Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Self-care isn’t enough. Treat yourself with compassion, too

NAIT counsellor offers advice for finding balance in life

Self-care has become a buzzword.

The idea of taking time to nurture our mental or physical health isn’t new, but it’s become an unavoidable obsession fuelled by pop culture and a steady stream of curated Instagram posts highlighting a day at the spa or that tasty new smoothie. It’s no wonder self-improvement has grown to become an $11-billion industry.

But just because you’ve decided to take a yoga class or start journaling doesn’t mean you’re actually practising self-care. Many of us, it seems, are just going through the motions – checking off a box on the daily to-do list. But often the stress or anxiety we’re trying to cope with continues to linger.

We’re our own worst critic.”

NAIT counsellor Caren Anderson says that’s because there’s often an important piece missing: self-compassion. We all could stand to have a little more compassion in how we treat ourselves, Anderson says. That’s partly because we’ve become so quick to embrace the self-care trend, the intent behind the action gets blurred.  

Taking time to do something you think is important for your well-being is one thing. Anderson offers helpful tips to refocus your self-care efforts where they’re needed: squarely on the self.

Understand what compassion is

When counselling her clients, Anderson encourages both self-care and self-compassion – treating oneself with kindness and understanding – but realizes it isn’t always easy. To get started, she asks students who visit the NAIT Counselling Centre what kind of empathetic advice they’d give to a friend.

“Often, that is much more compassionate than the advice we give ourselves,” she says. “We’re our own worst critic.”

Treat yourself to small acts of kindness

In order to get to a place where self-care is emotionally meaningful, you need to start small, Anderson says. To bring more compassion into your life, take a few minutes every morning and evening to think about what you’re grateful for. Tell yourself you’ve earned a lunch break or you deserve to go to bed early.

man in deep thoughtGive yourself permission to stop. Just stop.

There’s such a focus on productivity in today’s fast-paced world, she says, that you need to give yourself permission to not finish everything. Set boundaries and be kind to yourself if you choose to set aside time for self-care instead of something you “should” be doing.

“If you're having a bubble bath, but you're thinking about all of the things that you didn't do that day, that’s really defeating the purpose of self-care,” Anderson says. “Do you really feel like you’re carving out that time for you, or does it feel more like a chore?”

Make compassion the norm – for yourself and others

A great way to develop self-compassion is through helping others create their own balance, she says. Look out for one another. For example, if you spot someone consistently working through their lunch hour, ask them to grab a bite with you for a quick break.

“It’s always nice to have a support network to challenge those behaviours,” she says. While she doesn’t want others to become reliant on peers to determine breaks, creating a culture where balance is encouraged is important.

Remember that a compassionate self-care practice will evolve. It may even look different from week to week.

“It’s not a perfect formula, not set in stone,” Anderson says. “As I get older, I need it even more.”

Give yourself grace like you would others, she says, and your self-care, however you practice it, will become more meaningful.


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