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Wellness Challenge: Give Yourself a Break

Are you as kind to yourself as you are to others? Take a self-compassion break. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Then, do something nice for yourself: Take a walk or a hot bath. Call a friend for support. Adopt this mantra: “I’m going to be kind to myself. I accept myself as I am.” Being good to ourselves makes us more likely to adopt healthy behaviors.

Lately, I’ve heard from a lot of readers who are berating themselves for gaining weight or exercising less during the pandemic lockdowns. But it’s important to remember that almost everyone struggled during this past year. Shaming yourself is counterproductive. A large body of research shows that when we give ourselves a break, and accept our imperfections — a concept called self-compassion — we’re more likely to take care of ourselves and live healthier lives.

Self-compassion is rooted in centuries of Buddhist tradition, but it has more recently been subjected to rigorous scientific review. Numerous studies have shown that self-compassion is strongly linked to overall well-being. Practicing self-compassion can reduce depression, stress, performance anxiety and body dissatisfaction. It can lead to increases in happiness, self-confidence and even immune function.

At its most basic, self-compassion is treating yourself as kindly as you would treat your friends and family. But about 75 percent of people who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others score very low on self-compassion tests and are not very nice to themselves, said Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has pioneered much of the self-compassion research.

“It’s a misguided notion that if I’m hard on myself and self-critical, it’s going to help me and motivate me to make changes in my life,” Dr. Neff said. “It does the opposite. When you shame yourself, it makes it harder to make positive changes in your life.”

In her new book, “Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power and Thrive,” Dr. Neff explores new ways we can practice self-compassion. One of the simplest places to start is to ask yourself, “What do I need right now?”

“We say, ‘What do I need to do,’ or ‘What am I supposed to do,’” said Dr. Neff. “But ask yourself, ‘What do I need, really?’ Pause and allow an authentic answer to emerge. Maybe what you need is not what everyone else in your life is telling you that you want.”

Some people worry that self-compassion is a form of self-pity or that self-acceptance just means giving up. But studies show that when people practice self-compassion, they tend to become more resilient, less focused on their problems and more likely to adopt healthier behaviors.

“The research shows that people are more likely to exercise, eat well and be motivated, but they do it from encouragement — not because they feel inadequate,” Dr. Neff said. “The more you are able to accept yourself, the more you’re able to make those positive healthy changes in your life.”

How kind are you to yourself? Take this short test developed by Dr. Neff to gain a snapshot of your own level of self-compassion. If you score low, commit to learning some self-compassion practices. If you score high, continue to practice self-compassion to build on what you already have.

If you’ve been doing this challenge along with me, congratulate yourself for participating, as part of your effort to take care of yourself. If you missed a challenge, you can find all 10 days here. And for more challenges and tips for living well every day, join the free weekly Well newsletter.

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