You might have heard how compassion help your own well-being. But why does it help you and how does it relate to your well-being? Compassion is defined as, feeling the other person’s suffering and wanting to help relieve it. The opposite of compassion may be harshness, judgement or even callousness. Generally, being indifferent to another’s suffering or hard-hearted is the opposite.
Many researchers hypothesize that humans evolved to experience compassion because the resulting emotions and behaviors improved the survival of our ancestors. All people experience different levels of compassion depending on their own experiences and their values and beliefs about what is possible.
Researchers also found that people are likely to feel compassion for those in their own social group since they are better able to understand the point of view their group holds. There may be an evolutionary basis for this as they were more likely to survive if they aligned with the group’s goals. Conversely, it’s easier to view competitor groups as outsiders or different and therefore feel less compassionate for them.
How is empathy different?
Many people assume compassion and empathy are the same since both emotions are similar and help you to feel connected with others. But it can be helpful to differentiate how they are different in a couple of ways. Researchers define empathy as sharing another’s suffering, while compassion adds another layer of also feeling warmth, concern, and care for the other along with a desire to improve the other person’s well-being.
An empathetic response to another can lead the person to move away from the emotional situation to avoid discomfort. The biological drive to avoid pain is strong. However, a compassionate response which includes a desire to be helpful the person experiencing pain often means getting even closer to the emotional situation. Researchers also found that people who feel compassionate for others are more likely to help the sufferer than people who feel empathic distress.
Can you learn to be more compassionate?
Research in this area has grown over the last few decades and has shown that compassion benefits to both the giver and receiver. There are a variety of positive outcomes in experiencing compassion, including reduced depression and anxiety. So, just how do you increase your compassion?
One recent line of research has involved contemplative practices such as meditation as a way to increase compassionate feelings towards others. Loving-kindness meditation or Metta is one example of this. This meditation focuses on a short phrase to wish well upon others and to notice the pleasant feelings they experience in the process. Long-term practice of loving-kindness meditation and other meditations with a similar focus functionally change in the brain. One study found that experienced meditators who include compassion in their practice have a stronger neural response in an area of the brain associated with compassion than novice meditators.
What is compassion fatigue and how can you prevent it?
The benefits of feeling and expressing compassion are clear. However, the research also shows that there are disadvantages as well and that’s when compassion fatigue can happen. Compassion fatigue is defined as, “a more user-friendly term for secondary traumatic stress disorder, which is nearly identical to PTSD, except that it applies to those emotionally affected by the trauma of another.”
Compassion fatigue is an emotional investment many people experience with others they care about. Even if you’re not in the helping professions, you can still experience compassion fatigue related to someone you’re close to.
Compassion fatigue is similar to burnout, but the difference is that compassion fatigue includes “absorbing” the other’s emotional experience. Burnout focuses on the stressful situations in your own life.
Compassion brings us closer to one another and improves both the giver and receivers’ lives. While the feeling can lead to negative outcomes such as compassion fatigue, it has many benefits. Improving self-care practices that support healthy boundaries, emotional mastery and habits that increase well-being can prevent compassion fatigue.
Have you ever noticed that telling yourself – “I should…” leads to more stress, disappointment and self-criticism instead of motivating you to take action?
Sometimes it seems like ‘I should’ is like a big electronic billboard in your mind flashing messages like, “I should do more work today” or “I should say yes” or “I should skip the cake.”
‘I should’ often leads to anything you believe will help you break free from being overwhelmed, overcommitted and stressed out to the point where you lose sight of your goals.
So many negative thoughts designed to keep you in line and follow the ‘I should’ find their way into your life. They usually come in quick succession, “I’m lazy” or “I’m not a nice person” or “I don’t have any willpower” and the goal fades into the background.
“I should…” functions as a limit that ultimately you set for yourself, but it lacks commitment to follow through. It’s like a way to feel bad about something you don’t want anyway.
The result is feeling guilt, shame, hopelessness, etc. To feel better and lift your mood, it’s easy to reach for food and stress eating is the result.
This the exact opposite of feeling motivated and adopting a growth mindset that leads to possibility. A mindset where your relationship with yourself moves in the direction of following your dreams and accomplishing your goals.
Take a moment and close your eyes, think of the phrase, “I should.” What feelings do you notice? Are they positive or negative? Hopeful or hopeless?
