Four Reasons to Boost Your Heart Health
It’s February and Valentine’s Day is coming. What better time to think about your heart! Why not check out these tips to help boost your health:
- A heavier body weight may be linked to heart disease. Compared to people of normal weight, overweight people are at 22% higher risk of having a stroke. In obese people, the risk rises to 64%. This was published in a 2010 report in the journal Stroke, which obtained results from 25 studies involving over two million people. Consider changing your food choices. A healthy diet (check out the Canada Food Guide) is about 80% of the solution. Improving food choices (especially decreasing processed food), eating out less and being mindful of portion size are a good place to start. Remember to start off each day with a healthy breakfast that includes protein. Change it up; variety is the spice of life!
- Exercise is roughly 20% of the solution to maintaining a healthy body weight. If your goal is to reach a healthier weight, it is essential that when you exercise, you maintain 65-80% level of intensity for over 30 minutes several times per week. Try doing a variety of workouts and consider exercising with a partner.
- Smoking causes major stress on the heart. If you smoke, consider talking to your doctor about getting help to kick the habit. According to the British Heart Foundation, smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as non-smokers. After a few months without smoking, your cardiovascular exercise will become easier and more enjoyable.
- Change your mood! Are you feeling blue? Short days mean less sunshine, and many of us feel down when we aren’t getting enough light. The good news is, just twenty to thirty minutes of moderate exercise can cause the release of endorphins. These endorphins make us feel happy! Exercise may be an effective way to improve your mood!
So this Valentine’s Day, why not plan an active date with your sweetheart? Go skiing, or skating, go for a walk or do an exercise class together! Then go home and cook up some healthy food and savour it! Take good care of your heart!
Wendy Lee, BA, Kinesiology, has been working in the Physical Health Department at Bellwood since 2009. She has over ten years of experience working in community rehabilitation clinics and in the outpatient orthopedic clinic at York Central Hospital as part of their Physiotherapy team.
Spirituality – What’s the Big Deal?
The destructive nature of addiction
By Lee Hausmann, MA, ICCAC
Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Moods Magazine, https://www.moodsmag.com/moods/index.php
As an addiction therapist and a person who has been directly impacted by addiction, I have been involved in the treatment of people struggling from this mental health disorder for over 20 years. Addiction comes in many forms: alcoholism, drug dependence, sex addiction, gambling, eating disorders, Internet-based addictions, shopping, relationships, and the list goes on. Whether it’s a chemical dependency or a behavioural addiction, the impact on an individual is devastating. It can affect all areas of life, and if not arrested, can lead to death. The havoc addiction creates, and the slow, insidious destruction that occurs, causes an individual to lose, among other things, their sense of self, their identity and their values. The purpose and meaning of life is clouded over by a lens of despair, self-loathing, fear and emptiness. I have heard many addicts in early recovery speak about the emptiness or void that is felt in their hearts: a feeling of disconnect, soullessness, or spiritual bankruptcy.
Spirituality vs Religion
Often when clients first enter treatment, hearing the word “spirituality” can create a visceral reaction. This word is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. It can challenge an individual’s belief system and conjure up prejudices as they associate the word spirituality with religion and God. Part of my work as a therapist is to try to distinguish between the word “spirituality” and “religion,” in an attempt to open clients’ minds and expand their understanding of this topic. It is important to differentiate between the two. Religion is a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects. It is a man-made doctrine. A 12-step phrase states, “Religion is for people that are afraid to go to hell. Spirituality is for people that have already been there.” Unlike religion, spirituality has a wide scope with loose and broad definitions, and is open to interpretation. It is a very personal experience. It can be viewed as a dimension of who we are, the unseen yet vital, animated essence of a person or animal; the intelligent non-physical part of human beings. Whichever way spirituality is defined, there is proof that it is an imperative piece of the healing process if the addicted person is to become well and whole. A person can be both religious and spiritual, however, for purposes of addiction, it is only necessary for people to develop a sense of their own spirituality.
What’s the Big Deal?
