taking a break is a good way to be gentle with yourself
author image Dr. Paul Greene
author image Dr. Paul Greene
Dr. Paul Greene is the founder and director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in New York City. With 14 years of dedicated service in private practice, Dr. Greene brings a wealth of experience to his role. His career also includes teaching at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and conducting research at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Are you your own worst critic? It’s good to hold yourself accountable, but self-compassion is a requirement for good mental health. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) offers various ways to practice being gentle with yourself.

Boost Your Mental Health by Treating Yourself with Kindness

Many people assume that the best way to motivate yourself is to keep up an unending stream of self-criticism. Unfortunately, doing so can take a real emotional toll. It can contribute to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or unhealthy perfectionism.

If you tend to be hard on yourself, don’t worry — there are many things you can do to change that tendency. Several strategies are listed below that are sometimes recommended in cognitive-behavioral therapy, an effective treatment for anxiety and depression.

How to Be Gentle with Yourself: Mental Strategies

Talk to yourself the same way you’d talk to a dear friend — If you wouldn’t tell your best friend that she is an idiot for making a mistake, then why is it ok to say that to yourself? Spoiler: it’s not. Sometimes it can feel like you’re holding yourself to a high standard by being harsh. But in reality, standards are not maintained so much by how you talk to yourself — they’re more a function of your values and character. Being overly self-critical ends up doing little good. So you might as well practice telling yourself the more supportive things you would tell a loved one. Try it! If it doesn’t feel natural to do, that just means it’s important you keep practicing.

Practice mindfulness — One of the best ways to notice when you’re telling yourself unkind messages is to practice mindfulness. Doing so will help you increase your awareness of what you’re thinking when you’re thinking it! Remember, if you don’t know you’re caught up in a bad habit, you’ll have a hard time stopping it. This is true whether it’s biting your nails or thinking self-critically. Practicing mindfulness helps you notice the moments when you’re being self-critical.

Look out for “should” thoughts: Thoughts containing the word “should” are often self-critical ones. Practice noticing these thoughts when they come up, and remember — they’re just thoughts, not facts.

No name-calling — When you make a mistake, do you tend to call yourself an idiot, loser, failure, or similar names? You’re not alone — but it’s not a harmless habit. Practice distinguishing you as a person from the mistake you made. For example, if you leave your phone in a restaurant, instead of thinking, “I’m such an idiot, I can’t remember anything,” try telling yourself, “I remember the majority of the things I need to, but I did forget this one.”

Contemplate your strengths — Make an effort to contemplate the things you’re good at and the good qualities you have. Think about the complimentary things others say about you (even if you think they aren’t true) and ask yourself, “could those people be right?”

Value yourself – Remember that you add value to the lives of those around you. It’s always more than you think!

How to Be Gentle with Yourself: Behavioral Strategies

Refresh and renew — Go out of your way to do something you find restorative. Don’t wait for it to happen on its own. A walk to your favorite spot, visiting that one friend who always leaves you in a better mood, or going on a day trip — whatever leaves you feeling restored needs to be a regular presence in your schedule.

Say “no” — Your time and energy are limited resources, and your preferences matter. Is saying “no” to requests hard for you? Think of the ability to say “no” as a muscle you can build… but like other muscles, it will only build if you use it! Think about what you’re likely to be asked to do over the next day (or week), and pick which requests you could decline. Start with something easy for you, and start building that muscle!

Downtime — We all need time off. But being gentle with yourself doesn’t have to involve a trip, it can be an everyday thing. If you work during the day, for example, try to have a dedicated block of time in the evening when you don’t do any work for your job. If you’re a student, pick a block of time each day when you’re off the hook for studying altogether.

Physical health — Make time to maintain your physical well-being. This means two things: getting regular exercise and taking care of medical issues. If your efforts have slacked on either of those issues, ask yourself what’s stopping you from addressing them. Do some proactive problem-solving. Can’t get to the gym or exercise class? Try walking. Overdue for a doctor’s appointment? Ask yourself how long it would take to schedule it. Think about how helpful it might turn out to be.

Make time for things consistent with your values — Whether those values have to do with religion, family, charity, your personal beliefs, or what have you, it’s important to build things into your schedule that reflect those values. Being who you want to be is a form of kindness toward yourself.

RELATED: How to be Awesome at Self-Soothing and Self-Care

Allow enough time for sleep — Be disciplined with allowing yourself sufficient time for sleep. Sometimes this takes real effort if you’ve got a lot on your plate. Getting sufficient sleep will allow your mind and your body to be in optimal shape to help you get the things done you need to get done.

Eat regularly — Your body needs fuel. If you’re someone who tends to skip meals when you’re stressed or busy, make an effort to ensure you’re eating when your body needs it. Spread your calories out over the course of the day, and don’t skip meals.

Make a Plan

None of these suggested ways to be gentle with yourself are that hard to put into practice. The hard part is usually remembering to do it! So make a plan now — write out three things from this list you’ll try to do this week. Maybe put a few of them in your calendar. Before you know it some of these will become new habits for you.

If you’d like to speak with us about how cognitive-behavioral therapy might help you, please contact us.

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Dr. Paul Greene Psychologist
Dr. Paul Greene is the founder and director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in New York City. With 14 years of dedicated service in private practice, Dr. Greene brings a wealth of experience to his role. His career also includes teaching at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and conducting research at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

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