Self-Compassion: A Neglected Form of Self-Care

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

When we look in the mirror, what do we see? We may notice our frizzy hair, crooked teeth, short eyelashes, thin lips, uneven eyebrows or a plethora of other things. Yet when others look at us, they are more prone to see what we overlook–that we are friendly, optimistic, outgoing, hard working, strong, resilient, creative, kind, sensitive, thoughtful… Why are we so much harder on ourselves than we are on others?!

I recently opened a “Marriage Minute” email from the Gottman Institute and read about self-love. This is something that has been on my mind over the last several weeks, and I thought it would be helpful to dedicate a post to a powerful form of self-care that we often overlook: Self-compassion.

Compassion itself is defined as the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Compassion literally means to “suffer with.” In order to have compassion, we must first notice that someone is suffering, and then we feel moved by their suffering so that our hearts respond to their pain. When we extend compassion, we feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means we offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Compassion is the realization that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

Even though we all need it, self-compassion is so much easier to show someone else than it is to show ourselves! The time has come to focus on extending this kind of compassion to others as well as ourselves.

Practicing compassion towards ourselves is really no different from having compassion for someone else. Self-compassion is…

  • Acting the same way towards ourselves as we do others when we are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something we do not like about ourselves.
  • Being gentle with ourselves when confronted with painful experiences.
  • Cutting ourselves some slack instead of ignoring pain or judging ourselves harshly.
  • Being kind and understanding when confronted with imperfections.
  • Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating (punishing) ourselves with self-criticism.
  • Recognizing that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable.

To be clear, self-compassion is NOT self-pity (being immersed in our own problems), self-indulgence (unrestrained gratification of our desires), or self-esteem (our perceived sense of worth or value).  

Ultimately, self-compassion is an ongoing process of honoring and accepting our humanness, and recognizing that things will not always go our way. It is knowing that we will inevitably encounter frustrations, make mistakes, and fall short of our ideals. This is the human condition–a reality shared by all of us! The more we open our hearts to this fact–instead of constantly fighting against it–the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves and all our fellow humans in the experience of life.

Here is my challenge to you: The next time you are tempted to put yourself down, practice self-compassion instead. Recognize that you are doing your best, and that your effort is what counts. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Celebrate your progress. Be kind to yourself. I can assure you that implementing more compassion (towards yourself) into your life will have a powerful and positive effect on how you view yourself, others, and the world. Should you find that you need help working through self-deprecation, please do not hesitate to contact me today. I am always accepting new clients!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Practical Ways to Practice Mental Hygiene

Mental Hygeine - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family TherapistOver the last few years, much progress has been made in understanding how to take care of ourselves physically–we see the value in exercising, eating healthy, and taking advantage of modern medicine. We believe in maintaining our physical hygiene and encourage our children to take care of themselves, too. But are you doing anything to take care of your minds?

Let’s change that!

Think about it. Once or twice a day we brush our teeth–even before there is a cavity. We exercise regularly and we try to eat a balanced diet because we know it is good for our heart health and our bodies in general. We wear sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. We eat vitamins to  ensure we are getting the necessary nutrients. All this to maintain our physical health. But what are we doing for our mental hygiene?

Just like doctors who take care of us physically, psychologists and therapists are most certainly available when there is a mental health problem. Yes, therapists and psychologists are trained to understand mental illness and a certain level of dysfunction, but what can we preemptively do to take care of our mental health…before there is a problem necessitating a trained individual? In this blog post, I will first define mental hygiene, explain why it is necessary to maintain, and I will end by giving some ideas for how to stay on top of your mental health.

What is mental hygiene?

We need to take care of our minds just as much as we need to take care of our bodies!  Mental hygiene is simple. Basically, it entails redirecting your thoughts to be more uplifting and positive, managing stress in a productive manner, and having a healthy inner dialogue. Allowing anything that is uplifting and good into your life is practicing mental hygiene. It is focusing on the good instead of lingering on the negative. You might find that this is best done for you through praying, meditating, getting out in nature, or maybe you are unsure. Keeping up on your mental hygiene will prepare you for and help prevent the roadblocks of failure, rejection, and disappointment that life will inevitably deliver. Read on for strategies on how to practice mental hygiene, which will help you recover from mental injuries as well as develop mental resilience.

Why practice mental hygiene?

Life is hard. There are certain experiences we all go through that may be roadblocks to positive mental health, but we can recover from them if we practice good mental hygiene. The first roadblock to positive mental health I would like to mention is failure. Our initial inclination is to make excuses, retreat, or give up. But if we are actively trying to practice healthy mental hygiene, we can instead recognize and remember that failure is an incredibly valuable teacher and we will all experience failure at some point. Then, we can evaluate why we failed and make a plan for success in the future. See the difference? By practicing healthy mental hygiene, we can have a healthy mindset around failure even before we fail and sets us up nicely to respond to failure in a healthy manner in the future (because we are sure to face it again!).

