A Self-Compassion Expert Explains Where Self-Care Often Falls Short

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
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Self-care is a critical component of our overall well-being, and no one understands this better than Kristin Neff, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of self-compassion and associate professor in human development at the University of Texas at Austin.

When she joined mindbodygreen CEO and co-founder Jason Wachob on a recent episode of the mbg podcast, she explained why self-care is so important but also where many people unintentionally fall short with it. Here's what she had to say.

Self-care's biggest hurdle.

It goes without saying that we all need a good dose of self-care on a regular basis. "The research quite clearly shows that if you gave you more self-care, it's going to be good for you," Neff notes. But sometimes, giving yourself the attention you need may not feel accessible.

Of course, there are the more obvious limitations, like the time it takes to take a moment to yourself and, often, the money. But the biggest hurdle of them all, according to Neff, is more behavioral. "Self-care is very important," she says, "but we really need emotional self-care."

No amount of bubble baths or full moon rituals can make up for a lack of self-compassion, and the ultimate why for self-care is so you can feel your best regularly and show up in the world in an aligned and grounded way. "If you practice self-care, but you're criticizing yourself the whole time, that's also not going to help," she explains.

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What to do about it.

If you feel like no amount of "self-care" is getting to the root of what you're facing, Neff says the emotional component is likely lacking. After all, she notes, when you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, whether on the job or as a parent, you can't always just say, Whoa, man, this is freaking me out. I have to take my bubble bath. See you later.

"In other words, how do we relate to our experiences of emotional pain, of fear, of stress, of depression, of sadness, grief, trauma right in the moment that it's arising?" Neff explains. When she's stressed, for example, she offers herself compassion.

She acknowledges her struggle and speaks to herself like she would a friend, saying things like, "This is so hard, Kris, I'm so sorry. I'm here for you. What can I do to help?" It comes down to holding those difficult, painful emotions without being overwhelmed in the moment, she adds: "It's really a mindset."

The bottom line.

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While easier said than done, cultivating self-compassion is at the root of what self-care is all about. So if you're looking to up your self-care game, don't forget to be kind to yourself and give yourself grace. At the end of the day, it may be the best thing you can do for yourself.

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