Addiction is a complicated, debilitating and destructive mental health disorder that can be fatal, and therefore dictates the need for an equally complex and powerful solution. In other words, the dimension of the solution needs to be equivalent to the dimension of the problem. “There has been an explosion of scholarly and clinical interest in exploring the role that spirituality may play in substance abuse assessment, treatment and recovery (C. Shorkey, M. Uebel, & L.C. Windsor, 2008, 287).” It was reported in Time magazine that from 2000 to 2002, there were more than 1,000 scholarly articles on the relationship between spirituality and mental health, whereas in 1980 to 1982 there were less than 100 articles published on this topic. This growing field of research has substantiated the fact that increased spiritual practices are associated with longer-term addiction recovery. “When individuals experience a “spiritual awakening” as a result of their AA involvement, they are four times more likely to be abstinent than those who reported no spiritual awakening (C. Shorkey, M. Uebel, & L.C. Windsor, 2008, 287).” In my 25 years in the recovery community, the people who have chosen to establish some type of a spiritual practice, such as a daily routine of reflection or meditation, stay clean and sober and begin to positively change their lives. Addiction presents an individual with a choice: life or death? The path of addiction leads to death, but the path of recovery leads to life. And this life of recovery with a spiritual context can begin to include a sense of self, self-worth, self-esteem, self-respect, empowerment, integrity and freedom. And THAT’S a big deal.
Spirituality as a Practical Matter
Often, spirituality is not a very practical matter, especially in early recovery. There are many deep questions, such as: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Is there more to me than just flesh and bones? These may seem inconsequential when an individual is dealing with more pressing matters, such as earning a living, paying bills, attending to children and trying to stay clean and sober. It can be easy to set spirituality aside, putting it off as something to be done at a later time. This can be a dangerous place for an addict, especially when we bring to mind the fact that addiction is chronic, progressive, and fatal if not arrested. Can spirituality become a practical matter and part of everyday life? Yes, it can. For thousands of years, man has acknowledged that he has an invisible aspect to himself, call it soul, divinity or higher state of consciousness. For addicts, an exploration of the spiritual aspect of her/his nature cannot be ignored, if the individual is to get well. What then, is a spiritual practice, how can it be incorporated into everyday life, and what are the benefits of such an experience?
A Spiritual Practice
When I was a little girl playing in the backyard of my family home in Weston, Ontario, I recall my friends and me digging holes for fun in my mother’s flower garden. As we dug deeper, I began to feel anxiety rise in the pit of my stomach. In my imagination I visualized digging right through the earth to the other end of the world, which was an unknown and frightening place for me. In today’s day and age, this is an absurd idea. We live in a much smaller world today. Countries and cultures are interconnected through trade, exchange of thoughts, culture, sophisticated levels of communication, and globalization. The East meets the West, bringing with it ancient traditional practices of meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and a diverse array of spiritual and mystical practices, writings and philosophies. Therefore, today there is a wealth of information that we can access to help us along this path. How does this actually happen? The following are practices that can create a context in a person’s life to help them begin to grow both spiritually and emotionally:
- Regular practice of meditation
- Quiet time, reflection and journaling
- Regular readings of inspirational literature
- Regular practice of prayer or spiritual affirmations
- Joining a 12-step program and becoming active in that community
- Regular yoga practice
- Regular participation in a church or your preferred spiritually-based organization
Spirituality as a process encourages an individual to live in the present moment, learning from their experiences. Everyday life then becomes a school, a place to expand one’s awareness, change perceptions, recognize the positive and negative workings of the ego, and to begin to find one’s place in this world and one’s connection to oneself.
In early recovery when the fog lifts and clarity begins to unfold, this stark reality can be frightening and frustrating. Resentments that were once drunk away are now coming to the surface. Hurt and pain of the past are no longer repressed. This is where the “work” of recovery through treatment, therapy and 12 step groups, begins the process of clearing the wreckage of the past. With perseverance, commitment and daily spiritual practice, positive emotions such as love, hope, joy, forgiveness, compassion and gratitude can replace the darkness of early recovery. Experiencing positive emotions helps to expand our awareness, change our perceptions, and broaden our lives. The journey of recovery or spiritual and emotional growth is one from dependence on outside sources (drugs and alcohol) to developing inner resources and strengths. There is a saying in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, “It’s an inside job.” A spiritual practice is at the root of these changes, leading an individual to live a life of transparency and integrity, where the insides match the outsides, masks are no longer needed, the facade is gone, replaced by authenticity and genuineness. A transcendence of self into a larger reality is where service to others becomes a common occurrence and a necessary part of an individual life.