The second inevitable roadblock to positive mental health is rejection and judgement. Unfortunately, we all judge because it is part of our human nature. And sometimes that judgement is pointed at us. When other people judge or dislike us, it hurts. Our natural tendency is to get defensive or reflect those negative feelings onto others. What practicing good mental hygiene means here is that we will remember that other people’s opinions are the variable…not us! If someone does not like us, that absolutely does not mean we are not loveable!  Instead of getting defensive and upset by what other people think about us, we will focus on positive emotions, take their criticisms constructively, and remember our self worth. Practicing good mental hygiene means that we will be able to separate our worth from what people think about us–which is hard and takes practice.

The final roadblock practicing good mental hygiene can prepare us for is disappointment. Whether this disappointment is unmet expectations or tragic news (like sickness, death, financial instability, infidelity, etc), it is bound to happen at some point or another. Our natural tendency is to respond poorly, possibly even shut down or shut others out. But if we are practicing healthy mental hygiene, we can respond in a positive way, manage our stress effectively, self-regulate or manage our emotions. It is impossible to prepare for this type of mental roadblock specifically, but we can prepare for how we will respond by taking care of our mental health. This means that we must know how we react in stressful situations, be able to practice gratitude during difficult times, ask for help, find an outlet, and many other possibilities.

How do I practice mental hygiene?

You might be feeling like you have no idea how to take care of your mental hygiene. I understand that mental hygiene might seem like a new idea even still, but there are so many things you might already be doing or want to be doing that will help you take care of your mental health. The following list of ideas will provide simple ideas on how you can start to improve your mental health today:

  1. Focus on the good things in your life.
  2. Track gratitude and achievement in a journal.
  3. Set up a getaway (check out this post from last week on how traveling will benefit your relationship!).
  4. Use your talents/strengths.
  5. Mindfully set some goals.
  6. Get creative! Try a new recipe, paint, pick up an instrument…
  7. Make someone else feel loved (cue Love Languages).
  8. Eat dark chocolate. Seriously, it boost brain power!
  9. Open up. Whether it is to your partner or a confidant, on social media, in a journal, or with a therapist, do not bottle up your emotions.
  10. Color. Yes, it may seem childish, but it will help clear your mind.
  11. Laugh. Comedic relief is real.
  12. Unplug. Try doing a digital detox or going off the grid to get some clarity.
  13. Dance. It truly reduces cortisol, the stress hormone!
  14. Take a warm bath.
  15. Do animal therapy. Fuzzy friends always make everything better.
  16. Tour your own town.
  17. Meal plan and prep. It will offer some control over your week!
  18. Practice forgiveness. The people who forgive have better mental health and report being more satisfied with their lives.
  19. Smile. It really helps!
  20. Send a thank you note.
  21. Exercise or get outside.
  22. Get some sun. Vitamin D is a mood elevator.
  23. Eat well, drink lots of H20, and avoid drugs and alcohol.
  24. Surround yourself with good people.
  25. Quiet your mind.
  26. Practice positive affirmations.
  27. Sleep!

Does mental hygiene make a little more sense now? Another term for practicing mental hygiene is mindfulness. Taking care of our minds is something we need to do each and every day; all of the suggestions above can be carried out regularly and will not require much time or money to accomplish. When you find what works for you, try to incorporate that good habit into your life–make it a regular practice. I assure you that you will feel its effects in your life!

And as always, one of the best things you can do for your mental health is to get help. Even before there is an actual problem–or a mental illness. Get help. Trusting a licensed, experienced therapist can be one of the healthiest things you will ever do for your mental health. Contact me with questions or click here to schedule a session today.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Fork Your Way Into a Healthy 2018!

Healthy Eating Self Care - Cluff Counseling, Denton TherapistDid you know that around 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight? This scary statistic includes 30% of boys and girls under age 20! By understanding what specifically our bodies really need, we can aim to lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle–both physically and mentally.

Many of my clients have goals for 2018 that include improving their physical appearance by focusing on a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting more sleep, and boosting their stress management. While I am not a licensed health coach, this is pertinent information to me because physical health is closely tied to mental health. I, like you, am also working on bettering my diet and exercise regime in 2018. I follow several fitness accounts on Instagram for inspiration; just tonight, @soheefit shared her secret that slimmed her waist…There is no secret! The way we will see results is by eating well, exercising often, and regulating sleep and stress. We often fall prey to the latest trick or the newest laser therapy or the groundbreaking diet we hear about from friends or on social media, but, at the end of the day, those methods are not healthy or sustainable. We need to make lasting changes to our nutrition and exercising habits in order to see results. This is not news to you!

