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Make Self-Care a SNAP


Skills to Build Mindful Self-Compassion Anytime, Anywhere

Just when we thought the pandemic was in the rearview mirror, cases are again surging along with stress over how to cope. Parents sending kids back to school or off to college, workers wondering whether to return to the office, everyone unsure what the future holds — who doesn’t feel worried, frustrated and disappointed?

September is Self-Care Awareness Month, yet many people don’t take the time they should to care for themselves. Maybe they think self-care is frivolous, time-consuming, or even selfish. Or they get so busy fulfilling the demands of making a living and caring for a family that they forget to put their own oxygen mask on first. When turbulence hits, they feel stretched too far and snap.

If you have been feeling stressed out, burned out, or beat up by circumstances in life, it’s time to start practicing mindful self-compassion.

Mindfulness is being able to face and acknowledge our difficult thoughts and feelings with a spirit of openness and curiosity. Self-compassion involves responding to these difficult thoughts and feelings with kindness, sympathy, and understanding so that we soothe and comfort ourselves when we’re hurting. Fortunately, mindful self-compassion is a skill you can practice anytime, anywhere.

Self-care comes in many forms. Some require you to stop what you are doing and take a break, such as taking a break to walk in nature, soaking in a soothing bath, or reading your favorite book at the end of the day. But there’s also another way you can practice self-care that only requires you to pause and evaluate what you need to feel better. I call this the SNAP system:

S: Soothing Touch When you feel stress, where does it show up in your body? Place your hands over that area, it might be your chest, belly, hugging your upper arms, or cradling your face. Try different locations and see which feels most soothing. This supportive touch will allow oxytocin and endorphins to help calm your nervous system.

N: Name the Emotion Name what you are feeling in the moment. Is it worry? Sadness? Anger? Loneliness? Naming what you feel helps calm the stress response, and gives you time to locate it in your body and soften around it.

A: Act — It’s time to use a tool to help yourself feel better. Asking the ultimate Mindful Self-Compassion question, “What do I need right now?” is the best place to start. Then do what you can reasonably do with what you’ve got in the moment. For example:

  • While driving: Try controlling your breathing, making your exhale longer than your inhale to lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate. I often put one hand on the wheel, and the other hand on my heart.

  • When toddler tantrums or teen drama erupt: Try dropping your attention to the soles of your feet as you control your breathing to slow the whole show down.

  • When teen or adult family drama makes you want to flee: Stay focused on your body and your breathing. Breathe in compassion for yourself because it’s so difficult, and breathe out compassion for them because they are suffering (even if their behavior is disgusting). Doing this can help to calm your nervous system.

  • At work. Depending on your work situation, you may have more options for relief in the moment if you can close the door (even if it’s in the bathroom stall) to give yourself a few minutes for quiet reflection. Ground yourself by touching a polished stone that you keep on your desk, or through the soles of your feet. Take a break at the water cooler and exhale longer than you inhale for a few rounds of breathing.

P: Praise — Thank your practice for helping you manage the stress! Thank yourself for showing up day after day, trying to do your best. Thank the universe, or your spirit of choice, for giving you the strength and courage to keep on keeping on. When you give thanks, the gratitude that you feel will provide positive reinforcement that will to help you remember to be compassionate with yourself, and with others.

So the next time you feel down, give yourself a break. Instead of focusing on ways you may have failed or fallen short, think how you have done your best to face whatever it is you are struggling with. Give yourself permission to care for yourself. Mindful self-compassion and self-care tools such as SNAP can help you heal emotionally so you feel refreshed, renewed and ready to embrace your challenging and beautiful life.

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