If there was one message I would like to communicate to all those individuals in early recovery, it would be to take spirituality seriously as an essential element of recovery. And to keep up the practice until the miracle happens. An excerpt from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous captures this
in The Promises:
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through, we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness, we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it, we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace; no matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others; that feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear, we will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows, self-seeking will slip away, our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change, fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us….”
And THIS is a big deal.
Play It Forward for Mental Health Awareness
Henri Matisse said that creativity takes courage. That’s exactly how you would describe Shelley Marshall – courageous and creative. Hilarious is another word you might use. She’s a comedienne, a mother and a mental health warrior. And she’s partnered with the Edgewood Health Network to bring her award winning autobiographical play Hold Mommy’s Cigarette across Canada.
This one woman show is the story of Shelley’s life and the impact a history of mental illness has on a family and a young girl. It’s a story that touches audiences deeply and makes them laugh just as hard. As Shelley says, “I take them on an adventure, both emotionally and visually. There is no denying that my story is tragic, but it’s my story and time and writing without shame has been my comedic relief. Hold Mommy’s Cigarette is not an exploitation of what has happened in my life, but rather, an acceptance of where it may lead. It is a dark comedy, a vulnerable piece about life, mental illness and survival.”
The play chronicles her early life, leading up to her lowest point – a suicide attempt. Yet fate and her husband intervened, and Shelley survived. She now uses Hold Mommy’s Cigarette as a vehicle to talk about depression and to showcase how she was able to turn her deep sadness into tremendous success. It’s an inspiring experience that opens up a much needed conversation around suicide and mental illness.
As a part of the Edgewood Health Network, we’re very proud to be helping Shelley spread her message of hope. Especially since addiction is a disease that often leaves it’s sufferers feeling completely hopeless.
The Edgewood Health Network wants to “play it forward” by giving away free tickets to Hold Mommy’s Cigarette. We think everyone should have a chance to see this show! Tickets will be available for April 16, 17, 18 and 19 in Toronto. Go to https://www.ticketscene.ca/series/285to register and use the promo code EHN.
As Shelley often says, “best life ever!”
Mindfulness: From Distraction to Stillness
Stillness. The calm surface of a lake at dawn. The silence of an empty chapel. The soft quiet of a night full of stars. How we wish at times for our minds to settle, and just be still. For the pointless worries to stop, that ceaseless chatter. What we should have done, what we should be doing, what we should be preparing for. The tyranny of the shoulds. Our minds are constantly doing, always trying to fix things, change things, make things better. Trying to close the gap between where we are, and where we think we should be. From the second we get up in the morning, to the time we fall asleep at night. What should I have said to her on the phone last weekend? What can I do about my weight? All big questions, to be sure, but do they never stop? Why can’t we shut our minds off? It’s something I hear in the office all the time. I can’t focus, doc. I can’t turn my brain off. It won’t let me sleep. It must be ADHD. Isn’t there a pill you can give me?
Modern society doesn’t help. There’s always another distraction out there. Something else to do. Cellphones, Facebook, Twitter, Google. More channels on TV. More ads. Faster cars. Better hair. Whiter teeth. Another thrill, another sensation. Don’t stop, or you might miss something. A constant need for ‘more’. It isn’t hard to see where addiction fits in.
What’s the answer? How does one stop ‘doing, doing, doing’, and just ‘be’? How do we learn to control our minds, and not have them running in circles, taking us with them? For a few, the diagnosis really is ADHD, and treatment for this can help. For most of us though, the problem isn’t that we can’t pay attention, but that we’ve forgotten how to. This is where the gentle practice of mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention, in the present moment, to things as they are. It’s what happens when you start to notice what’s going on, both outside you, and on the inside, in your thoughts and feelings. Noticing what it’s like to eat an apple and enjoy it, rather than ‘scarfing’ down lunch so fast you can’t remember 10 minutes later what you just ate. Noticing what your thoughts are, but then remembering that they’re just thoughts, and that you don’t have to react to them.
A simple way to begin being mindful is to take a minute and just focus on your breathing. Try it. Let your breath be your ‘anchor’. Notice how each breath in fills you with energy, and how each outward breath lets go of tension. Sit with your breathing for a moment, and notice what happens. Let whatever happens happen. You might notice how the soles of your feet feel on the floor. You might become aware of all the sounds around you. Notice it, and then come back to being aware of your breathing. A thought might cross your mind. Just notice it, like it’s a cloud crossing the sky. Then gently let it go, and come back to your breathing. You don’t have to react to every thought. Thoughts and feelings come and go all the time, like bags coming down the baggage chute at the airport. If you choose, you can sit with them and let yourself experience them. On the other hand, you can let them go, and just come back to your breathing. You can control what you pay attention to, and for how long. You can learn to control your mind, rather than letting your thoughts and impulses run away with you. It’s a skill, which means it takes practice, but it’s a skill worth learning. And the payoff, ultimately, is stillness.
