Self-Compassion: Are you lonely this Christmas?

This week is going to be particularly tough for many, even if we were not in a pandemic. Loneliness can be a terrible feeling at times, which tends to be heightened during the holiday period and it’s something everyone has to deal with at some points in their lives being social animals.

So how do you gently own and process your loneliness to give it compassion, rather than get stuck in it?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Julianna from the Folk-Told Folk-Tales Podcast

Sarah Wells, life coach specialising with living with chronic illnesses

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Dr Kristin Neff at a 2013 Ted Talk:

Dr Vivek Murthy speaks to ZDoggMD:

Books looked at this week:

Dr. Kristin Neff: Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy: Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to the fifth episode of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

Quick disclaimer, as I’m experiencing Covid symptoms, this will be a shorter episode and a friend will fill in in the end.

This week is going to be particularly tough for many, even if we were not in a pandemic. Loneliness can be a terrible feeling at times, which tends to be heightened during the holiday period and it’s something everyone has to deal with at some points in their lives being social animals.

So how do you gently own and process your loneliness to give it compassion, rather than get stuck in it?

Julianna from the Folk-Told Folk-Tales Podcast told me about how self compassion is important to her during the holidays.

JULIANNA

University of Texas Associate Professor of Educational Psychology Kristin Neff is the author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Based on empirical psychological research, the book looks at causes and effects of the vicious self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy that plague our minds. Here she is at a 2013 TED Talk talking about the three components of compassion.

KRISTIN NEFF

Dr Neff says: “Loneliness stems from the feeling that we don’t belong, whether or not we’re in the presence of others. If you attend a large party where you don’t quite fit in, you’re still likely to feel alone. Loneliness comes from feeling disconnected from others, even if they’re only inches away.”

She says practicing self-compassion means you treat yourself the same way that you’d treat a loved one. Instead of mercilessly criticizing yourself, you listen to your emotions.

Apparently, a cross cultural study found that self criticism is strongly related to levels of depression and overall life dissatisfaction in the US, Taiwan, and Thailand. So self-compassion provides us with a kinder, healthier, and more helpful alternative to self-criticism. 

Research indicates that self-compassion can be a powerful way of prompting oxytocin, which can reduce anxiety and counteract symptoms of stress, such as increased levels of cortisol. She recommends mindfulness as a way of distancing yourself between yourself and your suffering.

Dr Neff states that recognizing our shared humanity with other people is another essential element of self-compassion. It can be easy to get so fixated on our misfortune that we can end up becoming lonely, which amplifies any pain you may be feeling. Hence with shared humanity in mind we can remember that everyone is in the same boat.

She suggests one way of being holistically self-compassionate about all of your strengths and weaknesses is to try writing out a list of five ways in which you’re above average, five ways in which you’re just average, and five ways in which you’re below average.

Then, step back from your list, view it as a panoramic picture of yourself, and ask, “Can I accept these aspects of myself? Can I celebrate the fact that I’m human and therefore encompass a wide range of traits – positive, negative, and neutral alike?” 

There’s a moment in the film PS. I Love You with Kathy Bates and Hilary Swank, where she talks about shared suffering after the husband of Swank’s character Holly dies.

PS I LOVE YOU

Vivek H. Murthy MD, appointed the 19th Surgeon General by Barack Obama, has written the second book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.

He talks about the impact of loneliness and the benefits of human connection in his book, even if it means reaching out to help others as a way of learning self-compassion. Here he talks on the ZDoggMD show about the loneliness epidemic and his own experiences.

VIVEK MURTHY

In his book, Dr Murthy says researchers have identified three clear strands: Intimate loneliness is the longing for a partner with whom you share a deep bond. Social loneliness is the need for quality friendships. Finally, collective loneliness is the yearning for a community or network of like-minded people. We need all three types of connection to thrive.

He states that loneliness is an evolutionary mechanism that tells us something is wrong as our hunter gatherer days relied on a pack mentality for survival. Unfortunately, apparently the lonelier we feel, the more we isolate ourselves, and our early ancestors would do this to stop any kind of threat. So, one good news is that you’re not reacting out of the ordinary.

Dr Murthy writes it is possible to build free societies that are also rooted in connection, if we focus on the right values such as building communities and helping others.

He also recommends putting down that phone. Technology can certainly bring us closer together, but it will do so only if we use it with care and consideration.

We need the right mix of relationships to lead a happy life including collective connections as well an inner circle. I sing in a choir, and I can definitely attest to its benefits, apparently it can help raise endorphins because movement and song are evolutionary.

His final word is to protect at least a quarter of an hour each day to connect with your loved ones. That’s not just those you live with. Try calling or, better still, video-calling your closest friends or family. A small amount of time each day will help you stay connected.

So to sum up:

Treat yourself as you would a loved one

You are not alone in your loneliness

Strive to speak to someone even virtually, to family, friends, acquaintances, and anyone you can connect with.

Right, I’m going to leave you with Sarah Wells, a wonderful life coach who specialises in dealing with a chronic illness while thriving. She helped me during my own transition phase balancing health and life.

And remember, help is out there. If you’re in the UK, call Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. And there’s plenty of help available across the globe. You’re not alone. And you deserve kindness.

SARAH WELLS

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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