As we begin this blog series covering skills for managing life when it’s overwhelming, I want to start with the most important skill you can add to your toolbox. This skill increases the effectiveness of every other skill or tool for managing when life is overwhelming. It’s truly foundational to everything else we’ll discuss.
It’s this: being kind to yourself.
If you are like me, you are way more compassionate with others than you are with yourself.
My self-talk can easily default to,
“You just need to try harder!”
“See? You’ll never ____________” or
“You messed that up again!”
It’s hard enough to be kind to yourself when life circumstances are favorable.
When life is overwhelming kind self-talk is even harder.
I’d propose that when life is overwhelming, kind self-talk is even more important.
The good news is that it’s possible to shift our internal dialogue and learn to be much more compassionate with ourselves.
And the payoff is huge! Numerous studies have shown the incredible power of positive self-talk for athletes. These principles hold true for the rest of us as well.
Here are some practical ways to learn how to be more compassionate with yourself.
I have *stacks* of full-to-overflowing journals dating back to my teen years. I also journaled for most of the 27 years I was in an abusive marriage.
Interestingly, the journals from those married years were not honest. I think it was too overwhelming for me to face the horrific reality of my circumstances, so I wrote lists of things I was thankful for and pages of things I was learning from reading my Bible. I never honestly expressed how I was feeling.
In the fall of 2012 my youngest son was 6 and I began to honestly write my story in a hidden journal. Writing my story made it undeniably real. As I admitted my emotions in my journal… my terror, anguish, grief and profound loneliness, I was able to be compassionate with myself which led eventually to escaping with my children, saving all of us.
Journaling honestly allowed me to begin to be kind, gentle and understanding with myself.
Journaling honestly, eventually admitting how abusive my marriage was and being compassionate with myself, encouraged me to ask for outside help and escape.
For the first 5 years after I left I was too flooded emotionally to journal. I wrote long, long emails to a dear friend, but I couldn’t journal.
If you are not emotionally in a safe enough place to journal, perhaps this just isn’t the time. Perhaps it is instead a season for you to share honestly with a trusted friend or counselor and learn to be compassionate with yourself through their objective feedback.
It’s also very possible that you will eventually be in a more stable place emotionally and find journaling helpful.
I’ve been out of my abusive marriage for 6 years now and finally I am able to get back to my journal. It has been so therapeutic and helpful for me.
Now, when I journal honestly I am able to more objectively see all that I am experiencing and feeling and respond to myself with deep compassion.
When I am kind and gentle with myself I can show up for myself and my children… show up in a brave, vulnerable way.
Conversely, when I am harsh and judgmental with myself it “shuts me down.”
Journaling can be a wonderful way to learn to be compassionate with yourself.
“No Wonder” Thinking
I don’t advocate ignoring your very real emotions, especially the negative emotions.
When I admit the reality of how I’m doing I am able to respond with, “No *wonder* you are feeling overwhelmed, self! No *wonder*! Look at all that you are dealing with. You are feeling the way that you are for a perfectly good reason.”
I wrote a bit more here about “No wonder” thinking.
When you catch yourself being negative, unkind or harsh in self-talk, reframing your thoughts with a “No wonder” statement can allow you to relax and love yourself in the thick of your struggles.
It can also be helpful to respond as empathetically with yourself as you would with a good friend or a young child who is scared or struggling.
There are times when I am so overwhelmed with life that I have a very hard time writing or even verbalizing my emotions to a dear friend.
In those times music will often speak to my soul and remind me of truth and encourage me.
One way to “show up” for yourself compassionately is to create a playlist (I love to use Spotify) with songs that encourage your soul.
Perhaps you could create a “Soul Encouragement” playlist, or an “It’s Going to be Okay” playlist. Or what about a “You’re Stronger than you Know” playlist?
Sometimes even songs with lyrics are too much. In that situation, a peaceful instrumental playlist might be perfect.
Positive music can be a huge help in learning to be kind to yourself when life is overwhelming and you are struggling.
*I know that not all of my readers will find this to be helpful, for a variety of reasons (spiritual abuse being one of them), so please skip this if it is triggering for you.
It has been really helpful for me to write encouraging Bible verses into my journal or letter them in my art journal.
The Lord is tender and compassionate with us. When we can remind ourselves of God’s truthful, loving perspective this can help us to be kind to ourselves.
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” – Isaiah 26:3, NLT
Have you seen Lauren Daigle’s new song “You Say?”
Learning to be kind and compassionate to yourself is foundational in “showing up” for yourself and learning how to successfully navigate life when it’s overwhelming. Let’s work on this key skill together~ I’m definitely still learning and practicing this too.
If these ideas are helpful and you’d like to take a deeper dive into this topic and 11 others, watch for info soon on my 2019 exclusive “navigating life when it’s overwhelming” membership group. In this safe, supportive group classroom environment we will cover in-depth topics like this, one per month, for the entire year. It will be an investment in *you* (and you are *so* worth it~ truly!)
Over and over I’ve heard (and experienced) how an investment in yourself helps not only you, but your family and friends too. Consider joining us in 2019 ~ I can hardly wait to get started!
Soon I’ll have a webpage here with signup info for the membership group. In the meantime, if you want to be sure to know what registration opens you can sign up for my newsletter on the right sidebar of my blog.