By: Dr. Charlie Whelton, M.D., FRCP(C), ASAM Certified
Giving Back to Others: One of the Greatest Gifts in Addiction Recovery
At Bellwood Health Services, we have a group of volunteers who assist our team of clinicians and our clients 7 days a week. Their acts of kindness and selflessness portray what it truly means “to give back to others”. Some of the Bellwood Volunteers have been through addiction treatment themselves and are in recovery. So, the question is, “Why is it important to our Volunteers and others in recovery to give back?”
Why Give Back?
“For it is in giving that we receive.” ― St. Francis of Assisi
Recovery from drugs alcohol or other behavioural addictions is a process not a life experience. As one continues on a path of sobriety, it becomes easier to realize and open ourselves to healthier and better decisions. One can find inner peace much better and has a better sense of gratitude for where they are now because of who helped them and because of their own courage to change their life around.
Gratitude is a part of recovery. It’s the feeling of being thankful for having received something. In recovery, one is grateful for having received the tools and knowledge from rehab or a support group to stay sober. Helping others is an important component of recovery in aftercare.
Helping people because someone helped you is a way of saying thank you. It helps you stay focused on the road of recovery and stay connected with others. Helping and sharing your own experiences with others can be reasons that someone finally discovers peace in their life or experience some relief from an awful day they may be having.
Many of the Bellwood Volunteers had mentioned the following as some of the reasons why they volunteer at Bellwood Health Services:
- They are grateful and want to give back
- Helping others helps their recovery
- It is inspirational and gives them hope
The Benefits of Giving Back for YOU
Studies show that individuals in recovery that continue to help others find sobriety are more likely to stay abstinent than those who do not help others.
Other benefits of giving back:
- Improves self-esteem and self confidence
- Feel more empowered in your recovery
- Improves your resilience against mental illnesses, such as depression
- Helps improve your community
- Find more purpose and meaning in your life
- Stay connected and not isolate
- Develop new skills
- Gain a better perspective of what life is like now in recovery, what’s really important to you and the benefits of living clean.
What you can do to give back:
- Work on yourself: May seem selfish or quite opposite of what I have been saying but you must ensure that you are not neglecting your needs so that you are able to physically, psychologically, and spiritually “give back” selflessly.
- When you are ready, become someone’s sponsor – a guide through someone’s recovery process. It’s a selfless service that can be offered to another individual who needs help learning how to live a healthier life without addiction.
- Volunteer your Time: In a Canadian study, 85% of Ontario volunteers rated their health as “good” compared to 79% of non-volunteers. More research is showing that the good feelings you experience when helping others may be just as important to your health as exercise and a healthy diet. Bellwood always has volunteer opportunities at our treatment facility in various roles. Click on this link to learn more about these volunteer opportunities.
- Donating to a charity or good cause.
These are just some examples of what you can do to give back. Start with small acts of generosity if you are not ready to make bigger commitments. You may offer to make coffee at your next 12-step meeting or extend your seat the next time you see a parent with a child on the TTC. The opportunities are endless when it comes to carrying out compassionate deeds.
“It’s been a privilege to have served you.” – Dr. Gordon Bell, Founder of Bellwood Health Services
Give Back to Others by Giving to Yourself First
5 Tips to Help You Survive the Holidays in Early Recovery
The holidays can be a stressful season for many of us, especially when old family traditions still exist and you have started to develop new and healthier ones. It can be difficult for family members or friends to understand that you can’t join the family for Christmas dinner this year because it raises bad memories or that being near alcohol is just too triggering for you at this point in your recovery.
Early recovery from alcohol or drug addiction can be very challenging. Yet, with the right tools and support, you can stay sober and prevent relapse from overriding all the great progress you made during rehab.