Now, take another moment and think of the phrase, “I can.” What feelings do you notice? Do you have options you can take? Do you feel like you have choices?
This subtle shift from ‘I should’ to ‘I can’ opens your mind up to new possibilities.
You might take a risk and see how it works out, you might make a decision that doesn’t really go anywhere and there’s a great possibility that with a bit of focus on “can” you will make decisions that propel you more fully into your life.
Challenging the way, you talk to yourself helps you improve your self-relationship.
What would change if you spoke to yourself in a similar way that a great coach speaks to their team? I can think of a few things that would change. You would need to be clear, encouraging, challenge any doubts and hold yourself accountable to move forward, especially when it’s difficult.
This one change in your self-talk has the potential to change the way you think of yourself and your ability to go after a goal.
I believe that you have what you need already. Since you’re here reading this post, it’s probable you believe that life can get better. But, even if you’re skeptical, that’s OK, keep moving forward. Simply the fact that you’ve read to this point is verification that you have hope for your future. Maybe what you need some ideas to get you there?
Keep reading to learn how ‘I should’ holds you back and strategy to break through the limitations.
Here are 7 ways that ‘I should’ holds you back and alternatives to keep you moving:
1. ‘I should’ leads to shame
Brene Brown referred to Jungian psychology’s view of shame as the swamp land of the soul.
Shame is the feeling that there’s something wrong with you. When you make a mistake, it’s not about the mistake, it’s about the false belief that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. ‘I should…’ leads to failing to do what you think you need to do and when you don’t do it, you’re a bad person. It’s an emotional in the swamp land.
We all do things that we need to apologize for. We’re all human and trying to muddle through and mistakes are part of lifelong learning. You can create a more hospitable environment within yourself instead of a shameful one. Take responsibility when you need to and forgive yourself. You can use the experience to become a better you. Self-compassion will lead you out of the shame swamp.
2. ‘I should’ leads to guilt
‘Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action’. -Audre Lord
Guilt is the feeling of self-blame for having done something wrong. Like shame, we all do things that aren’t helpful or nice, things that are selfish or unkind. Guilt can hold you accountable so you understand the effect your actions have on others as well as yourself. When ‘I should’ enters the picture, you are grounding your guilt on something that didn’t or hasn’t taken place. It’s like feeling bad about not having the future you think you need but are somehow unable to make happen.
Kindness and choice lead to action and give you the ability to make choices. Guilt traps you, stops you, you’re at a standstill. Choice is active, you lean forward and gain momentum toward action. Choice has the ability to change you and with a bit of kindness mixed in for good measure, you’re able to make choices that move your life forward.
3. ‘I should’ limits possibilities
When you start feeling bad about the future the ability to think about other possibilities or options narrows. Should create an environment where your thoughts loop around the perceived failure. Rather than looking at the situation clearly as it is and asking yourself what you can do better. Looking toward better outcomes in the future promotes growth and gets your creativity focused on new ideas for a better tomorrow.
Take a moment or an hour or a day to step back from the “I should…” The distance can help you gain perspective on the situation. Feeling bad about something really doesn’t get anyone in a positive frame of mind. Spend some time in nature, get some fresh air, go for a walk. When you get your body moving, feel the wind on your cheek, the sunshine warming your skin, it’s easier to be present, think about what you really want and define your goal. The possibilities are endless.
4. ‘I should’ makes your world smaller
Should closes your world in around you. Keeps you fixed on the viewpoint that; this is the way things have always been and this is the way they will stay! It’s like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, his expectations are limited. He expects that he will always receive less than he wants or deserves. His world is small even when his friends offer to help him, his energy is low, his expectations are low and he stays in an emotionally low state. He can’t see past his current situation.
There are problems in life. We all have them; some are of our own making and others not. What you can do is look at them as they are, consider your options and make a plan. Sometimes the process is slow and sometimes you’ll know right away what works. Problems come and go it’s your actions that make the difference. Being conscious of your choices makes your world bigger and you have more options.
5. ‘I should’ keeps you from what you want
Sometimes people reach back to their childhood, college days, early career, etc. They look at the events or choices they made and assume a direct cause and effect relationship between the past and the present and justify their regret about where they are today. Reviewing the past from this framework is one of the most effective ways to stay stuck on the disappointments you’ve suffered rather than focused on what you need to do to get where you want to be.
