Self-Compassion: The Foundation of Healing Anxiety
If you’ve ever struggled to get control of your anxiety, you know it can feel like a massively huge, impossible mountain to climb. Because to really heal anxiety, you have to identify and address not only its root cause, but any other factors that contribute to your cycles of worry and panic.
I recently wrote about healing anxiety holistically by addressing the big issues like childhood trauma, bad relationships or a stressful job, as well as incorporating day-to-day practices like mindfulness, exercise and turning around negative thought patterns and nutritional deficiencies.
This is a lot of work. It’s a big job that requires big changes. And these changes can be scary. They can feel overwhelming and frustrating. You might want to give up sometimes. You might fall down altogether and feel like you don’t have it in you to get back up.
But you do. You just have to take one essential first step: Learn to accept and love yourself as-is, anxiety and all.
And the way to create acceptance and love is through self-compassion.
Self-compassion and healing anxiety
Self-compassion is the foundation of all healing. It gives you something supportive to fall back on as you take these big, life-changing steps and inevitably struggle to stay on track now and then.
It gives you a safe place to land when you fall. To regroup and tell yourself, “Hey, you’re only human. It’s OK, you can do this!”
Let’s say, you’re having a panic attack. Without self-compassion, you won’t be able to manage it because rational thoughts are rarely accessible to you in that moment. And even if they are, chances are that so many negative thoughts are running rampant in your mind that the rational ones can’t cut through the noise.
But if you’ve got a compassionate inner voice to turn to, your panic will feel like it’s being hugged by a warm and loving energy and it will slowly begin to soften.
Now even though you’re used to beating yourself up, I’m 100% confident that you’ve got it in you to offer yourself compassion. Why? Because you practice compassion for others all the time. What do you say when a friend is worrying about something? Or starts beating themselves up over a simple—or not so simple—mistake?
You remind them they’re human, and that humans make mistakes. You put this mistake in perspective of all the good they’ve been doing, and the progress they’ve made. You tell them that they’re amazing, wonderful, gifted, and most importantly, loved.
You have to learn to talk to yourself the same way. To take it easy on yourself. To love and accept and be a better friend to yourself and create an environment where it’s safe for you to fail, so you can try again.
And it’s not only about accepting your imperfections and mistakes, but your anxiety as well. Instead of beating yourself up for letting anxiety take hold of you, you need to remember that, in healthy doses, it’s there for your benefit. Anxiety’s role is to help you recognize a threat or something you need that’s missing.
It’s a protective mechanism that not only prevents us from getting into life-threatening situations, but also clues us in on other potentially harmful issues, like being in a bad relationship or being too overwhelmed or stressed out at work.
It’s a natural part of being a human.
Sure, it may be more prevalent in your life than you’d like it to be. It might be over-sensitive and over-reactive. But its intentions are good.
So when your anxiety starts setting off those alarms, be kind to it. Offering compassion to your anxiety is like turning to it and saying “Hey friend, you’re here again, there’s room for you at the table. How can I help you? What do you need?”
Repositioning your anxiety like this makes it much less scary and easier to manage.
It helps you realize that even if you never fully rid yourself of anxiety, you’re still worthy of love. And love and acceptance are the ultimate healing tools.
Only when you have developed this habit of self-compassion, are you ready to move forward and make serious changes. You’re creating a safe environment where you are kind to yourself and your anxiety. And it’s in this environment where you can truly grow and heal.
Self-compassion takes the pressure off
I once had a client who really beat himself up over his inability to talk to women. Every time he saw a girl he found attractive, he had a mini-anxiety attack, froze, and then immediately removed himself from the situation.
He not only hated the way it made him feel about himself, but he dreaded the fear it brought up that he would be alone forever.
He wanted me to give him advice on how to talk to women, but instead, we started with practicing self-compassion. From then on, every time he couldn’t get the courage to talk to a woman, he’d just say to himself, “That’s OK. This has been a difficult issue for you for a long time—so it’s natural that you’re feeling anxious about it in this moment. Don’t worry, you’ll get ‘em when you’re ready.”
Within a week, he began to notice that when he talked to himself in this way, it completely took the pressure off. He was accepting himself and his anxiety as normal. And guess what happened next? No longer feeling the need to defend itself, his anxiety began to soften. He soon felt less anxious and more confident, and eventually got up the nerve to ask a woman out. They’re still dating to this day.
So the next time you start feeling anxious, remind yourself that your feelings are normal, and that you’re a resilient badass who is worthy of kindness even when you’re not perfect. Accept yourself—anxiety and all—and settle into to the safety net of self-love.
Cheat Sheet: Beating Anxiety with Self-Talk
Are you hijacked by your anxiety? Constantly making mental lists of all the ways that you could fail – and all the things that might go wrong?
Use this Cheat Sheet to transform your negative thoughts into loving and constructive self-talk – so you can ditch your anxiety once and for all!