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Be Kind to Yourself

4 February 2020

Barbara read The New York Times Smarter Living article, 8 Ways to be Kinder to Yourself in 2020, by Tim Herrera and found some helpful hints.

Tags: barbara read, kindness, self-compassion

“Take more time for yourself.”

All my family came for Christmas, and I hated to see them go. I missed their energy and felt a bit blue about the house being too quiet, and yet the first piece of advice in this article was to be by yourself and sort out your feelings. Herrera said, “Choosing to spend time alone can benefit your social relationships, improve your creativity and confidence, and help you regulate your emotions so that you can better deal with adverse situations.”

Regulating your emotions requires figuring out what you are feeling. I’ve read about and heard people say they don’t know what they feel. It is hard for me to understand because I always know what I feel, and sometimes wish I didn’t, especially when the sensations are not pleasant.

Herrera said you need to feel your feelings and not repress them but also not wallow in them too long. Finding the “middle ground between avoiding and dwelling will prove less depressing.”

Writing the question, “Why am I feeling this way?” in my journal can often give me the answer. And then, if it’s a political issue or crisis I can do nothing about, I work to either do something to help my community or quickly dismiss the sinking feeling.  Other times I know I need to have a difficult conversation I have been putting off. I won’t be better until I get it over with.

After some writing, I realized I wanted the opposite of what I needed when I was heading back to full-time work after the holidays. I needed to get busy and make dates with friends to combat the loneliness I felt when the family left. When I was working full-time, I had very little energy for socializing but now I’m learning this introvert needs the interaction and mental stimulation that being a vice president of an association used to provide.

“Enjoy things when they’re good.”

“Worrying about when ‘the other shoe will drop’ will only steal your current joy.” I am famous for this one. I have a lightning-speed imagination when it comes to thinking of bad things that could occur, and I can do it in the midst of something wonderful happening. I have to wrestle with that demon regularly.

My mother was not a worrier. She said it was a waste of time. What you worry about never happens. I took that piece of good advice and twisted it. I secretly and, at first unconsciously, thought—if I worry about something, I can keep it from happening. That nasty little habit wound up causing me to have my first panic attack at 36. I had more and finally got help that required listening to a relaxation tape many times a day and saying positive things to myself rather than the litany of negative phrases that were on a continuous loop through my head.

I've been working on a quilt for each month of the year to hang on the back of our front door for a long time. One of the ways I'm kind to myself is that I don't rush a project.

“Learn to accept a compliment—even if it is from yourself.”

When I was a teenager, a boy I dated a few times said, “When I give you a compliment, you say, ‘Thank you.’ Other girls don’t do that. They brush it off. I like the way you do it.” From then on I continued the practice. What a gift he gave me.

When people compliment you, say, “Thank you,” and let it wash over you and keep you warm for a long as you can.

Give yourself compliments. Here are some things I said to myself recently—you did a great job of finding that document that was in your mother’s estate box that you filed away four years ago. Congratulations.

You cleaned out two closets and gave away an almost brand new coat. It was the wrong length for pants and skirts. You’ve known for two years the purchase was a mistake. Let someone else keep warm and enjoy its beautiful red wool with black double-breasted buttons. Good for you.

When I started working on a PhD in 1984, I was scared of everything—the 100 mile drive to the University of South Florida, standing in a long line to register, not finding a parking space close enough to the English building to be safe when I came out of class at 9:00 pm, delving into the big red Compete Works of Shakespeare. As I walked the campus, I recited an old high school cheer—2, 4, 6, 8 who do we appreciate? Barbara, Barbara, Barbara is great. Of course, I did this silently. After I wrote this, I tried it for a few days and it still works to cheer me up. It’s a rhyme that can get stuck in my head and is a better choice than some other thoughts that tend to get stuck there.

“Cultivate more casual, low-stakes friendships”

Herrera quoted a 2014 study that “found that the more weak ties a person has (neighbors, a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel. Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community.” I belong to several groups and have recently joined two new ones— a meditation group and a book study group. I don’t come early and stay after to develop more intimate relationships like I do in other groups I belong to. I just enjoy being with them while the activity is happening. As an introvert, I’ve wondered if this practice would drain me, but I’m beginning to realize that as long as the relationships stay light, I am cheered up by them.

“Lean into your guilty pleasures.”

Stop worrying about TV shows and trashy books you love. Herrera’s research showed that “Taking a mental break and enjoying something that doesn’t require intense intellectual focus gets us out of problem-solving mode, and it can also improve our ability to productively deal with stressors and help us engage more positively with other people.”

I learned what “binge watching” is in the last year and experienced the high everyone was talking about. I thoroughly enjoy what I watch without guilt. But I have begun to limit myself to one or maybe two episodes each night of a good fluffy series to make it last longer.

There are three more suggestions in the article. I hope you'll pick one that can help you be kinder to yourself in 2020. And most of all please remember that being kind to yourself isn’t weak. Rather, it’s a source of strength and helps you be kinder to others.


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