With an abundance of self-compassion and kindness you can understand the underpinnings of the choices you made/make through the lenses of your history. The danger in giving a painful past more energy is that it keeps you locked in the pain. Understanding and action allows you to move beyond the circumstances that got you here. Kindness, compassion and love really do lead to better things.
6. ‘I should’ keeps you wrapped up in a wish
When should takes away your ability to move forward, hoping and wishing maybe even longing enter the picture. This is the stuff of fairy tales. Somehow, somewhere the hero will come to save the day and everything will be all better. This rarely happens. That another person would know you so well to know what you need and freely give it to you resulting in your personal fulfillment. Hopefully most babies receive this kind of love and care, but as you grow you become more complex and it becomes nearly impossible to know exactly what another wants.
Hopes and wishes are essential to moving forward and they must be accompanied by doing what’s necessary to make things happen. You have to take the actions that move you forward. Without taking action, you are dreamer without a plan. Be a dreamer with a plan. That’s where you can be assured something will happen that moves you closer to what you need and want.
7. ‘I should’ is the illusion of responsibility that masks fear of change
Fear of change is real, even when change would give you something much better than you currently have. Responsibility comes in many forms and one form is not masking the reality. When you focus on being responsible when it’s not necessary it seems honorable, but that dynamic is serving a different need. The reality is that it takes you further away from where you want to be in an effort to keep things the same. Change takes courage.
Change, even when wanted is very difficult – it takes focused intentional effort. It’s easier to stay the same and do nothing. The price is that your hope fades a little bit every day that you’re stuck. When you tell yourself, ‘I should,’ it’s an attempt to accept responsibility, but the end result is being stuck. Effective responsibility is to put yourself out there and take the short-term risk, be a little uncomfortable, so that you can experience long-term fulfillment.
When you take the risk to move away from “I should” and step more fully into your life you get closer to what you really want. Action can lead you to growth in the direction your life needs to be. Life usually doesn’t guarantee happiness and fulfillment every day and at the same time, there are lots of wonderful days ahead.
Have you heard this advice on how to practice self-acceptance?
love yourself regardless of your body
you need to love yourself and you’ll overcome your ‘trouble spots’ and learn to love them
you just need to (fill in the blank – work harder, practice acceptance, stop focusing on the negative, etc.) a little more
If I had a penny for every time a client has told me some version of one of the statements above…
It seems that this type of advice makes logical sense. But the problem is that it treats your body as a thing or object that you can easily change. It’s like you’re a sculptor and your body is a lump of clay that’s easily shaped, molded and manipulated.
But you’re most likely not a sculptor and your body probably isn’t easily changed either.
The reality is that you’re more than your body. Your mind and body can’t be separated and as much as you may try to treat your body as if you can mold it at will, the further down the road of disappointment you’ll find yourself.
Developing a self-acceptance based on calm and clarity is the fuel for a self-relationship that moves you to what you want in life.
Although you may have a guess, it’s impossible to know what someone is thinking or what their beliefs are. It’s possible for them to remain private.
What isn’t private is another person’s body. You might even have a judgment or two based on your observation.
In modern society, the boundaries about what is okay to comment or what is okay to wear or even what is the acceptable language to use in describing the body isn’t clear either. Yet, all of these things do communicate something.
We see this daily from pop stars wearing costumes as bare as the censors will allow, to detailed discussions of meal and workout play-by-plays on social media, to commercials selling the idea of, “I’m so bad eating this decadently sinful treat!”
It is through your body that you experience life in the form of shape, texture, color, vibrance, pleasure and pain. When you practice self-acceptance – all of your life – the full catastrophe as Zorba said in the movie Zorba the Greek, you have a fantastic chance of being happy.
Who decides what’s acceptable?
We’re also bombarded with images—visual and mental—of what is the correct, most desirable, perfect shape to strive to become. It comes from the media as well as family and cultural ideas about what’s best.
The question is, who’s in charge of deciding what this should be?
It is common to make assumptions about who’s healthy and who isn’t based on snap judgements about appearance. Sometimes you might even do this in your thoughts about your own body.
One of the challenges in modern society is figuring out how to trust your self-knowledge when there is so much conflicting information available.
Too many choices, coming at you really fast makes for feeling overwhelmed and unclear.
The good news is that the process of change is directly opposite!
Lasting change takes time.
Change requires you to disconnect from the judgements you have and instead allow yourself to be in a state of curiosity.
