Using the practice of self-kindness as emotional first aid during times of stress.
We sustain psychological injuries as frequently as we do physical ones. If you fall over and hit your hand, I bet you would put an ice pack on it to lessen the swelling. If you acquired a scrape or cut, you would probably rinse it with cool water and place a plaster over the wound to keep it safe and promote its healing. We understand that ignoring our scrapes and scratches will inevitably cause infection and prolong our pain. Although we tend to be very conscious of the need to mind our physical wounds, we tend to be dismissive of tending to our psychological injuries. However, the same rules we apply to our physical wounds hold true when it comes to small psychological injuries. If we administer first aid when we are suffering a psychological injury, we will be able to nurse ourselves back to emotional health faster.
Here are some examples of inevitable psychological injuries we will regularly obtain that might require emotional first aid:
Failure: We sometimes struggle to achieve our goals, pass school exams or complete the tasks that we set for ourselves. Failures are like mental colds which can turn into psychological flu when left untreated.
Rejection: We all encounter rejection at different points of our lives, by prospective employers, love interests, friends, and families. Rejections are the emotional cuts and scrapes of everyday life.
Loneliness: We all have times in which we feel alone, or there are times in which our current relationships do not fulfil our emotional needs. The problem is that the longer we feel alone and isolated, the weaker are our 'relationship muscles.'
Shame: We often encounter bouts of shame — we have days in which we feel extremely humiliated when memories of the past pop into our minds or we are critical of our abilities. Feeling shameful is akin to having a compromised immune system — it makes us more vulnerable and likely to experience more psychological pain.
Applying Emotional First Aid to Psychological Injuries using Self-Kindness:
While we cannot stop or control the inevitable pain we experience in our daily lives, we can apply emotional first aid to increase our wellbeing. Physical pain is a way the body tells us something is wrong. The same often goes for emotional suffering. If you've endured a rejection, loss or some other life challenge you find challenging to handle, then you need to pay attention to the emotional injury. What we resist persists, disregarding it, won't shift it.
We can do this by acknowledging our pain through a kind, caring and compassionate lens.
Here are some exercises to get you started!
Exercise: Being Kind to Yourself:
1. Think of the kindest, most compassionate person you've ever known — someone who's been understanding and supportive of you. It could have been a teacher, a friend or a parent.
2. Reflect on a time that they made you feel supported and nurtured. See if you can recognise what this person did that make you feel so cared about: was it their actions (e.g., calling to check in on you), what they said (e.g.: 'I am here for you' or touch (e.g., offered a hug). Then use this information to help you become your own best friend—meaning you are now able to do the things that this person has done for you.
3. Try talking to yourself in the same way, using the same comforting words that your chosen compassionate person did. If the person physically comforted you, repeat this gesture toward yourself.
4. While practising this, take a deep breath and take in the feeling of loving-kindness.
Treat yourself as you would a small child:
Research suggests that considering what a child might want or need in a hurtful situation can assist us in being more kind to ourselves. That child could be your own, a relative or you could imagine yourself as a child. A lot of progress can be made by giving oneself the very compassion one could give to a child. You can also think about how you would treat a good friend or even a beloved pet, and then start treating yourself accordingly.
Creating a Self-Kindness Practice
Learning to practice self-kindness will take time and effort. It is normal to experience resistance to this as being kind and compassionate to ourselves can be difficult as our minds will interfere. For example: If we go for a job interview and do not get offered the position. Our logical mind will produce perfectionist thoughts such as "You could have answered that second question better ", "You should have practised more", "It's all your fault". If these critical messages are present, it is hard to be kind to ourselves. If your mind is giving you unhelpful messages try and unhook from them through thanking your mind, saying 'Thanks mind' or repeating the thought in a funny voice (Darth Vader, Yoda and Mickey Mouse to name a few) or sing the thought to the tune of Jingle Bells! Once you've unhooked yourself from the unhelpful thought patterns, I recommend using a self-kindness practice. This can include learning to do all the following:
· Talking to yourself in a nurturing, accepting way (cultivating compassion self-talk "I am here for you", "I love you", "Is there anything I can do to help?").
· Treating your body with love and care (cultivating self-care through self-massage, drinking a healthy smoothie or taking a relaxing bath).
· Knowing what you need and providing it for yourself (cultivating self-awareness through checking in with yourself once a day.
A little goes a long way in maintaining our mental wellbeing, so even setting aside three to five minutes a day to cultivate self-kindness practice will boost your mood. Feel free to practise these exercises for long as you wish and remember it's the spirit of kindness that counts when we cultivate these practices, not the duration of it :)
Love, Peace & Light,