Step 1: Bring mindful acceptance to what we are doing and what is happening in our lives.

By doing this, we can begin to stop struggling with what is happening. Step one is to say to ourselves (either out loud or quietly in our own thoughts): “This is a moment of suffering”. Suffering can mean many things to each one of us but recognizing the pain is important for us to have an overall sense of compassion for ourselves; this is what we call self-compassion.

Step 2: Normalize the experience of having difficult feelings (we all do sometimes).

We must recognize that we all undergo feelings of pain, upset, frustration, etc.; therefore, we must remind ourselves that we are not alone in that feeling. There has been many times in my 7 years of conducting counseling where a client will ask me, “How can you possibly understand what I am going through?” The short answer is that I may not know how it feels to lose a child but I can recognize that this is a loss that no one wishes to undergo and I can help my clients understand that I can feel that pain and hurt right alongside them. There is absolutely no need for us to feel alone in our experience or feel guilty or ashamed of what is a part of our life. Step two is to say to ourselves (either out loud or mentally): “I am not alone in this” and “I don’t have to feel alone”. I tend to forget this in the moment. I tend to forget that I am not alone and don’t have to show strength all of the time but it is time when we need others that we find a different type of strength; we find that strength in not being alone.

Step 3: Be compassionate to yourself.

I’m sure everyone can agree that we are our harshest critics but it should not always be that way. We must all remember to be kindhearted to ourselves in the moment. One easy way for us to bring ourselves joy, kindness and compassion in the moment would be to place both of our hands over our heart or on our cheeks. By placing our hands on our heart (or on our cheeks), we are raising our Oxytocin levels (the “cuddle hormone”). After placing our hands on our cheeks or our heart, we should tell ourselves, “This is a hard moment but I know I can get through it.”

Step 4: What do I need right now?

Now this is the fun one and doesn’t have to be done each time. This is an optional step that you only have to do if you want to or have time but it helps me remind myself that I am important and have needs. This step has me ask myself, “What do I need right now?”

Now for anyone who knows me, the one surefire way of having me clear my mind is for me to go skydiving. I love the rush of fresh air in my face, the picturesque view, and the adrenaline but there is absolutely no way for me to jump out of a plane on a moment’s notice. So, what do I do? I have spent many years challenging myself to believe that I had to find one thing I could do to calm me in moments where I felt lost, challenged, anxious, or any other feeling that would often keep me not focused on things that matter to me. Is there something that I can tell myself to make the moment a little bit easier for me? Something that I will often find myself doing is seeing if my parents can have a grandparent moment and maybe pick up one of my children from an activity when I feel too overwhelmed to do so. Other ideas include asking questions like “Can I be patient?” “Can I ask for help?” Or is there something you can do for yourself to help you in the moment? Some ideas include: going for a walk to give yourself a little break and refocus; calling your friend who you keep wanting to, but put it off instead; meditate to get you focused on something else for a little while; or even take a bubble bath. Small things that we can do for ourselves (either through the actions of ourselves or others) will allow us the time to be compassionate to ourselves.

Overall, it’s important to remember that you are important and what you are going through is important and should be noticed. You are worthy. You are in pain. You are going through something. You do not have to be alone. You can get through this. You can go for a walk or talk to a friend or do anything really that helps you get out of the moment. You can do it!