Practicing self-compassion when you have depression can be difficult, but a few small changes could make a difference in how you’re feeling.
People aren’t perfect. We’re made up of all sorts of quirks, flaws, and nuances. Compassion is what moves us to feel kind and forgiving toward others. But all too often, we don’t treat ourselves with the kindness and grace that we afford others.
The first step to practicing self-compassion is to acknowledge that you’re human, too, and that although it doesn’t always come easily, you are worthy of your own compassion.
Self-compassion is the desire to care for, forgive, and be kind to yourself during challenging times. It’s an internal form of empathy and understanding you’d extend to another person.
Having compassion for yourself is not the same as having self-pity, which suggests you see yourself as a victim, or self-esteem, which is focused on self-worth.
Ever heard the saying, “You’re your own worst critic?” It’s true more often than not. We can be so quick to criticize ourselves for perceived failures or inadequacies that we don’t realize the harm we may be doing to ourselves.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the study of self-compassion, demonstrated in a 2010 study that self-compassion has significant links to positive mental health outcomes, including greater life satisfaction and less depression and anxiety.
According to Neff, there are three components of self-compassion:
- Self-kindness: Recognizing that times of imperfection will happen, and that self-care is more powerful than self-criticism.
- Common humanity: Acknowledging you share the human experience of vulnerability with everyone else.
- Mindfulness: Viewing your negative emotions without judgment; not suppressing or exaggerating them in the moment.
Practicing self-compassion when you live with depression can mean moving toward accepting yourself, loving yourself, and avoiding punishing yourself for feeling the way you feel.
One way you can start being compassionate to yourself is to acknowledge what you’re feeling without blaming yourself for what you think are “unacceptable” emotions. You can do this through compassionate self-talk.
Example of compassionate self-talk
Scenario: You’ve been dating someone for a while, and they decide to end the relationship.
Non-self-compassionate internal dialogue: “Of course they left you. Why would anyone want to waste their time with you? You’re no fun. You feel sad all the time. You can’t even keep it together right now.”
Self-compassionate internal dialogue: “It’s OK to be upset. Most people feel upset when a relationship ends. You did your best. What can you do now to feel a bit better?”
Research published in 2016 suggests your level of self-compassion can directly predict the severity of depressive symptoms.
To practice self-compassion more often, you can:
- remind yourself depression isn’t a choice
- practice mindfulness in other ways
- reverse your perspective
- take one step at a time
- put out reminders
- share in others’ journeys
- talk with a mental health professional
When you live with depression, you may find yourself focusing on thoughts like: “Why can’t I just feel happier?”
This can lead to frustration and self-criticism.
When you practice self-compassion, you can start to remember depression isn’t your choice. You aren’t waking up every day deciding to feel isolated and alone. You’re not to blame for symptoms of depression.
Jumping right into mindfulness to help with depression can be a big step.
Mindfulness is about living in the moment. You’re viewing a thought or experience for what it is, letting it go after the moment has passed.
One way to practice this is during mealtime. By being mindful about a bite of food — focusing on the flavor, texture, and sensation it brings — you can learn how to do the same thing with your thoughts.
One way you can practice mindfulness while living with depression is by changing your perspective.
Instead of talking to yourself, imagining you’re talking with a friend can help you find a gentler approach.
You might tell yourself that you deserve exactly what you got, but you might not say (or believe) it about a friend in the same situation. Shifting your perspective may help you be kinder to yourself.
Sometimes talking harshly to yourself becomes a habit, and habits can be difficult to break.
If you’re finding it’s a challenge to practice self-compassion, you can try starting small. Instead of working directly on internal dialogue, you can be kind to yourself in other ways.
Have that specialty coffee, for example. Treat yourself to a new beauty product. Draw a hot bath and enjoy some relaxation time.
Self-compassion can go hand in hand with self-care. In both cases, you’re practicing kindness toward yourself.
You may not always realize when you’re being rigid and unforgiving toward yourself.
Leaving notes around your home can be a great way to remind yourself to practice self-compassion. A simple “be kind” sticky note on the mirror can help you freeze negative dialogue in its tracks.
You can put reminders anywhere you’re likely to see them: in the refrigerator, on your bathroom mirror, or as the bookmarker in the book you’re reading.
Support groups, social networks, and blogs about living with depression can help remind you that you’re not alone. What you’re experiencing isn’t a failure on your part. Thousands of other people are experiencing depression.
By sharing in their stories, you can identify your sense of compassion for others and see how it could directly translate to what you’re experiencing as well.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool in the world of mental health. It can help with many conditions, not just depression.
A mental health professional can guide you in the process of self-compassion while also exploring what may be contributing to your symptoms.
Depression is treatable. As your symptoms improve, you may find self-compassion comes easier.
Depression can work hard to counteract self-compassion. It’s a condition that can enhance feelings of worthlessness and loneliness.
Depression isn’t your fault. You don’t deserve depression, and you can’t willfully turn depression on and off.
Learning how to practice self-compassion while living with depression can help you extend the same kindness to yourself that you’d show others.
Depression can be overwhelming. If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re never alone. Help is available right now: