Self-compassion is not a feeling, an emotion or a state – it is a mind set or set of skills we can develop Written by Angela Kirby, division E psychologist, currently working in oncology and haematology.

Your patient’s parent is getting cross because the doctor still has not come to see them, you have not had a break, you have a list of tasks to perform, you have been asked to work on another ward where you feel completely out of your depth, your child is schooling themselves at home or you are teaching them on your time off …you cannot meet friends after work for a drink –like you would do – to relieve stress and get things off your chest.

Your stress response system may well have been activated. This is the system that makes us feel anxious, stressed, angry and respond to others in unhelpful ways. The stress system leads to negative and self-critical thoughts.

We are in unprecedented times and you have been asked to play a very large part in the response to this. And now you are being told to ‘look after yourself’. It is easy to dismiss this as another ‘task’ and ask for change at a higher level, a systems level where some changes could relieve your stress. However, this is not always within your control and can be a slow, evolving process.

At the heart of this large system we work within is the shared common goal of treating patients holistically, with compassion at their time of distress, great uncertainty and fear.

However in order to do this, we need to be self-compassionate; kind to ourselves.

Compassionate leadership and compassionate teams both start with self-compassion.

Research shows that those who show compassion to themselves are happier, more optimistic, have better psychological wellbeing and are more resilient and less stressed. It is also linked to reduced ‘burn out’ in staff.

Self-compassion is not a feeling, an emotion or a state – it is a mind set or set of skills we can develop, and it is available to us anytime in any place.

It involves:

  • Mindfulness
  • Recognising what we are feeling and thinking in a present moment without judging ourselves or over reacting
  • Self-kindness
  • Being supportive and understanding towards ourselves when we are having a hard time, rather than being harshly self-critical.
  • Common humanity
  • Remembering that everyone makes mistakes and experiences difficult times

It involves using inner words to ourselves that are self-compassionate such as:

‘I did my best’, ‘I am allowed to make mistakes’, ‘I deserve compassion for myself.’

It involves treating yourself as you would treat your best friend, the words you would use to them – use them to sooth yourself and care for yourself.

Self-compassion activates the soothing system in our brain, the system that weakens the effects of the stress/threat system. We cannot always change the causes of our stress, but we can change the ways we respond and this starts with self-compassion.

How are you going to be kind to yourself today?