Tips on self-care: Having compassion on yourself

I confess that when I started hearing the concept of self-care more and more lately, I mentally put it in the categories of “selfishness” and “self-indulgence.” It wasn’t really an active, conscious thought, more of an immediate dismissal. But as I’ve taken the time lately to really ponder the the idea, I’ve grown to realize that self-care is something that improves my life and makes me a nicer person to be around, thus being not really selfish at all.

I happened to read the February issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine a few days ago, and came across the article Show Yourself Some Love: The Surprising Power of Self-Compassion. Most of us know that criticizing ourselves has a negative impact on who we are and how we live, but having compassion on ourselves can actually improve our lives.

I think we realize how much we can be positively affected by the kind words or encouragement from another person, but applying kindness to ourselves can trigger those same feelings of motivation, peace, and joy. Furthermore, we are less likely to fall into bitterness or depression because of the powerful positive effect on our mental health.

I thought it was also interesting that self-esteem didn’t have the same life-improving effect. Thinking better about ourselves is not as beneficial as treating ourselves better.

Kristin Neff, who has researched the concept of self-compassion extensively, says, “Compassion engages our capacity for love, wisdom, courage, and generosity.” When we treat ourselves kindly, that increases our ability to demonstrate that same kindness to others.

What IS self-compassion?

Think about how you feel when you experience compassion for another person. You feel empathy, a connection with the pain they’re feeling, and motivation to reach out and alleviate their suffering in the best way you can. You offer kindness and understanding rather than harsh words or a “too bad for you” attitude. It’s something deeper than pity.

In the same way, having compassion on yourself involves offering comfort and understanding to YOU.

Don’t use self-criticism and internalize failure as if that defines you are. Tell yourself the things you would tell a friend or a child when difficulties arise. “You can do this. What are ways that I can care for myself right now?”

Neff offers three things that self-compassion is NOT: self-pity, self-indulgence, and self-esteem.

Interestingly, studies have shown that having compassion on ourselves also makes us more resilient, less ready to give up, less stressed and even physically healthier. It doesn’t work by magic, though. You have to make a choice to treat yourself compassionately before it can become a habit.

One way I’ve learned to have compassion on myself is in the area of food. I try to eat only real, minimally-processed foods, but sometimes I will eat something that just isn’t. When that happens, I don’t tell myself, “Well, you blew it. Just eat whatever you want, you clearly can’t do this.” Instead, I basically pep-talk myself with “Don’t worry about it. It’s just one meal, you’ve been doing great so far.” I find that I’m reaching my goals much more quickly this way, when I forgive myself for messing up and just move on.

Life is too short for anger and bitterness. Even to yourself.

Do you have any examples where self-compassion has had a positive impact on your life? I’d love to hear them as I explore the idea more.

When you’re a grown-up and are still staying up way too late reading

I was so engrossed in a book last night that I stayed up until 3:45 reading. (No, I didn’t finish it, I’m still only only 40% in according to my trusty Kindle.) While I do read before bed every night, I had adopted a strategy of reading a collection of short stories but that ended and I haven’t found a new collection to read. With a short story, it’s easy to leave off reading because it’s over and there is no need to see what happens next. But an intriguing novel always has the capacity to derail my sleep for the night. And I’m already prone to go to bed late due to my life-long night-owlishness.

What book is so enticing to me right now? Juliet Mariller’s Tower of Thorns, which is the second in her Blackthorn & Grim series. I had read the first one, Dreamer’s Pool, a few years ago, and it has stayed with me. The story has many of the components that draw me in. It’s fantasy (fairy-tale style, not sci-fi style), there are mysteries in the main characters’ pasts, fey people, towers, intrigue, dungeons, kings and queens, plots and counterplots.

I really like the character of Blackthorn. She has a very broken past but has people who believe in her and help her in her life. She is a wise woman and healer and has a brusque way about her but is very vulnerable due to her hurts.

Since reading George MacDonald’s The Princes and the Goblin as a child, I’ve been fascinated by Wise Woman lore. Living with a mother fascinated by herbs may have helped a little with that, too. Have you found that childhood reading still influences you?

Ohio in the fall

Fall in Ohio is beautiful. I miss the Hudson Valley (we lived for nearly 10 years in New York), and the mountains there make some of the views more spectacular, but I feel like Ohio’s autumns linger just a little bit longer. I’m sitting at a park right now, waiting for my children to be done with a class, and in front of me is a gorgeous golden tree with most of the leaves still intact. It’s lovely.
I’m enjoying this little bit of warmth before Saturday comes with its blustery cold and whips the trees bare of their remaining foliage. Behind me I hear children laughing on the playground, which is one of my favoritest outside noises, and the rustle of crisp, dry leaves and the occasional honk of a goose on the nearby pond adds to the delightful ambiance. I am at peace.

