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Indeed, a research review found that psychologists in training who practice more self-care report feeling less distressed and stressed and more satisfied with life. The question is: What does self-care look like, and how much of it do we need? As it turns out, the trick is to be other-focused and kind, but to balance that with taking care of yourself as well. Here are some practices to help you do that. One particularly potent form of self-care involves transforming our relationship with ourselves—in particular, practicing self-compassion.
Self-compassion is treating yourself as you would a friend—with kindness rather than self-judgment—especially at times when you fail. Self-compassion is remembering that we all make mistakes, instead of beating ourselves up. And it means being mindful of emotions and thoughts without getting overly immersed in them. Elaine Beaumont at the University of Salford has conducted numerous studies looking at the impact of self-compassion on burnout and compassion fatigue.
In a study of student midwives—who routinely see both the miracle of new life and the tragedies that can accompany childbirth—Beaumont and her team found that midwives who had higher levels of self-compassion also showed less burnout and compassion fatigue symptoms. The opposite was true of midwives who were highly self-critical.
She repeated this study with different caretaker professions and found similar results in nurses and students training to be counselors and psychotherapists. In addition to being protected against burnout, people who are more self-compassionate tend to report feeling less stress and negative emotions.
To practice self-compassion, try some of the exercises that pioneering self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff has studied and written about in her book on self-compassion , such as writing a Self-Compassionate Letter , taking a Self-Compassion Break , or asking yourself: How Would I Treat a Friend? A study of nurses found that belonging to a more cohesive group at work helps prevent burnout and compassion fatigue, reducing the effects of stress and trauma. This should come as no surprise: Social connection, from birth to old age, is one of our greatest human needs.
Social connection leads to lower rates of anxiety and depression , strengthens our immune system , and can even lengthen our life. Researchers agree that social connection has less to do with the number of friends you have than with how connected you feel on the inside, subjectively.
The tricky part is that stress is linked to self-focus ; our stressed minds turn towards me, myself, and I—making us even more miserable and disconnected from others. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and walks in nature , as well as curbing caffeine, can all help us calm down and feel ready to reach out to others. A study we conducted at Stanford showed that loving-kindness meditation can be a quick way to nurture a sense of connection. Better yet, try meditating with a partner! Explore four risk factors for burnout—and how to overcome them.
Learn to be kind to yourself by being kind to others. How stressed are you? Take the quiz.
Molecular Physics, Thermodynamics, Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? Kind acts such as a buying someone a thoughtful present or even just a coffee strengthens friendships, and that in itself is linked to improved mood. You may like to talk about yourself simply because it feels good—because self-disclosure produces a burst of activity in neural regions associated with pleasure, motivation, and reward. A neural link between generosity and happiness. Who could possibly know you better than you? This means someone who has made some serious mistakes in their life has just as much of a chance at love as anyone else.
Want to learn more about burnout? But research shows that being kind to others can actually make us genuinely happy in a number of different ways. We know that deciding to be generous or cooperating with others activates an area of the brain called the striatum. Interestingly, this area responds to things we find rewarding, such as nice food and even addictive drugs. Research in psychology shows a link between kindness and well-being throughout life, starting at a very young age.
Research has also shown that spending extra money on other people may be more powerful in increasing happiness than spending it on yourself.
But why and how does kindness make us so happy? There are a number of different mechanisms involved, and how powerful they are in making us feel good may depend on our personalities. Being kind is likely to make someone smile and if you see that smile for yourself, it might be catchy. A key theory about how we understand other people in neuroscience suggests that seeing someone else show an emotion automatically activates the same areas of the brain as if we experienced that emotion for ourselves. You may have been in a situation where you find yourself laughing just because someone else is — why not set off that chain of good feelings with a nice surprise for someone?
The same mechanism also makes us empathise with others when they are feeling negative, which could make us feel down. This is particularly true for close friends and family, as our representations of them in the brain physically overlap with our representations of ourselves.
Doing a kind act to make someone who is sad feel better can also make us feel good — partly because we feel the same relief they do and partly because we are putting something right. Although this effect is especially powerful for people we are close to, it can even apply to humanitarian problems such as poverty or climate change.
Getting engaged with charities that tackle these issues provide a way to have a positive impact , which in turn improves mood. Being kind opens up many different possibilities to start or develop a social connection with someone. Kind acts such as a buying someone a thoughtful present or even just a coffee strengthens friendships, and that in itself is linked to improved mood. Similarly, charities offer the opportunity to connect with someone on the other side of the world through donating to improve their life.
Volunteering also opens up new circles of people to connect with, both other volunteers and those you are helping. Most people would like to think of themselves as a kind person, so acts of kindness help us to demonstrate that positive identity and make us feel proud of ourselves. This effect is even more powerful when the kind act links with other aspects of our personality, perhaps creating a more purposeful feeling. For example, an animal-lover could rescue a bird, an art-lover could donate to a gallery or a retired teacher could volunteer at an after-school group.
Research suggests that the more someone identifies with the organisation they volunteer for, the more satisfied they are. Work on the psychology of kindness shows that one out of several possible motivations is reciprocity, the returning of a favour. This can happen directly or indirectly.
Someone might remember that you helped them out last time and therefore be more likely to help you in the future.