Self Care & Compassion

In the “Self-Compassion” segment of our articles, our team expands on the subtopics of how to become our own best friends, balance self-care with an ambitious workload, develop meaningful passions, and unearth a zest for life through positive self-talk. 

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Part 1:

Today calls for a subject that’s very close to our hearts: Self-love. 

Especially in high school, we feel like we’ve kind of normalized self-deprecation and being dissatisfied with ourselves. Everyone seems to think they aren’t enough and it’s almost weird to come across someone who doesn’t feel this way. 

Even in middle school, so many students are worried about high school and college. They feel that if they mess up once they will not achieve their goals.  

It’s really worrisome to think that even in middle school, students are stopping themselves even before they’ve really started. We think self-compassion is actually something we love to talk about, and that we are so fascinated by because it’s something we’ve personally been working on. Being overly dependent on our friends or being afraid to be alone can feel really normal after a while, and we think many people don’t even realize they need to make a change in how they see themselves. 

Truth is, it’s made a big change in our lives to see ourselves as our own best friends. We read this somewhere probably a year ago: it said to give yourself advice if you faced any conflict as though you were someone else, like a close friend. What we mean is, we know a lot of times when we’re mistreated by someone, we might go to vent to a close friend. 

We probably know what she’s going to say – ohmygod, the audacity! Just ignore her, you deserve so much better! – but we’d still go to her anyway because reassurance is nice to hear. And sometimes, if we’re irrationally unhappy or upset, we might tell ourselves that it’s ok to just feel the emotions and let them pass so we can move on to better, more important things.

Included below are a few more tricks that will help you stay confident and self-loving in the face of doubt:

  1. Reassurance from friends, but also family. Friends will always be there for you, but the connection with family is stronger. Many teenagers probably think that telling your parents or siblings anything sounds childish, but the connection you have with your family shows that they will also be there for you in your bad times.
  2. We also need to have a connection with ourselves, hence self-love. Something that has really helped me is thinking of myself as another person. How and what would we do to help myself? Like how your best friend would help you, becoming your own best friend.   

We think we’ve made ourselves a bigger part of our own lives if that makes sense. We’ve been making our experiences less about other people and their effects on us, and more about myself and how we respond to changes in my life. It’s important to change the way we frame our feelings—for example, saying, “We feel upset because we feel like [blank] has broken our trust,” rather than “[blank] has broken my trust and hurt me.” 

Society is always focusing on what other people think and not on what every individual thinks about themselves and how they are feeling. People are constantly saying things to hurt others, but we can’t change someone because we want to. wet only matters how we view the situation. Do you want to be positive or negative? Self-compassion can shape us into people with a purpose. 

This might seem like a minor problem, especially since we have the freedom to think whatever we want and it’s easier to pin the blame on others, even if it feels right. But the truth is, our thoughts are translating into our words, like when we explicitly tell people that they’re to blame for the problems in our life, and in a way, we’re teaching ourselves that it’s optional to take ownership of our emotions and that it’s best to play the victim in any given situation. We feel like this is unfair to the people in our lives as well as ourselves because soon, this might just become our go-to reaction without even our knowledge. 

To unlearn this bad habit, we’ve been putting a focused effort into asking ourselves, “How can we move past this?” when something in my life changes and we feel upset. It might be true that other people’s actions are to blame for our predicament, but what can we do about them? Change is constantly happening, and a lot of it isn’t great. This is especially why we have to stay away from reacting to every single thing and focus on ourselves instead. 

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, the Co-Founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, “[Self-criticism] doesn’t say what to do differently or how to do it differently. Or it doesn’t see the bigger picture of all the causes and conditions that led to this outcome. Kindness, on the other hand, yields a kind of wisdom, ‘Oh I see. I did this. Maybe I can try this differently next time and that would lead to a better effect.’”

This is definitely easier said than done, but for me, it’s helped immensely to just work on the way we think. Given a couple months, the mindset and actions seem to just follow. 

