In my work I have encountered my clients’ need to self-soothe and self-regulate with food for many years, sometimes even decades. Eating when stressed or anxious is common and nothing to feel bad about. We all require coping mechanisms when we are emotionally triggered and need to find relief or feel safe. In the past food may have played the role of comforter, soother or protector — and therefore became a trusted friend and mood regulator.
Let me introduce a new way of helping ourselves through tough moments — without reaching for food. When we are going through difficult times, whether it’s dealing with the accumulated stresses caused by the pandemic, facing financial challenges or working through relationship issues — self-compassion can become a very valuable tool for coping with emotionally challenging and unsettling situations. Below I will be sharing simple and practical exercises to help you soothe and comfort yourself when the going gets tough.
“Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.” — Dr. Kristin Neff
Imagine a seven-year old child in need, who is anxious and scared. How would you soothe and comfort her? What words, gestures and tone of voice would you use? Now, take a few deep breaths and talk to yourself in the same way: “Everything is going to be fine. You are safe. Nothing bad is going to happen to you!”
Explore your thought patterns and the stories you are telling yourself with gentle curiosity. Ask yourself: “Is this really true?” Be mindful of ‘black or white’ thinking and gently reroute your attention back to the present moment and your breath.
Self-compassion means being your own cheerleader and protector. It means witnessing your struggles without any judgment and being understanding. Imagine a strong loving Elder gently placing her hand on your shoulder and reassuring you: “You’ve got this. You are stronger than you think.”
Self-compassion is allowing yourself all your feelings without adding guilt or shame. Emotions are simply messengers. Sometimes we get triggered and old wounds from the past get “scratched”. This is normal and a part of being human. Allow yourself to lovingly embrace painful feelings. Don’t push them away.
Practice Dr. Neff’s Self-Compassion Break: Put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest.
Say to yourself:
- This is a moment of suffering. Ouch. This hurts. This is stress.
- Suffering is a part of life. Other people feel this way.
- I’m not alone. We all struggle in our lives.
- May I be kind to myself.
- May I give myself the compassion that I need.
- May I learn to accept myself as I am.
- May I be strong.
When you are feeling anxious, stressed or worried, stand in front of the mirror, gently hold your face and tell yourself: “You’ve got this!” Give yourself the emotional reassurance you need in this moment.
“I am gentle, kind, and comforting to my inner child as we uncover and release the old, negative messages within us.” -Louise Hay
If you didn’t receive ideal mothering(parenting) or safe nurturing, it’s not too late. Self-compassion can mean “re-mothering” and nurturing yourself with loving care and kindness. Supporting your “inner child” and giving her your full support can help heal the “mother wound”.
Self-Compassion can become the full expression of self-love and self-acceptance, now that you are an adult. It means being true to who you are, allowing all your feelings without judgement, speaking your truth and being YOU, unapologetically.
Each night before you go to bed, write down three things you are grateful for and three things you are proud of. We all do many things well every day and take them for granted. Once you start acknowledging your strengths and accomplishments your sense of wellbeing will shift. Show yourself some love. Wish yourself well.
“Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.” — Brené Brown
Next time you are anxious, upset or stressed and feel like eating to cope and take the edge off, sit for a few minutes and pause. Close your eyes and put your hands over your heart. Take seven deep gentle breaths in and out. Welcome the feeling and let it be there. Give it a name, label it and describe where you are feeling the sensation in your body. In my experience the intensity of the emotion diminishes once it has been honored and acknowledged.
The greatest gift you can give yourself is allowing yourself to be YOU and standing in your own light. Self-compassion means speaking your truth and honoring your feelings. Next time you feel like avoiding a confrontation out of fear, try this empowerment exercise:
- Gently place your hand over your heart and give yourself permission to speak your mind. Your feelings are valid.
- Start by writing down the things you’d like to say.
- Set an intention to honor your truth, and practice letting go of the outcome.
What matters is that you are true to your Self. Whatever we say to others will be filtered through their unique personal lens. We are not responsible for another person’s feelings or reactions. What matters is our intention behind it. If truth is spoken from the heart, the other can hear it. They may not like it and that’s okay. It’s not our job to process the feelings of others. We are only responsible for our own.
I hope that some of these practices will help ease emotional pain and fill your inner self-love reservoir. Reach out to me for an initial complimentary consultation to assess whether my program is right for YOU.
With love and compassion. ~ Petra