Even when everything is going well, the holidays are a stressful time of year. Between societal expectations (“it’s the most wonderful time of the year”) and the normal pressure of ending both the quarter and the year, high achievers are likely to feel the squeeze. An often overlooked strategy for dealing with stress is to develop a self-compassionate frame of mind.
“Self-compassion has three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness,” according to Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Texas. She defines self-kindness as being caring, understanding, and supportive of yourself—particularly when you believe you’ve fallen short of the mark. Common humanity refers to recognizing that we are all imperfect, in order to maintain perspective on the situation at hand. Mindfulness in this context means being aware of the emotions you are feeling in a balanced manner so that you neither obsess nor ignore their cause.
“One of the most consistent [research] findings is that greater self-compassion is linked to less depression, anxiety, and stress,” she says. “It also appears to enhance your optimism, gratitude, and curiosity.” With so many positive results, why don’t more people practice self-compassion? Neff believes the biggest barrier is the myth that doing so will undermine your motivation. The science shows otherwise.
Research conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, has shown that self-compassion is linked to greater motivation, increased initiative, and less performance anxiety. According to researchers and psychologists Juliana Breines and Serena Chen, findings suggest that being kind to yourself after making mistakes gives you the emotional support needed to persevere even when discouraged.
When you feel stressed out (and even when you don’t!) treat yourself compassionately. There’s no downside and potentially a huge upside. Being intentionally kind will help you spread holiday cheer to yourself as well as others.