Something we can do to focus on ourselves is to pinpoint our passions and develop them. We can use this to not only focus on ourselves instead of others but also to find things we love about ourselves. It feels good to take a look in the mirror to recognize your own skills in ways you might not usually do: “I love that I am good at art,” or “I like that I do my best while baking.” Finding new hobbies that make us feel good about ourselves can change how we feel about the world as well. Things like, “I never realized…” and “In the future, I hope…” can help us progress as people. 

We’ve also realized that figuring out our passions and working on them makes us spend our time in much more meaningful ways. we’ve definitely heard this line more times than we can count – “Every day, we wake up and go to school and come home and do homework and go to sleep. it’s like we’re stuck in this pattern that just repeats for weeks on end, and we’re so tired of it.” 

Sounds horribly monotonous, doesn’t it? These kinds of lives are what make us ask the question, why we even need to exist. Just to follow the preset track of life? we don’t think so. Finding something we love – whether it’s the creative arts, or science and math, or an instrument, or advocating for civil rights – is incredibly liberating and exciting. 

Many people dread being alone because when they sit alone with their thoughts, that’s when they think about all the losses and negatives of their lives. In our experiences, this is a big reason why people can’t bother to spend time to really get to know themselves and be comfortable by themselves. Sometimes we forget that the most important relationship in our lives is the one with ourselves. For that relationship to be meaningful and interesting, we need a passion that can both challenge and fulfill ourselves. 

In the end, this is all we’re trying to say: 1) Spend more time alone, and appreciate yourself. 2) Treat yourself with the same compassion you give your best friends. 3) Take ownership of your own emotions and become as emotionally independent as you can. 4) Figure out your passions, and spend more time on them. 

These are lessons that anyone could benefit from. When we acknowledge our skills and appreciate ourselves, we achieve more. And when we achieve more, it becomes easier and easier to love ourselves. This in turn feeds a cycle of self-compassion and success we doubt any of us wouldn’t want to live in. All we have to do is kickstart the process.

Part 2:

Time Alone

Hey guys! In this article, I’m going to expand on something I mentioned in our self-compassion introductory blog—spending time with ourselves and appreciating our own company. Sounds cheesy, but I think it’s a skill worth learning because we’re stuck with ourselves for life regardless of our feelings on that. 

One strategy to appreciate our own companionship is to get comfortable doing certain activities alone that you might usually do with friends. Many of us think that some activities are inherently meant to be done with other people, like having a good rant session, taking a walk or going out to eat, but sometimes it could make you just as happy to be doing these things with yourself. 

It almost sounds silly to say “with yourself” since that still means you’ll be alone but the truth is that you are a lively and interesting person to spend time with! 

Walk over to Starbucks, order your favorite drink, and stop feeling weird about going alone! Just find a seat to sip your drink and think. You must have so many things on your mind right now, from schoolwork to your wacky dream from last night to friendship hiccups to quarantine recipes to try out. This might be the perfect chance to get some calm, quiet and unbothered time you wouldn’t get if you were with your friends.

A few months ago, I (Malavika) decided to go on walks around my school campus a couple times a week during my free period. I would take my phone with me and open up the Notes app if I ever wanted to jot down some thoughts or add something to my to-do list. Everything around me was really quiet and that really gave me a great opportunity to get some time just with my thoughts. I know a lot of teenagers feel alone—whether in the context of friendships, relationships or just in general—so it was important to me to break out of that kind of feeling, which I’m now able to.

Writing in a journal or jotting down thoughts is a great open space for our thoughts and makes it easier for us to get to know ourselves and loosen up our minds, releasing stressful/anxiety-inducing thoughts. Though some of our more negative thoughts can be uncomfortable to admit even if only to ourselves, it helps me to validate both the positive and negative emotions I experience. 

Additionally, another important note is to actually schedule this free time for ourselves and make a routine out of it. If we’re anything alike, I know what you’re thinking: I’m way too busy for that. Truth is, as weird as it seems, scheduling in free time actually eased up my day-to-day routine because it erased the illusion that my schedule was rigid and that I was constantly running out of time. As it turned out, I wasn’t actually doing homework seven hours a day—a lot of it was wasted in stressing, checking my phone, and getting bored with lengthy assignments. Once I started taking more breaks and padding my schedule with time to just relax, the rest of my schedule eased up too, as though the effect was contagious. 

