6 mins

How to be kind to yourself and why it’s important

And if I asked you to name all the things you love… how long would it take for you to name yourself?

We talk a lot about kindness as a value. It’s a quality we (hopefully!) look out for in our friends, colleagues, partners… 

And we know that kindness comes alongside all kinds of health benefits. We know, for instance, that when we carry out an act of kindness for another person, the brain’s pleasure and reward centre lights up (otherwise known as the “helper’s high”). And that the brain releases serotonin, the feel-good hormone which has a calming effect and stimulates positive feelings in the body.

But we very rarely talk of self-kindness.

Perhaps we find the word “self” off-putting – it seems selfish or self-centred somehow…

But the truth is, self-kindness is an essential component of good mental health.

According to Kristen Neff (2007), a psychologist who has spent years researching and studying the benefits of self-compassion, those who are self-compassionate are,

“Less likely to be critical of themselves and less likely to be anxious and depressed, which, in turn, leads to greater life satisfaction”.

If you’re anything like most of us, you probably take yourself for granted a lot of the time, and speak to yourself in a way you’d never dream of speaking to friends.

Overriding this negative inner dialogue and replacing it with a kinder, more compassionate and forgiving voice is one of the most transformative steps we can take for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Be gentle with yourself meaning – what does it actually mean to be gentle with yourself?

Being gentle with yourself means simply recognising that we’re all human… Acknowledging that we’re all fallible in some way, and then acting accordingly. Instead of berating ourselves when we “mess up” or things don’t work out the way we planned, it’s about treating ourselves with kindness and compassion.

So, how can we start putting this into action?

Become mindful of the conversations going on in your head – the first step is to become familiar with how you talk to yourself. Our inner critic can sometimes become so firmly entrenched that we begin to think it actually is us. What kind of stories does it like to say about you and what tone does it use? When you notice you’re being hard on yourself, take a step back and question the validity of what it’s saying, “Is there any evidence to support this belief I have about myself?”, “is there a more realistic and balanced way of looking at myself?”

Give yourself an encouraging word – next time you find yourself saying things like, “I’m such an idiot” or “I messed it all up” see if you can offer yourself an encouraging word instead. Encouraging statements could be words like, “you’ve got this”, “you tried your best”, “I’m here for you”.

Take time off – this might sound obvious but how often do you give yourself guilt-free time off? If this is something you struggle with, try booking the time off in advance of making plans. You don’t have to do anything extravagant – just allowing yourself a lie in, breakfast in bed, a coffee and walk around the park is enough… Something that shows you how much you care about yourself.

Commit to doing at least one thing everyday that’s just for you – run yourself a nice long bath, light some candles, do that online yoga class you’ve been putting off for months… Make sure you do at least one thing everyday that brings you a sense of joy and wellbeing.

Learn how to self-soothe when you’re going through a difficult time – the power of touch isn’t just limited to other people. Research has shown that physical contact (even when offered to ourselves!) boosts oxytocin which can help lower our stress levels and improve our mood. And it can even speed up our body’s own healing mechanisms… Next time you feel down, try gently stroking your arm or holding your shoulders and see how it feels.

Focus on the values and qualities you admire and aspire to – instead of focusing on superficial qualities, consider what values are important to you. Many of us have a tendency to focus on the things we don’t like about ourselves rather than the things we do. Think about the kind of person you want to be – for example, being kind, considerate, loving, honest, loyal etc. and shift your focus there.

Practice daily affirmations – one way we can work towards shifting negative self-talk is by practising daily affirmations. Examples might be, “I am enough”, “I am worthy just as I am”, “I am growing and learning every day”. Or it could be as simple as writing a caring note to yourself and sticking it on your bedroom wall or on the bathroom mirror so you see it first thing. Something like, “Hello beautiful! I love you and I forgive you. Have a great day :)”

Ask yourself how you’d talk to a friend – Consider how you’d comfort a friend when things hadn’t worked out as they’d planned, and offer yourself the same level of understanding and compassion.

If you struggle with self-criticism, dig deeper – Do you feel like you’re trying to prove something (to yourself or others)? Can you trace back to where this all started? Therapy is a great place to start exploring your earlier experiences and how they might be impacting you now.

Practice gratitude –  Practising gratitude is a great way of creating a more positive mindset as it helps shift your attention to the things you already have, rather than focusing on the things you don’t. Start by writing down just 5 things a day you’re grateful for – these can be as simple as having a warm, cosy bed, a roof over your head, a supportive friend, a healthy body… etc.

Be kind to yourself today and see how everything changes

If you’re someone who has a tendency to be very hard on themselves, this can often be traced back to your earlier experiences. Getting to the root of where this judging and critical voice stems from is the key to shifting it once and for all. A therapist can help you gradually unravel the past, and support you in developing a healthier, more compassionate and loving relationship with yourself.

Dr Elena Touroni

Dr Elena Touroni

6 January 2023

"Dr. Elena Touroni is a skilled and experienced Consultant Psychologist with a track record of delivering high-quality services for individuals with all common emotional difficulties and those with a diagnosis of personality disorder. She is experienced in service design and delivery, the management of multi-disciplinary teams, organisational consultancy, and development and delivery of both national and bespoke training to providers in the statutory and non-statutory sector."

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Athena Lazaridou

Athena is a Pilates instructor with 8 years’ experience in the field. After completing a Power Pilates Mat Certification in Athens, she went on to complete the Full Comprehensive Classical Pilates Certification with Equinox in Kensington.  She has been teaching Pilates at Equinox for the past 6 years in addition to her own private clients who she trains both face to face and virtually.

Athena has a passion for helping people get stronger and fitter as well as helping those recovering from injury regain their strength and mobility.  Over the years, she has worked with athletes to incorporate Pilates into their training and improve performance. Athena has also worked with prenatal and postnatal women who may be experiencing depression or other mental health difficulties and used Pilates to facilitate a positive impact on their mental health.

Athena is very passionate about improving physical and mental well-being and has recently incorporated Sound Healing into her work, as she believes it to be one of the best ways of ‘letting go’ and releasing stale energy whilst increasing greater self-awareness.