So whether you are or are not attending a Christmas celebration(s), here are Bellwood’s 5 tips to help you survive the holidays in early recovery:
- Stay connected. It can get busy around the holidays with all the shopping, Christmas potlucks and holiday parties. Yet, it’s still important to continue practicing the recovery skills you learned in treatment to ensure you continue on your road to a healthier and happier lifestyle. Whether it means going through Bellwood’s Aftercare Program or attending your 12-step meetings- make sure you don’t miss a meeting! Plan ahead! If you know you are going to be out-of-town, do some research and jot down the addresses of local 12-step meetings in your vacation destination. Crises happen- even during the holidays and it’s important to have the support and reassurance of your fellow brothers and sisters.
- Avoid situations where the dangers of abusing drugs or alcohol may occur. If you know that a company Christmas celebration will have alcohol and it is too triggering to be around- than do not attend or go with someone who is supportive of your recovery. Avoid and steer clear of places and old “friends” that made you use.
- Eat and snack on time to avoid those mood swings because they can be triggers for relapse. Pay attention to your basic needs such as your hunger. As Margaret Fieldhouse, our nutritionist, at Bellwood Health Services, would say, “Eat your 3 snacks and 3 meals a day. Make sure you eat your protein and be mindful of your sugar intake!” Bring healthy snacks with you on long trips and plan your meals ahead.
- Get proper rest and exercise. Ensure you are getting enough sleep so that you have the energy and right attitude to get you through the day. Plus, exercising on a regular basis can help you sleep better and feel better too when you are experiencing anxiety or stress.
- Acknowledge when you need help. Reach out to your sponsor or give Bellwood a call to help you get through the challenge that you are facing. Early recovery from addiction is not the same for everyone. Listen to the red flags and get the support that you need.
Remember: Don’t get…
Carbohydrates: The Simple and Complex Truth
Written by: Natalie Tilluckdharry
According to Health Canada, ‘carbohydrates are the body’s most important source of energy’. However, it is one of the most widely criticized nutrients in food. Following the influx of popularized ‘low carb’ diets in the 1990’s, carbohydrates have taken the blame for obesity and have since held a negative connotation in the minds of many. In addiction and recovery, carbohydrates play a role in energy levels, anxiety, fatigue and cravings. Certain carbohydrates can help to improve these symptoms in those recovering from drugs, alcohol and food addiction.
The Basics of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients our body relies on to produce energy. It is our body’s primary source of energy, as carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. Our body runs on glucose, which is converted in the mitochondria to usable energy called ATP.
However, not all carbohydrates are created equally. They are comprised of two groups: simple and complex carbohydrates.
- Chocolate, candy, soda etc.
Simple carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed quickly. Most of these products are refined, and limited in vitamins, minerals or fibre. The enzymes in our body easily digest them, and can trigger a spike in insulin, creating a ‘sugar crash’. Simple carbohydrates begin to break down into smaller components as they enter our mouth, with the help of enzymes in our saliva. Some of the glucose from these simple carbohydrates is absorbed sublingually (beneath the tongue) and our blood glucose levels begin to rise. The body further breaks down the simple carbohydrates in the stomach, and the remaining glucose is absorbed within the small intestines into the bloodstream, raising blood glucose levels. This creates a burst in energy levels, which is short lived. The body reacts to this sudden rise in blood glucose by signalling the pancreas to secrete insulin – a hormone that regulates the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream. As insulin is released, it initiates glucose uptake, creating a sudden drop in blood glucose. This ‘sugar crash’ has a major effect on our physical and mental state.
Effects of Simple Carbohydrates
The swift changes in blood glucose cause feelings of highs and lows from jitteriness and excitability to anxiety, fatigue and mood swings. This is a concern for those in recovery from drugs and alcohol. In early recovery, when symptoms of low mood and anxiety are prevalent, foods rich in simple carbohydrates can amplify these feelings. Also, many people afflicted with addiction also suffer with concurrent mental health disorders including depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. While foods high in simple carbohydrates are often sought out for comfort or to satisfy sugar cravings, too much can create negative consequences in ones’ recovery by altering mood and emotions. So should addicts avoid simple carbohydrates altogether? Not at all. Indulging in these foods is part of healthy eating when used in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
- Cereals (bran, oats, etc.)