Lastly, something to keep in mind is that this free time isn’t something to be sacrificed or compromised, ever, whether it’s for the sake of work or friends or a relationship. We know that the biggest reason why people usually lose sight of self-care is usually distractions. But as important as our schoolwork and family responsibilities and social life are, we owe it to ourselves to keep aside at least ten minutes a day to unwind and check-in with ourselves. Don’t let your “me time” get overshadowed by other things because you are always just as important as your top priorities.

So long story short: Spend more time with yourself. Get comfortable going alone to places you might usually visit with friends, jot down your thoughts in a journal, and schedule free time for yourself to do what you love. These are all ways you can work on yourself, in terms of self-love, self-care, and overall personal growth.

Part 3:

Meaningful passions

Hey friends, in our third blog of the Self-Compassion series, let’s talk about how to find meaningful passions and make them a regular part of our lives. 

To begin, let’s do a quick recap on what passions are. They are not the things we think sound the most impressive to colleges or our relatives. They don’t even necessarily have to be what you’re planning to pursue as a career, though you always can. A passion is some sort of activity that both challenges you and makes you joyful (and it doesn’t hurt if you’re good at it too). 

If you’ve always felt a bit stuck in this sense, and you’re also someone who’s stayed with the same activities for quite a few years, those two things might be connected! It’s vital to explore new things to figure out what we love. If you’re interested in something and want to see if it excites you, first you need to create time to try it. You might even stumble across a few secret talents you never quite realized you possessed! This is a chance to get to know yourself better, more than anything else.

For me (Malavika), the process of figuring out what I love has been slow, but rewarding. I realized sometime between my sophomore and junior year of high school that there have been specific things from my middle school years till now that’ve motivated me and perked my interest much more than other activities. (Also, a true tell-tale sign of a passion is when taking part in an activity seems to energize you.) So basically, I did my own thing, tried a ton of extracurriculars, paid attention in school, did a bunch of reflection, and realized that I love studying psychology, writing, and culture, among a couple other things too. 

Also, just as a disclaimer for middle and high schoolers, don’t feel the need to lie to yourself for the sake of having the “right” ones. You can be a great CS major and future tech god and still be passionate about music or watercolor painting or Jane Austen books. If you’re aiming for a STEM career, it can be a great motivating factor to study if biology is your passion. However, if you’re passionate about writing or singing, these interests can help you approach your future career with a unique perspective, which will ultimately be an advantage when you’re older. 

An important note we want to reinforce is that a passion should be slightly challenging. If you love graphic designing, that’s a great passion to have, because imagining and crafting a work from start to finish takes a lot of mental effort. On the other hand, watching Netflix isn’t something we could consider a meaningful passion because it’s a passive activity that doesn’t require your thought. 

If you still can’t seem to figure out the hobbies that make you happy, try asking yourself these questions. 1) What makes you lose track of time? 2) What do you love talking about? 3) What makes you proud?

Our last point is about learning not to compromise our passions. You have to find time to do these things we’ve mentioned, which will seem hard because your schedule probably already feels full. This new chunk of time is to unwind, get into our zones, and block out the distractions. Just set aside 20 minutes a day to try this out and you can count this period as your “me time” for the day. Without this time, you might feel too busy to do something enjoyable just for yourself and not for the sake of any obligatory or work-related matter. 

Remember: If you feel you don’t have enough time to work on them, schedule in time! Many of us waste substantial amounts of time and still call ourselves productive at the end of the day, but writing down our to-do list and scheduling in our priorities leaves us no room to lie to ourselves. (Don’t feel guilty, we’re only human.) If we get 8 hours of sleep a night, that leaves us 16 hours to get everything done. That’s more than enough if you’re productive, no matter the low standards you might have for yourself right now. 

