7 tips on being kind to yourself when you’re really, really suffering.
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
If you’re going through a really difficult time right now, know that you're not alone and read this.
Perhaps you are going through a really difficult time right this very moment.
Maybe it’s a mental or physical health-related issue you’re suffering through; Perhaps it’s a difficult challenge in your life that is overwhelming you. Maybe something happened recently and you’re going through some trauma right now. It keeps coming back to haunt you.
It could even be something that hasn't happened yet, and you can't help but feel anxious over the seemingly immovable obstacle that’s hurtling towards you.
Whatever it is, it really sucks to be suffering right now.
It’s stifling and feels almost unbearable.
You've been brave.
Perhaps you're tried to put up a brave face in front of your friends and family. To not pass on the worries and hurt to them. Maybe you’re doing this well, or maybe not. But when it comes down to quiet moments, you just want to break down.
And that’s okay.
That’s because when you're faced with such difficult circumstances, that’s an entirely normal reaction.
Whoever said you had to be perfect?
The best thing to do in these tough circumstances is to learn not to be too harsh and critical on yourself in any way. The best thing to do instead is to learn to be kind to yourself.
How to be kind to yourself.
Self-kindness isn’t something we’ve been taught or know instinctively. Yet it’s no different from being kind to others. Think about a time you had to be kind, compassionate and empathetic to someone else who really needed it.
What did you do?
1. You recognised his or her pain.
You understood that what the person is experiencing right now is extremely difficult. If you didn’t recognise the pain, you wouldn’t be able to be kind in the first place.
2. You felt that person’s pain.
Your heart responded with emotions of shared grief, pain, and suffering. And what did you want to do in response to this?
You offered care, love, warmth and kindness to the person.
3. You didn't judge them or criticise them.
Because you recognised and felt that person’s pain, the very last thing you wanted to do was to judge them harshly or mercilessly criticise them for falling into this painful circumstance.
They've been through enough.
Self-kindness is doing the exact same 3 things, but toward yourself.
So here’s 7 tips on being kind to yourself.
1. Plan activities that you enjoy doing each day.
A natural instinct for many of us in times of suffering is to succumb to negativity and believe that everything is bleak.
With this mentality, we often stop doing the things that we love and start to see life as black and white.
And right now, everything looks utterly black.
When we stop doing the things we love, what are we left with?
An even darker time of course.
So instead of this, continue to do the hobbies and activities that you love. Go out of your way to plan little bits of positive things in your life that you can look forward to.
Remember to take that time in the morning to enjoy that coffee. Treat yourself to a nice meal. Listen to your favourite music and even dance a little. If you’re sporty, keep on exercising. It’ll not only keep your body healthy, but your mind healthy too.
2. Schedule specific time slots to grief, worry and think.
We have the tendency to over-think during times of suffering.
We as human beings are deeply problem-solving creatures. Our minds have evolved to solve problems, and feeling lousy is usually a problem we innately want to solve.
We might go through lines of thinking much like:
How could I have prevented this?
What’s going to happen to me?
What’s going to happen to the people we love?
Instead of letting your mind go into its over-thinking state as and when it wants, set a time each day where you allow yourself to think about these things.
It might be a half-hour slot, or even an hour. Take whatever time you need, just not the entire day.
That way, when you mind goes into overdrive mode at the worst possible time, such as right before you settle into bed for the night, you can safely tell yourself
“I’m starting to overthink! This is not the time for this, that’s tomorrow!”.
3. Forget about thinking long-term.
Right now, you’re in fight or flight mode.
We humans hate the thought of danger happening to us, yet it’s already happened or is happening. That’s also why you’re frantically trying to problem solve and letting your mind go into over-thinking mode!
That said, since we’re already using a lot of our mental resources devoted on our current circumstance or plight (in designated times of course), what energy do we have left to go on planning for the future?
This is especially hard when the suffering you’re dealing with is something that’s about to happen, for example, if you’re dealing with the anxiety of a legal issue or awaiting the outcome of a health checkup.