- Starches (i.e. potatoes)
Complex carbohydrates are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fibre, which is not digested or absorbed by our body, slows down the rate of absorption of glucose and does not create the highs and lows as mentioned above. As glucose is slowly absorbed in the small intestines, the demand on the pancreas to secrete large amounts of insulin is less significant. This creates a slow and steady rise in blood glucose without the ‘crash’, and provides long lasting energy. Fibre also helps reduce risk of heart disease, elevated cholesterol, and improves gastrointestinal health, which is often compromised in many addicts. Grain products that are refined during the manufacturing process such as white rice and pasta lose the outer layer of the grain, which contains much of its nutritional value. However most products are now fortified, meaning foods are enriched with extra micronutrients. Although there is a difference in quality of white versus whole grain products, they both offer various health benefits and importance in our diet. Health Canada recommends making half of daily grain products as ‘whole grain’.
Effects of Complex Carbohydrates
Various vitamins and minerals are found in complex carbohydrates. For example, B vitamins are found in grain products, fruits and vegetables. B vitamins function in the production of energy, the central nervous system and synthesis of neurotransmitters. We require certain amounts of these vitamins in order for our body to carry out these essential roles. During the addiction, when drugs and alcohol are abused, healthy eating is often not practised. Many addicts consume a diet low in complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables, creating inadequate levels of these vitamins – also known as insufficiencies. This affects the numerous roles that these vitamins perform, causing serious damage affecting the nervous system and cognition. In recovery from addiction, complex carbohydrates help to stabilize energy levels, restore vitamin and mineral functions within the body and reverse the damage incurred from the effects of the addictive substance.
Carbohydrates, like all foods have a place in healthy eating. The simple negative association that has been developed with this entire group of food means we deprive ourselves of the many health benefits they offer. Canada’s Food Guide for Healthy Eating recommends that adults consume 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, in addition to 6-8 servings of grains a day. These amounts help us meet our needs for vitamins, minerals and nutrients and contribute to your overall health and vitality (Health Canada, 2011). In recovery, choosing the right foods can help our bodies heal and continue to live a sober life.
For more information on recommendations for grains, fruits and vegetables, go to Health Canada’s Healthy Food Guide for Eating:
In the next article, we will explore how carbohydrates influence emotional eating and why food can become an addiction.
Self-Compassion and Psychological Well-Being: Applying Self-Compassion Principles to Well-Being
Written By: Barak Raz
Our post-modern, technologically advanced, individualistic, wealthy, progressive and competition-driven society appears to have lessened our capacity to be compassion-ate with others and ourselves. Numerous mediating factors might contribute to this situation, including compromised traditional, social, communal and cultural ties, ur-banization and emigration trends, economics, globalization, politics and neo-liberal market pressures. Current studies in health, psycho-social and psychiatric domains further echo alarming client reports of growing sense of alienation, lack of support, dissatisfaction and lower sense of happiness, which may further have direct and indi-rect impact on the well-being of adults, children and families . It is in this context, that self-compassion is gaining momentum as an emerging and meaningful field of psy-chology with wide range application potential.
The concept of self-compassion has roots in ancient philosophies, ideologies and cultures, and occupies important aspects of many religions. However, it is only re-cently that self-compassion has been researched in more formalized settings. More-over, although relatively new to psychology, self-compassion concept is surprisingly fitting with several psychotherapeutic approaches such as cognitive, positive, human-istic, present and strength focused schools of thought. In general, self-compassion refers to the way we relate and treat ourselves. More specifically, it involves feelings of caring and self-directed kindness in the face of personal, interpersonal and contextual suffering and involves the recognition that one’s perceived suffering, failures and inadequacies are part of the human condition . Furthermore, research on the applicability and effectiveness of self-compassion is showing great promise in such areas as stress reduction, anxiety, depression, quality of life, self-esteem, intrinsic motivation in the classroom, emotional intelligence, emotional maturity and improved psychological well-being . Research has been demonstrating that treating ourselves in self-compassionate ways might be of outmost importance to our sense of psychological well-being, in the context of academic, occupational, health and personal domains.