The most important place to start from is self-acceptance. Now, don’t click away, that’s not code for – “let yourself off the hook.” Let me explain…there’s more than meets the eye here!
Acceptance does NOT mean:
giving up your goals
learning to love where you are right now regardless of your desire to change
Life is constantly moving and shifting and so are you. You can change your life, your body, your relationships, how you talk to yourself and many more things in life at any time, so you can practice self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance is a process
What acceptance means will change over time as you grow. It means integrating where you are right now while keeping your focus on the bigger goals you have for your life!
The purpose of acceptance is to help you get from where you are today and pointed in the direction of greater consciousness and growth.
With the increased consciousness you can thoughtfully plan with care and kindness.
The benefit is that the changes you make are more refined and speak to what you truly want…the possibilities are endless.
Making conscious change
Conscious change is a process that works best with a focused step-by-step approach.
It can look like:
experimenting with what works or what doesn’t
shifting and adjusting
acclimating to the new reality
When you get off track and lose sight of the big picture where patience, kindness and acceptance reside you can over-focus on specific results as proof of failure rather than a step along the way to creating the life you want.
Immediate results would be nice, however what you learn about yourself in the struggle to figure it out will help you get what you need – faster!
Ask yourself this question from time to time: how has your life improved, even when you make small changes?
Conscious change allows you to focus on small changes, step by step. It helps you to keep you motivated so you continue adjusting what you’re doing so that you continually iterate, even if it takes a while.
How people change
In the past 30 years or so there has been much research and development published about change, the process of change and what motivates people to change.
The Transtheoretical Model of Change was founded by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente (for more information look here) and is systematically and practically applied with Motivational Interviewing, founded by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick (for more information look here).
The Model of Change, while initially used to understand how to help people struggling with substance abuse stay on the road to recovery, has been expanded. Professionals in health, business, conflict resolution, etc. also find the stages helpful to understand how people make changes and what helps at each stage of change to stay on course.
For most people struggling with stress eating—those who have dieted and dieted and dieted and want to get off that particular merry-go-round—the insights about how people make a decision to change and what is necessary to pivot in another direction is helpful and self-acceptance is a big part of it (for more information on the decision to change look here).
Truly looking in the mirror and being clear with where you are right now frees you from evaluation and judgement so you can practice self-acceptance and make the change you need in your life.
There are three ways to do this – Knowing, Consciousness and Peace.
You know that you have to do something differently for things to change and it’s painful to go through the process of change.
When you want things to change, whether it’s for your body to be different, your relationship with food to be different or to feel like you can be present in the moment so you can change things is difficult.
A question that helps to narrow the focus is:
What is the most concrete thing that will lead to results you can see, feel, experience, and trust your self-knowledge, so that you can practice self-acceptance?
Often, the answer reverts to a quick fix like a diet. “Six weeks to bikini ready” or “do this cleanse and break free from sugar cravings.” It’s enticing, but not sustainable.
Ultimately you know that these tactics don’t lead to the long term change you really want freedom from stress, stress eating and burnout.
It’s a challenge to keep moving forward when the path is unsure and the changes you experience are ones you only feel from the inside.
Acceptance is the path to a long-term transformation of your relationship with your body, allowing yourself to begin where you are each day and keep moving forward.
Recognize where you are in the process of change and make a decision to take action.
It takes fortitude to stay the course of the slow road to change.
If stress eating is what you want to change, every time you log on to social media, go to the grocery store or even have lunch with a friend, you will be reminded that the process you have decided is best for you and it takes patience with yourself to stay on track.
Trust the process, notice how you’re different today than yesterday and celebrate your success by honoring yourself – moment by moment.
You are learning what you need to fuel you, mind, body and heart for the rest of your life.
Find what works for you and be confident in the changes you made so that you can live with peace of mind.
Freedom is knowing that you’re in control of your life.
In fact, you can get to a point where you no longer unconsciously give your power away.
When you treat yourself with respect and love, you’re able to open yourself up getting stuck on short-term results becomes a thing of the past and you can self-acceptance happens.
Self-acceptance is caring for yourself with kindness, love and compassion.
Kindness is the pathway toward change.
Compassion is the fuel for a more peaceful and fulfilling life.
Self-acceptance ultimately leads to more self-love.
For too long women, in particular, have accepted that feeling badly about their bodies and disappointment in their lives is the norm. The implication that women should accept being unhappy is madness!
