Magazines, television, our Instagram feeds and Facebook timelines are full of beautiful people doing amazing things. As fun as it is scrolling through our friends’ pictures, it can sometimes leave us feeling a little empty - or worse - disappointed in ourselves as we start to compare our not-so-perfect lives with what we see online.
I know what I’m seeing is either a marketing message or a positive picture that my friends have chosen to share. But when I feel I’m not succeeding or meeting other people’s expectations, I can start to get frustrated, embarrassed, or even quite sad. Lots of other people feel this way too, and unfortunately, we’re seeing an increase in the number of people suffering from depression or anxiety.
Thankfully, I’ve found a way to escape this pressure and have rediscovered a sense of well-being and happiness, by practicing mindfulness, self-acceptance and self-compassion. It’s not an easy journey, but once you set out, you won’t look back and you’ll start to see the world with fresh eyes.
Step one: mindfulness
There’s a lot going on inside our heads. In fact, experts say we experience between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day.
Most of the time we don’t pay attention to what we’re thinking about. Although this is not usually a problem, we can fall into the mental trap of thinking negative thoughts and feeling bad about ourselves. If this gets out of hand, we are in danger of getting depressed.
I started taking back control of my thoughts through a simple technique called mindfulness. This is the practice of self-observation, a way to become more aware of your place in the present moment.
The good news is, it’s easy to get started, it doesn’t take much time, and you can do it virtually anywhere.
First find a comfortable place to sit or lie, where you won’t be interrupted for at least ten minutes. Start by paying attention to your breathing; it could be what the air feels like entering your nostrils, the way your chest rises, or even how it sounds when you exhale. It’s up to you.
This helps you become focused on the present moment. As you become aware of thoughts, think of them like any other physical sensation; neither positive or negative.
Don’t worry about getting distracted - you can’t help it. Simply realise what’s happened and then return to focusing on your breathing. One technique is to imagine thoughts as bubbles. See them appear and then watch them float away.
We begin to realise that while we can’t control the random thoughts we’re having, it doesn’t mean they control us either.
By paying attention to the present moment during a short meditation session, we can stop focusing on negative thoughts and stressing about daily lives - instead we can just be ourselves.
Step two: self-acceptance
Self-acceptance involves understanding your own strengths, weaknesses, abilities and biases. It also encompass feelings of self-esteem. If mindfulness is the practice of being aware of ourselves, self-acceptance is the practice of saying “I am who I am and it’s okay!”
The key is to be patient with yourself. Everyone lives life at their own pace and we’re neither ahead nor behind our peers; we are where we are. Once we accept that, we can grow as people and feel a lot less stressed about it.
“If you don't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
I like to keep a journal of my thoughts; writing how I feel about myself and my situation. It’s a cathartic exercise and helps me to manage any negative feelings. Reading back what I’ve written over time also helps me to understand myself further.
Self-acceptance will also help you to understand other people too, from a different perspective. Knowing that our friends, family and peers also sometimes feel incomplete or inadequate helps us be more empathetic and feel less alone.
Step three: self-compassion
This leads us to self-compassion, an act of self-forgiveness and understanding that allows us to continue to grow and find inner peace, happiness and success.
While mindfulness is about seeing our thoughts in a detached way and self-acceptance is about recognising our strengths, weaknesses and motivations, self-compassion is one step beyond this. It’s about understanding our emotions and thoughts in a non-judgemental way.
It’s also about finding the strength to forgive yourself and others for failures. Dwelling on the negative will only hold us back. Of course we should try to learn from our mistakes, but there’s no need to attribute blame.
“You must be fearless enough to give yourself the love you didn’t receive.”
― Oprah Winfrey
Far from just being a mental exercise, self-compassion can also be about rewarding yourself when you are working hard or picking yourself up when you feel down.
So rather than feeling guilty the next time you do something for yourself, you should embrace the chance to make yourself feel happy. While it can be unhealthy to compensate negative emotions with things like comfort food, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break, finding some “me” time, and pampering yourself - so long as you do everything in moderation.
Mindfulness takes patience and dedication. Once we have learned some techniques that work for us and have started to integrate them as a regular part of our routine, we’ll come to a deeper understanding of ourselves, our lives, and our relationships.
We have to remember that we are all on a long journey together and we’re allowed to stumble occasionally. So let’s be understanding and compassionate with ourselves; it’s time to find out who we are again and make it our mission to embrace happiness wherever we can.
I would really love to know you opinion! Do you practice self-love and self-compassion? What works best for you? Let me know in the comments below.