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Self-care - A physical pathway to self-compassion

June 12, 2017


When stress rises, we can often feel limited in terms of what we have the time and energy to incorporate into our lives. (Too busy to meditate, anyone?)


Stress mounts, our fight or flight response activates, and then a chain of physiological reactions occur to support our survival from imminent danger.  Once the danger has passed, our bodies then use the parasympathetic nervous system to help us return to a state of balance.


The only problem with this sophisticated biological system in today’s world is that our stress often flows from everyday pressures, arising from things like work, family, finances, relationships and poor health.   These things activate our fight or flight system, but the “danger” doesn’t pass, and instead we can often be mired in it.  We get stuck in a chronic state of fight or flight which then begins to take a physical toll on our bodies, and our health begins to deteriorate.


Using self-compassion to help return to a state of equilibrium

One method to help to bring you out of the fight or flight mode and return to a state of equilibrium is the cultivation of self-compassion.  Self-compassion has been linked to positive outcomes including greater wellbeing* and healthier behaviours.^.


Self-care as one pathway to self-compassion

The five pathways to self-compassion identified by Dr Chris Germer** are physical, mental, emotional, relational and spiritual.  In this blog post I will focus just on physical care.


Physical care is an important part of self-compassion because tension in your mind can also be manifested in your body in tight muscles, headaches and wrinkles – is your brow furrowed just reading this? Anything that you can do to help soften that tension will help you on the road to a more self-compasisonate life.  It is also a way of showing gentle kindness to yourself.






(Photo via Pinterest.)


Here are some ideas that I like:

- Move your body in a way that suits you – go for a walk, run, do yoga, bike ride, swim… whatever works for you.

- Rest when you can – have a nap or go to bed early.

- Cuddle up to a loved one.

- Settle into the couch with a good book.

- Have a bath, light a candle, listen to your favourite music.

- Take five deep and satisfying breaths.

- Meditate.

- Give your dog or cat a luxurious pat.

- Make choices around food that support your health, rather than diminish it.

- Fly a kite – there is a true sense of wonder when you get a kite floating high above you.

- Watch a movie.

- Go outside and breathe some fresh air.

- Make a list of ways that you can show yourself self-care, save it into your phone, and pick something from it a few times a week to do for yourself. 



* Zessin U, Dickhauser O, Garbarde S, 2015, The relationship between self-compassion and wellbeing: A meta analysis, Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing, 7(3), 340-364.

^  Terry M, Leary MR, 2011, Self-compassion, self-regulation, and health, Self and Identity, 10(3), 352-362.

** Germer CK, 2009, The mindful path to self-compassion, The Guilford Press, New York.


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