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Exercises for better self-compassion during finals

By Kimberly Taylor, December 4 2023—

As finals approach and grades roll in, this time of year can be quite stressful and hard on students. Whether you’re graduating or this is the end of your first year it can be hard to separate a sense of worth from your GPA. An antidote to this perfectionism is self-compassion. What is self-compassion? Try out this mini-exercise.

You go on D2L and see that you didn’t do well on your last exam. What thoughts rush through your head? Are they critical? Negative? Worried? Often our self-talk is unsupportive and critical, a habit of negativity inherited from our culture, family and biology. The human brain has a strong negativity bias — we’re wired to pay more attention to bad stuff than to good stuff.

Now, imagine your friend telling you they got a bad grade on their exam. What would you say to them? Most of us are very good at being a kind and supportive friend. We’d tell our friend that while it’s hard, they are awesome. Any suggestions we’d make would be kind and rooted in the overall acceptance of our friend. We’d share the times we failed and reassure our friend that it’s okay, that they’re in good company.

Notice a difference? It’s common for us to be much kinder to our friends than we are to ourselves. Self-compassion is essentially treating ourselves like we would a friend. We all likely have strong friendship skills, but we often don’t apply those skills to ourselves.

So why don’t we? There are some common obstacles to practicing self-compassion. One is getting caught up in our problems in a cycle of self-pity. Getting wrapped up in our individual problems and suffering is not self-compassion. If you struggle with self-pity parties try the “just like me” exercise. Imagine a person you know, and say to yourself just like me, this person has struggles. Just like me, this person is loved by many people. Just like me, this person feels sad, scared or angry. Just like me, this person is doing their best.

Another obstacle is self-indulgence. This is letting yourself off the hook for behaviours or habits you know aren’t good for yourself or others because, well, you’re stressed. The problem here is that you’re not developing supportive habits that lead to deep happiness, instead, you’re avoiding dealing with your struggles and problems by quick fixing. If you struggle with avoiding your emotions via quick fixing try giving yourself a five-minute self-compassion break. This is a short, or long, meditation with the ABCs. First, you allow yourself to feel what you feel. Feel stressed. Feel worried. Feel sad. Next, you simply be with yourself in these emotions, like you would a good friend. Offer yourself the space to feel. Finally, offer compassion. Say kind words to yourself like it’s okay to feel stressed, that makes sense. Ask how you can be a friend to yourself, and then say those things to yourself.

Another obstacle is pursuing self-esteem. Self-esteem is rooted in self-evaluation and we can get sucked into identifying ourselves by our successes, our GPA, our appearance or whatever else. Focusing on self-esteem can also make us self-absorbed and unable to see ourselves clearly or handle conflict or criticism. Self-compassion is rooted in the belief that all humans, including ourselves, deserve compassion, kindness and support. Offering this to ourselves allows us to see ourselves more clearly and to feel connected to others instead of comparing ourselves to others. An exercise to help with this is to practice metta meditation. In metta meditation, we imagine a friend and offer them wishes like, may you be happy, may you feel loved, may you be healthy, or any other positive wishes. We then extend this to a stranger and offer them the same wishes. Finally, we offer these wishes to ourselves. Some versions include offering these things to someone we struggle with.

Self-compassion can increase our sense of worth, our connection to other people, and help us pursue our own values in a supportive way that builds resilience and long-term happiness. If these exercises seem daunting, start smaller. Ask yourself each morning, how can I be a friend to myself, and go from there. Or check out self-compassion.org, which has a section on practices and exercises developed by an expert in self-compassion.

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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