Autumn is delicious

Spring is my favorite season, but fall comes in for a close second. I find myself during this time of year gasping and looking and generally reveling in the gorgeous foliage. When the sun hits it at just the right moment, it gives me an Anne Shirley-esque ache. I’ve remarked before that it’s possibly not safe for me to drive in the throes of autumn because I just want to LOOK.
The bittersweet side of fall is that I know winter is just around the corner. Now, there are parts of winter that I like. Thick sweaters, fun boots, cozy blankets, hot chocolate, fires, snuggling, the smell of woodsmoke outside, snow (the way it looks, anyway), and all those quiet memories of winters past. I like having four distinct seasons, which is something I realized during the two years that we lived in Arizona.
Winter cold just eventually gets to me, though. I hate driving when the roads are slick with ice or snow, and having to hunt down hats, gloves, scarves, and coats every time I go outside gets a little old. So autumn has that specter lurking in the background. Spring, on the other hand, bring new life, hope, FLOWERS, the emergence of green and the promise of many days of warmth ahead and summer to follow.
I associate fall with my own love story, so when the air gets crisper and the leaves turn colors and flutter to the ground, I automatically get a happy, rosy, loving feeling inside. I’m reminded of our annual Columbus Day trip to Amish country, of exploring antique shops and sitting in parks during lunch break under a golden, leafy canopy. Autumn is beautiful and I love it.

I’ll miss this

I remember when my children were small, a phrase I heard a lot was, “Cherish these moments. They don’t last long,” or something similar. Now, I have heard lots of moms say they resent hearing this. “I’m tired,” they say. “I just can’t hold on to those moments. I have to be a mom.”
I understand frustration with the phrase, but I always listened. Because the moms saying it had been in my place before. They had been in the midst of dirty diapers, lack of sleep, cleaning tossed food from a 10-foot radius around the high chair, appointments, inconsolable crying, potty training, one-year old single-person wrecking crews, wearing shirts smelling of spit-up, agonizing bedtimes, unexplained fevers, worrisome coughs, mysterious rashes and the host of exhausting mothering things.
They’d been there. But they STILL said it. What I heard them saying was, “You matter. Mothering matters. This time in your life is important. You are doing good work. These children might change the world someday. Don’t forget all the positive things. The snuggles. The moment you hear them call out ‘Mama’ the first time. Baby giggles. Tiny hands reaching for you. The trust and love that lets them fall asleep in your arms because that’s the best place to be. There will come a moment when they don’t want you to kiss them. There will be a last time they sit in your lap, a last time you pick them up, the last time you sing a lullaby as they drift to sleep. Remember those things and hold them close. They are what is important.”
My children are older now. I have two middle-school age boys. They think girls have cooties, kisses are disgusting, romance movies are SO embarrassing, and even saying “I love you” is questionable. I have equal parts amusement and pangs of “please don’t grow up, I can’t handle it.” Our house is filled with LEGO, Minecraft, approximately 5,000 pieces of Star Wars-themed origami, and falling apart Calvin and Hobbes books. It’s sometimes annoying to clear away paper Yodas from the counter and Lego mini-figures hiding behind cereal bowls, but I smile, too. This stage won’t last long. And I will miss it when it’s gone.

Rambling thoughts about libraries and old books

Remember when libraries were full of old books alongside the new ones? And older ones had been read so often that they started to fall apart so they were rebound? I miss those days. As a person who loves books, I don’t only like reading them (although that is admittedly the best part about them), I like picking them up, smelling them (ok, so I’m a little weird), and thinking about their history. Who read it before me? Did they love it? How many times did some other person check out this same book because it was her favorite? That’s also why I love old pockets with cards that had a due date stamp on them. I like to look over the old due dates and see when the book was circulating.
Today when I walk into a library, there are lots of shiny new books. I notice this mostly in the juvenile fiction section. If books published long ago are there, they are a new edition. Do kids these days not pick up books unless they are new? As a kid, and really, still today, I would pick out books based on age and how worn they were. Also the cover. I love covers and dust jackets. A worn book just seemed like it might be interesting because of how many others had read it.
My collection of books at home includes lot of library discards. There are so many out there. And I must rescue them.

Fall, leggings, and apple crisp

My favorite season is spring, but there is something special about fall. I love how I can start pulling out sweaters and leggings no longer make my legs feel like puddles of sweat under plastic cling wrap. (I live in skirts in the summer. Easy, breezy, beautiful.) I only own one really good pair of leggings (Spanx jeggings, sans pockets) and another two pair that  are fleece-lined and have a habit of gradually creeping down, thus needing inelegant tugs to keep them up during the day.
I’ve heard tell of these fancy-pants leggings from LulaRoe that one of my friends described as made of unicorn hair on Facebook, but I haven’t tried them yet. The truth is, I only just picked up the legging habit again after a several-years long hiatus. The last time I wore them regularly was in the mid-nineties when I donned them with Fair Isle sweaters over long button-down oxford shirts and topped off my feet with ragg socks and felted wool clogs. Before that time period, my leggings may or may not have had stirrups on them. It’s kind of hazy.
Beyond pulling out cozy clothes from the closet, fall brings apples. I love apples. Sliced with peanut butter, baked into pies and crisps, pressed into cider (hot or cold), cooked into sauce; I just love them. There is an apple orchard here in Ohio that has apple slushies available. So yummy (I also love the fresh peach ones. So. Good.)
Since I’ve been eating mostly gluten-free for the past year, I was a little dubious about being able to make a good apple crisp without wheat, but I managed to do it the other night, after some (delicious but certainly not “crisp”) fails. I had purchased some arrowroot flour and had been nervous to try it, but I think it helped to give the crunch I was looking for.
What are some of your favorite things about fall? Do you have a shady legging-wearing history?