Have you ever felt discouraged or depressed, and gone for a walk or a hike? If so, it is likely you noticed that your emotional state improved as you got fresh air and let your heart rate increase a little bit. Our physical health directly affects our mental health. When we take care of our bodies, they take care of us. What specifically are you going to do in 2018 to take care of yourself (both physical and mental)? Exactly which “healthy habits” do you need to work on developing? As I mentioned previously, the three main things that influence our overall weight gain are: Diet/nutrition, exercise, and sleep/stress management. For the purpose of this blog, I want to focus on the first: diet and nutrition. Brian Regan, a comedian, has a skit where he mocks the food pyramid, saying nobody knows what on earth “legumes” are, and he pokes fun of the serving sizes saying no one actually keeps track of or ingests 6-11 servings of grains.

First, let’s clear the air about the “d” word…DIET. It is a dreaded word for many of us–especially those who have tried the South Beach Diet, a low-carb diet, SlimFast, Whole30, Jenny Craig, or any of the other millions of diet plans available nowadays. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that dieting typically does not work. Abstaining from eating major food groups is unhealthy, weight lost from pendulum dieting often comes back full-force, and then you feel overweight and discouraged. My recommendation is to fill your plate and your body with healthy options, while still enjoying what you are ingesting. Food is meant to be enjoyed! Take a moment to consider what you are eating and if it is what your body really needs.

In 2011, 19 years of food pyramid illustrations and teachings were laid to rest with an updated nutrition guide called MyPlate (see graphic below). MyPlate depicts a place setting with the recommended serving sizes for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy, to help us visualize exactly how much of which foods our body needs. The following are specific ideas for each food group, to help you get creative with what goes on your fork:

Choose My Plate - Cluff Counseling, Denton Therapy

 

  1. FRUITS: Adults ages 18-30 should eat around 2 cups of fruit a day. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, juiced, or pureed. (Click here to see a comprehensive list of the fruit options).
  2. VEGETABLES: Adults ages 19-50 should be eating between 2½ -3 cups of raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, dried/dehydrated, whole, cut-up, or mashed vegetables each day. Vegetables are organized into 5 subgroups: dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables.  (Click here to see a comprehensive list of all the vegetables you never even knew existed).
  3. PROTEINS: I think protein is the hardest to come up with ideas for (“um…protein powder?”). All lean cut and deli meats are protein, as well as beans, lentils, tofu, eggs, nuts, and seafood.  (Click on this link for the complete list of protein options as recommended by the USDA). Having an adequate amount of protein in your diet can often curb cravings and keep you full longer, which makes a world of difference in forming healthy habits!
  4. GRAINS: All bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. There are two types of grains: Whole Grains and Refined Grains–we want more Whole Grains than Refined Grains. Whole Grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm, while Refined Grains have been refined to have the bran and germ removed. Aim for eating whole wheat bread/rolls/tortillas, quinoa, oats, and brown rice (click here for the full list of grains). Little changes to the base of your diet and nutrition–your grains–will make a huge difference!
  5. DAIRY: Milk, cheese, yogurt, and milk-based desserts (ice cream, frozen yogurt, smoothies, sherbert) are some of the common foods that make up this food group. (Please click on this link for a thorough list of all possible dairy foods!) Men and women ages 19-50 need three cups of dairy each day–be sure to choose low-fat or fat-free options for the Dairy Group!

We live in a culture that often convinces us certain foods are either good or bad (which is a key component in eating disorders!) and that we are either a good or bad person based on what we eat. Carbs are not bad. Meat is not bad. Milk is not bad. Our bodies need the vitamins and nutrients available in each of the food groups, and–as we eat from each food group in moderation–we will find our way to a healthier lifestyle. Eating a well-rounded diet will affect the overall health of your internal organs, your cholesterol, energy level, self-esteem, skin health, relationships…basically your entire life. You know what they say, “Fuel well, feel well!”

Maybe you have a New Year’s Resolution pertaining to your physical appearance this year. The goal should not be getting thin, but getting healthy. Get healthy eating better in 2018. Start today by improving what is on your plate. Make it well-rounded, make it low-fat, make it healthy, make it fun! Eating healthy does not have to be a drag. You can do it! The good news is that you do not have to do it alone. If you need support to explore your relationship with food, contact me today and allow me to coach you through the process.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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