If you can take the leap of faith—that love, kindness and compassion are the fuel that will help you change and support you to be where you want to be in life—then you already have a strong, supportive foundation to accept yourself and live the joyful life you want!
Be calm and release stress with these 5 science backed strategies.
Maybe you’re feeling stressed out about the future, disappointed about a relationship, frustrated about the direction your life is going, or all of the above. These emotions can lead to an activated sympathetic nervous system. This matters because when you feel stressed or anxious it’s difficult to know how to release stress and become calm again.
Calming stress or anxiety typically means that you’ve returned to back to your baseline level or your normal resting state called homeostasis. Most people experience a feeling of relief, fewer negative emotions, and a sense that well-being when they’re in this state.
Check out these simple and effective strategies so you can be calm – no matter what happens!
1. Mindfulness Skills
Mindfulness-based skills can reduce anxiety and depression which are major stressors in life. Sometimes it’s a chicken or egg situation – did the stress lead to anxiety and depression or does anxiety and depression lead to increased stress? Regardless of which happened first, mindfulness helps a lot of people. Mindfulness isn’t helpful for everyone and can result in negative experiences, so if you find it’s not for you there are other options. But, when it works, it is a great tool to be calm and release stress. Often, mindful meditations are guided, which helps us stay focused on your breathing and not on the thoughts that lead to more anxiety, depression or stress.
2. Thought Stopping
It’s normal and even helpful to think about the difficulties in life. You might replay a horrible interaction we had with someone over and over again in your mind. Or you might keep going over what you would do if the worst happened. This can help you figure out what you need to do in the future to repair the hurt and hopefully prevent it in the future. But at some point, going over and over it like a stuck record becomes rumination or uncontrolled repetitive thought cycles.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to stop. There is a saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Basically, this means that your thoughts can become habits and it becomes easier for your brain to keep thinking in the same way. So, when you decide you want to break out of negative thought patterns, it can be difficult.
One of the best ways to stop repetitive thoughts is to shift the brain by focusing on something else. Forcing the brain to stop—rarely works but action does. Your brain needs to have something to do for it to change. Distraction that is attention getting can’t help but shift the focus. Taking a cold shower or going for a brisk walk can grab your attention and work well. Science suggests that these strategies do help calm us down. You can try other things as well – reading, watching a movie or video, calling a friend, engaging in an artistic hobby, listening to music. There are many more, the key is to find an activity that captures your attention (fyi – you may need to try several to find one that works).
Journaling daily about emotional experiences can result in small and yet meaningful improvements in both mental and physical health. Repetitive thoughts about the past, playing it over and over again in your head is unhelpful, sometimes writing about a painful experience helps to get it out of your head. This seems to be freeing and breaks the cycle which might be why journaling can be such a useful tool.
Other types of journaling can help increase your ability to be calm and release stress too. Gratitude journaling is another type of journaling that the research shows is beneficial for your well-being. When you shift your focus to what you’re grateful for, you can decrease negative emotions and increase positive emotions that can result in feeling calmer.
Yoga has been a popular activity for mental and physical wellness for many years. It can help with your physical wellbeing by increasing your movement. It increases your flexibility and as well relax tense muscles. It’s also a way to calm and relax the body and mind together. The calming effect of yoga, something practitioners have known for centuries is confirmed by current research. Doing yoga regularly can lower cortisol levels, which is a hormone that increases when stressed. If yoga helps you feel good, it can also support your mind and body as you calm down stress and anxiety.
5. Practice Acceptance
Relaxation techniques like those described above can help to prevent and/or lower negative emotional experiences. But, for some people they can paradoxically increase negative emotional experiences. Mindfulness, yoga, journaling isn’t for everyone. Sometimes the solution is to practice acceptance and passivity (versus control) over the body and mind. This is to say that instead of focusing on the outcome – less stress- we need to focus on the process – do the calming or relaxing strategies improve your quality of life? For example, instead of taking deep breaths with the expectation of an immediate result, ‘am I calm yet,’ focus on being present, allow yourself to experience your emotions as they happen, and then resolve in their own time.
Sometimes stress relief seems like it’s a distant goal but simplifying makes it easier. Practical tools support you to be calm and release stress can be as simple as paying attention, shifting your attention, getting ‘it’ out of your mind or even allowing yourself to accept the fact that stress happens and feelings can be both intense and diffuse. Tell me, which strategy do you think you’ll try?