There’s a seemingly opaque wall blocking your sight into the future, how do you expect to see past it?
Give yourself this break and focus on the present.
By that, I mean going back to point number one and keep on doing the things you love, without the stress of having to worry about the far future.
4. Instead, take time to breathe and be present.
One other really helpful thing to do is to learn to get out of your mind and get back in the present.
If you haven’t heard already, there’s this little thing called Mindfulness.
Your mind is a thinking machine and it’s so easy to get caught up in your thoughts and really lousy emotions.
A useful way to press the pause button on all of this is to tune in to your breathing.
Paying attention to your breathing can help you step out of your thoughts and instead, slow down, let go and collect yourself.
More importantly, it can help you connect with what’s happening here and now.
Here’s a quick exercise called the Nine Deep Breaths. You can try this now.
Take nine, slow deep breaths.
For the first three breaths, focus on your chest and abdomen and observe how the air flows in and out of your body.
For the next three breaths, while continuing to be aware of your breathing, connect fully with your environment. Notice what you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
For the final three breaths, still focus on your breathing but notice how your feet feels on the ground.
Did you give it go? How did you feel? Most people will feel far more ‘present’ with where they are. It’s a great way to take a pause.
5. Take some time off work
This one obviously depends on you.
If work just seems like an absolute burden right now and a heavy load that is weighing you down even more, take some time off.
Your boss will understand. Your company won’t go down the drain. You won’t lose your job. Everyone could use a break now and then and sure as hell you could use one now.
Just absolutely make sure you know what to do with your time off.
It could be giving yourself a little vacation, more time to rest, to spend time with loved ones. As long as you’re not sitting at home going crazy each day being stuck in your mind, that’s okay.
That said, if work is something that you enjoy doing and it’s helping take your mind off things, then simply keep on going.
Remember, it’s all about continuing to live your life and doing all the helpful things that you love.
6. If the suffering is due to something in the future, treat it like a meteor strike is coming.
You can’t help but feeling anxious, I know. However, what’s wrong with feeling anxious?
You’re allowed to feel this, especially if a really shitty time is coming your way.
Let’s take a moment to think about the concept of control.
Take a moment and consider whether you have control over what’s the bad and terrible thing that’s about to happen?
If that’s a yes, then I’m sure you’re already doing whatever you can make it the best outcome possible. Just remember point 2, to set aside specific time to do the thinking.
If that’s a no, then maybe the terrible thing will happen. Maybe not. You don’t know. No one knows.
Treat it like a meteor strike is about to hit the earth and crack it wide open.
Your time becomes valuable now.
What do you do with this time now?
You won’t want to spend all this time worrying and worrying about the meteor strike would you? There’s nothing you can do!
Instead, go do all the things you love. Spend time with the people you cherish. Start doing what you’ve always wanted to do but the ones you’ve never got done to doing.
Don’t waste the time you have now. Live it the fullest.
7. Find support in the people you love (and love you).
Here’s the last and final point, but yet probably the most important one. I cannot repeat this enough.
Tell a trusted few what you’re going through. Share what’s happening, what you’re worried about and what you’re feeling.
If you’re worried about judgment, don’t be.
Just like we mentioned earlier, that’s what kindness is.
And just like you would be kind to others when they’re going through a tough time, you can almost trust that they’ll be doing the same for you.
If you’re really worried about whether what they say might make you feel worse, tell them that!
Be open and start off by saying:
“Hey, I’m really suffering right now and want to share with you what’s happening. But I’m worried that you’ll think bad of me or criticise me. Would you mind just hearing me out on this and being kind?”
That way, you’re opening yourself up to additional kindness. And that’s great, because you can never have enough of kindness for yourself right now.
I hope you enjoyed these seven tips on self-kindness. It's a tough time you're going through now and I'm sorry to hear that. But hang in there and do the things you love. Do let me know if I can be kind to you too, Hern Ping.