To further understand self-compassion, it would be useful to expand discussion on suffering. According to studies in this area, suffering can be experienced in response to an event, a situation, an emotional response, a psychological state, spiritual alien-ation, or a physical response to illness or pain . Suffering manifests as a pattern of decreased self-care and ability to relate to others, and diminished autonomy. Where self-compassion by comparison, manifests as a pattern of increased self-care capacity, compassion, empathy for others, increased relatedness and sense of community, autonomy, efficacy, independence and healthier sense of self in the face of suffering. One great example of the use of compassion in the face of suffering is described by Dr. Frankl, a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist :
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Furthermore, research has identified several important aspects of self-compassion including, self-kindness, non-critical self-judgment, communal sense of humanity, i.e. a sense of belonging and ability to show empathy to others, social connectedness versus isolation, and mindfulness versus identification. It is also worth noting that self-compassion and empathy for others have been identified as powerful contribu-tors to well-being in that they add to our sense of security and attachment to our her-itage, as well as attachment to our social, cultural and spiritual spheres . In addition, personal characteristics such as sociability and extraversion/introversion, to name a few, as well as cultural values, such as individualistic versus collectivistic values, might also impact our sense of well-being.
It is interesting to note that these self-compassion aspects appear to be consistent with research findings on psychological well-being components. More specifically, although this subject matter is recognized as complex, research suggests that in general, psychological well-being includes subjective, social, and psychological di-mensions as well as health-promoting attitudes and behaviours. Factors that have been found to correlate with psychological well-being include self-acceptance, mean-ingful ties to others, a sense of autonomy in thought and action, the ability to manage complex environments to suit personal needs and values, the pursuit of meaningful goals and a sense of purpose in life and continued growth and development as a person . These similarities may further support our recognition of the potential value and strength of self-compassion approach.
Equally important is the fact that the positive effects of self-compassion appear to impact physiological well-being. For example, studies looking at meditation and self-control techniques aimed at fostering an attitude of self-compassion, have demon-strated to strengthen neuro-physiological and immune systems .
Following this brief introduction and discussion of self-compassion and its overlapping consistency with psychological well-being, we can now look at several strategies aimed at applying self-compassion to everyday life, whereby leading to an increase in our capacity for self-compassion and further contributing to a healthy sense of psy-chological well-being.
- Think of compassionate people from your past and present, such as your parents, special family members, friends, teachers and positive role models and focus on the meaningfully encouraging messages and exchanges with them. Then, notice the warm and soothing feelings you get in relation to them and yourself. This can also be used as a great grounding tool, i.e. an anxiety management tool that grounds you to the present time in a safe way, when faced with an upsetting feeling, thought or situation.
- Decide to become your own best friend and apply the support skills you use with others to yourself, when facing challenges. You can use a variety of means to ac-complish this, such as reflective, imagery, written or verbal approaches. For ex-ample, choose to take a loving, warm, kind and understanding approach to self. Learn to honour and respect your needs and wishes by consciously thinking and taking care of them. You could also consider using imagery, where you imagine your inner self in a warm and compassionate manner. This approach can be ex-panded to the use of journaling and/ or writing a reflective letter to yourself, which are typical tools encouraged in therapy.
- Reach out and get involved emotionally, socially and/ or spiritually with your community. It will help you feel a sense of belonging and connectedness beyond yourself and allow you to practice empathy with others. In addition, it will help put personal suffering in perspective. For example, you might experience a wide range of negative feelings in regards to a difficult work, relational or family situa-tion. Being involved in some community engagements, such as charity work with the less fortunate, might help put your own struggles in a different light. For in-stance, consider the following self-discussion in a hypothetical and yet common case of dealing with career expectations. “My feelings are hurt and I feel frustrat-ed as a result of feeling I have not lived up to my full potential and feel that others have not been supportive of my career ambitions. However, it is also true that I have managed to do relatively well when I consider the career barriers of….”
Lastly, given our discussion, consider the following clinical vignette. Imagine seeing a client or hearing a friend express the following belief: “he or she will not love me be-cause I am no good”. A cognitive therapist may look at the negative self-value and self-assumption of being no good and un-lovable; confront the imbedded negative self-expectation that another could not love him/her; or discuss the low self-efficacy perception that one is incapable of being good or loved. How would you approach this from a self-compassion perspective?
In conclusion, the use of self-compassion concept to improve psychological well-being in the face of suffering and modern day pressures appears to offer significant value. Self-compassion refers to the manner in which we relate and treat ourselves in the face of suffering, and research is showing promise in applying self compassion to the treatment of various mental health and everyday challenges, including stress, self esteem, depression, anxiety, emotional maturity and sense of well-being. In addition, self-compassion appears consistent with positive and cognitive based psychological schools of thoughts, as well as with findings on important well-being components. This article further presents several self-help strategies using the concept of self-compassion to everyday life challenges, which are aimed at increasing our inherent capacity for self-compassion and sense of psychological well-being.
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