What is mindful self-compassion? How does it affect health?

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Mindfulness and self-card for Community Health Workers

What does the voice in your head sound like? Are you your own worst critic?

When you make a mistake at work, what do you say to yourself? Some people berate themselves: “That was stupid. You know better than that. Now you’re going to get fired.” 

What about when you’re at home and you make a parenting mistake? “You’ve messed them up for life. They’ll always remember this moment and blame you for ruining their mental health.”

Some people are so hard on themselves that it can negatively affect their health—both mental and physical.

Talk to yourself like a friend

Mindful Self-Compassion for Community Health Workers

Some people say incredibly cruel things to themselves all day long and think nothing of it. Eventually, though, it begins to erode their confidence and can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression

Don’t get down on yourself if you are someone who regularly engages in negative self-talk! That just makes it worse!

Negative self-talk is incredibly common. You may find yourself catastrophizing by jumping to the worst-case scenario. Or you might find yourself going over an event again and again, obsessing about every detail and trying to determine when and how things could have gone differently.

The first step to reversing this habit is to become aware of it. The next time you’re ruminating on an awkward social interaction, identify your thoughts. Think about whether you would talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself.

And then reverse the process. Imagine that a friend had experienced the same situation you did. How would you react? Would you comfort them or point out every tiny error they made, cross-referencing those mistakes with others from the past? 

Hopefully, you would comfort them. Talk to yourself like you would a friend and see if it alleviates some of the everyday stress you may feel.

Physical effects of self-compassion

Being kind to yourself has been shown to reduce stress, which in turn results in a greater likelihood of making better health choices: “People with higher self-compassion tended to perceive lower levels of stress and also tended to engage in more frequent health-promoting behaviors; both of these pathways were related to better physical health,” according to this study.

Those “health-promoting behaviors” could include eating more nutritious food, getting more and better sleep, exercising more regularly, and taking medication as instructed by medical professionals.

And the reduced stress a self-compassionate person experiences lowers their cortisol levels, which has all kinds of positive effects on health, such as reducing inflammation.

Health Care Access Now (HCAN)’s Community Health Workers (CHWs) work with people in the community to ease the effects of social determinants of health. They provide resources and education on topics ranging from smoking cessation to breast feeding to chronic disease management. 

Self-care (and self-compassion) are a part of their toolkit to help clients. Just taking a moment to soothe yourself in a moment of struggle can make an enormous difference.

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