When stress strikes, many of us tend to lash out. At ourselves. We bash ourselves for not doing enough, for being too tired, for leaving important tasks undone, for making stupid mistakes.

Of course, this only makes us feel worse: more anxious, upset, depressed, on edge.

Intellectually, we know that cruel self-criticism is not the answer. But it’s hard to make the switch.

One powerful solution is to pivot our self-talk toward compassion. These phrases are just some examples of what this can look like:

  • Today is really hard for me.
  • Stress is draining. It’s understandable I’m tired, and I can move a bit slower today. That’s OK.
  • I am upset and disappointed I didn’t get that done and what I need right now is rest.
  • I am struggling today like so many people. And like so many people, I deserve kindness, too.
  • I am doing the best I can under these difficult circumstances.
  • I’m feeling sad right now. I can take a quick break to journal about it.
  • I forgive myself for ….
  • In this moment, I need ….
  • I accept my sadness.
  • I accept my frustration.
  • I made a mistake and I can make it right.
  • I can grow from this by ….
  • It’s OK to feel this way.
  • I’m not a robot. I need rest.
  • I am learning every day.
  • I am in pain and I’ll breathe through it for a bit.

When reframing your self-talk, remember to focus on acknowledging your feelings and being understanding. Think of yourself as a parent nurturing your inner child. Think about what supportive words may help in the moment. Think about small ways you can feel better and what kindness may sound like for you.

The key to effective self-talk is to pick phrases that feel meaningful and authentic to you, which will be different for every person. Some people might prefer using “I,” as in “I am upset, and this will pass.” Others may prefer saying “you,” as in “You are upset, and this will pass.”

It also can help to close your eyes and put your hands over your heart as you recite a self-compassionate phrase. This is a small way to shut out the noise of the external world and reconnect to yourself.

You may have a long history of berating yourself during challenging circumstances—or any circumstance. Many of us do. Which is hard to dismantle and change. Which is why you can take it one kind, comforting word at a time.

Yes, you can’t undo years of damaging, devastating internal dialogue. But significant change starts small. Start small in this moment with some self-compassion.

Photo byKhadeeja YasseronUnsplash.