Natalia Velásquez, M.S., Outreach Coordinator | Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS)
In times when we might feel disconnected and divided from others more than usual, it can be helpful to practice compassion for ourselves and those around us.
Compassion involves 1) noticing the suffering that you or someone else might be experiencing, 2) responding to the pain (the word compassion literally means “to suffer with”) with feelings of warmth/care and a desire to help in some way, 3) offering understanding and kindness when you or others’ make mistakes rather than judging or criticizing harshly, and 4) realizing that suffering (e.g., failure, imperfection) are part of the shared human experience. If the latter reality is denied, suffering tends to increase and manifest in other forms, such as stress and anxiety, whereas if this reality is accepted with kindness, greater emotional calmness has a greater chance of being experienced.
On the other hand, self-compassion begins with the acceptance and awareness of your present moment experience, as it allows you to intentionally provide kindness to yourself during times of perceived inadequacy. The self-accepting view is that your “negative” thoughts and emotions are just another part of your experience and maybe even signify that you have gone/are going through tough times. Self-acceptance involves taking a broader view of yourself and works towards a kinder, more compassionate position in which you accept a difficult part of your history and/or current experience.
This helps to provide stability in life, as self-acceptance is not based on your perceptions of successes or failures but rather a value of how you might aspire to treat yourself and others. Therefore, rather than fighting the difficult experience in a desperate attempt to feel better, practice choosing to make room for it, accepting that it’s there, and moving towards what would make your life meaningful.
With that said, self-compassion can be very challenging for many of us, even more challenging than having compassion for others at times. Having compassion for yourself means that you accept your humanness, as things will not always go as planned, and that’s okay. The more you practice opening your mind and heart to this reality instead of struggling with it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and your fellow human beings in the experience of life.
Self-compassion involves 1) accepting that difficult life experiences are inevitable and offering gentleness, warmth, and understanding towards yourself during these times rather than self-criticizing, 2) recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy are part of our common humanity rather than being something that “only happens to me,” 3) being willing to non-judgmentally observe your negative thoughts and emotions with mindful awareness rather than ignoring the pain or over-identifying with the thoughts/emotions.
Thus, self-compassion encourages you to be kind to yourself in the midst of pain, such that you might ask yourself “What do I need right now?” and actually listen/act on whatever that might be in the present moment. For example, due to the current pandemic, many students might be experiencing the inability to go home or be with family during the break/holidays, which may lead to greater stress/anxiety, disappointment/sadness, and loneliness/isolation. If you find yourself experiencing similar difficulties, this is the time to practice extending compassion to yourself and others!
To cultivate self-compassion, practice the following steps:
- Pause without reaction.
- Take deep breaths for approximately 30 seconds.
- Notice judgmental thoughts and associated feelings.
- Provide a positive self-affirmation (i.e., “I am doing my best in this moment”).
- Ask yourself: “What do I truly need in this moment”? This could be:
- Taking a break from constant homework/studying during finals week.
- Scheduling a virtual pizza night with a friend/family member.
- Snuggling your dog/cat while you watch a movie.
- Planning a whole day of self-care during break.
- Cooking/Decorating for the holidays and scheduling a Zoom tree lighting.
- Or whatever else comes to mind (remember, no judgement)!
To cultivate compassion for others, practice the following steps:
- Start with yourself! Regularly provide self-compassion.
- Actively listen to others (e.g., be present and validate their feelings) in difficult times without imposing your beliefs or trying to fix the difficulty for them.
- Offer a gentle touch, such as holding a hand or giving a hug (if appropriate).
- Affirm others by providing praise and encouragement, highlighting strengths/talents you see in the person, and offering support and comfort in difficult times.
- Show kindness through your actions without expecting anything back (e.g., giving a compliment, making a donation, volunteering, helping someone advocate their wants/needs in a challenging situation, and/or paying for someone’s meal behind you in line).
If you find yourself in need of additional guidance, please reach out for help! Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is your student counseling center and we are here for you! CAPS provides a variety of mental health and wellness services to assist you and other students in successfully reaching personal, academic, and career goals. Please take a moment to visit our website: https://www.fit.edu/counseling-and-psychological-services/ to learn more information on how to request services and find resources for psychological health and well-being. Be the healthiest Florida Tech Panther you can be!