Some of you might scoff at the idea of exploring new interests or figuring out your passions because your parents might disapprove. Try not to stress. If you want your parents on board, then take a bit to understand their concerns. Give yourself a while to keep your frustration in check, and then put yourself in their shoes. 

Our parents say they know what’s best for us so give them the benefit of the doubt. Talk to them, ask them why they don’t support you and give them reasons they should be 100% behind you. Explain to them how you are progressing with your passion and how your interests and career goals are not mutually exclusive. (Also, a pro-tip: Talk to your parents about how diversifying your interests adds depth to your character and worldview (which employers and grad schools care about).) Hopefully, that’ll win them right over!

To wrap things up, many students we know struggle to spend their time in ways that feel meaningful to them. This is quite possibly because the process of trying out different passions is almost always overshadowed by other priorities/responsibilities, from schoolwork to other extracurriculars which we might have gotten involved in as very young children. While many people may love the extracurriculars they already take part in, many others are doing them for validation and approval, whether from their parents, teachers, or college admissions officers. 

This is what we’d like to emphasize most in this blog: No one benefits when you reject or ignore your true strengths and interests, whether or not you’ve figured out what they are yet. Colleges rarely want a facade or a one-dimensional STEM student who’s limited themselves to a single interest all their lives. To add on, very few people can thrive by living a life based on the validation of others; you need validation from yourself first. 

So to summarize: 1) Make sure you understand what passions are and why they’re significant to uncover 2) Explore your interests and find your passions, and 3) Invest time into them, and don’t compromise that time.

Part 4:

Interview with Marina Barnes

Our guest speaker today is the Wellness Educator at Saratoga High School, Marina Barnes. She teaches mindfulness and a mindful self-compassion program to teens called, “Making Friends with Yourself.” She was interviewed by one of Taarika’s youth members, Malavika Eby. 

What is Mindful Self-Compassion?

Marina: Mindful Self-Compassion consists of, as you can tell, mindfulness and self-compassion.  Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening right now.  Our minds tend to go into the past or to the future, and if we’re able to focus our attention to what is happening right now, it gives us more information about our experience.

And if our experience right now is of struggle and difficulty, mindfulness can help us see how we are dealing with the struggle.  Are we responding to it with self-doubt or harsh criticism, or are we responding to it with kindness?  If we can see that we are beating ourselves up, then in that moment of recognition, we can choose to respond to the struggle with kindness.  This can be a supportive touch such as placing your hand over the heart, or telling yourself: “This time, I’m going to be kind to myself.” 

The Application of Self-Compassion

Malavika: These past few months, I’ve reflected a lot on the way I treat myself, through my actions, but also through my thoughts. I realized that when I replaced a lot of my self-deprecating inner dialogue with support, I began to develop a much more positive relationship with myself. When I reassured myself that the bumps in the road are natural and part of being human, it gave me a chance to feel negative emotions and work through them.

It’s so interesting to me that a lot of the things I did actually have a name: mindful self-compassion! It just goes to show that this practice is nothing radical; rather, it can start to feel natural and even instinctual every time we try another self-compassionate exercise. 

Marina: Yes, definitely. With awareness and practice, you can replace the critical inner voice with a much kinder and gentler voice.  This is especially helpful in times of stress.  To understand why your peers treat themselves poorly, it might be that it is much easier for most of us to treat others with kindness than to treat ourselves with kindness.  

Research has shown that 77% of people are significantly more compassionate to others than to themselves.  16% are equally compassionate to themselves than to others.  And only 6% are more compassionate to themselves than to others.  Chris Germer, co-developer of mindful self-compassion says self-compassion is like doing a u-turn.  What would you say to a friend to try and comfort them when they are struggling with something similar to what you’re struggling with?  To me, the u-turn is, can you say the same thing to yourself?  

Malavika: I love that analogy, Marina! So to wrap things up, today, we learned what mindful self-compassion is, the research behind why we might not already treat ourselves with self-love, and a little about my own personal experiences with practicing self-compassion. 

Here, Marina and I will actually guide you through a meditation that puts these ideas into effect.

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