By Miranda Massie on December 7, 2017
In the true spirit of the holiday season, I feel it is important that I not only be honest with myself, but with you as well. This fall was tough: it was probably the most demanding, hectic and draining fall that I have experienced in many years, at work and in my life outside of work. The upside is that I’ve been able to share my wellbeing work with large numbers of the UBC community, and that I’ve handed in my last school paper for the semester. It was a rewarding and meaningful time, both personally and professionally, and I hope the same is true for you. Even so, I’m conscious of the fact that my personal gas tank is hovering on empty as I push myself towards the finish line that is my holiday break. As we find ourselves in the middle of yet another busy season (one that is sometimes overshadowed by consumerism, busyness and all manners of excess), I’m experiencing a lot of internal questions:
Could I be doing more? Should I be doing more? Why do I feel guilty when I’m not working or studying? Have I let others down? Am I capable? What should success look like?
In sharing these vulnerable thoughts and insecurities recently with friends and now with you, I’m reminded of a practice that is often overlooked but one imperative to our survival – especially at this time of year: self-compassion.
Practicing self- compassion
What is self-compassion?
It is taking the time to treat ourselves the same way that we would treat a loved one, whether they’re two-legged, four-legged, winged, etc. It is acknowledging that we, too, deserve care and comfort during stressful and difficult times. It is the act of silencing our inner critic in the hope of accepting that we are entitled to a break.
Why is it important?
Self-compassion has been strongly linked to wellbeing. It can lead to reductions in negative mind states such as anxiety, depression, stress, rumination, thought suppression, perfectionism and shame. It has also been found to increase positive mind states like life satisfaction, happiness, connectedness, self-confidence, optimism, curiosity and gratitude .
How do you start?
- Practice self-kindness instead of self-judgement.This means accepting our imperfections with empathy instead of shame and criticism. The more we cling to aspirations of perfection, the more we judge the end result. Recognize and value the massiveness of what we try to do each day and know there will be situations, histories and events beyond our control and that these are not a reflection of our worth or character.
- Look for common humanity instead of isolation.This involves acknowledging that we may face difficult situations, but we are not alone in doing so. Trials and tribulations are part of the common human experience, and they are ones that we do not have to face alone.
- Try mindfulness instead of over-identification. This is working to process negative emotions in a constructive way in order to avoid emotional reactivity and negative thought patterns. Reflect on how you are more than your external achievements and that internal accomplishments are worth just as much.
Want to learn more?
Watch this two-minute video for tips on practicing self-compassion
Or, listen to this 10-minute guided meditation for self-compassion:
This holiday season, as a reminder of the true meaning and spirit of this time of year, I invite you to give yourself the gift of self-compassion. Take it slow and be kind in your expectations of the self. Cut yourself some slack. Find new ways to silence that internal critic and replace it with a voice of kindness and charity. And I promise to try and do the same for myself as well. As 2017 closes, let’s get ready to meet the New Year with fresh eyes and an open heart.
Posted in Editorial, Miranda Massie | Tagged editorial, generosity, kindness, Mindfulness, Miranda Massie, patience, recharge, rest, self-care, self-compassion, spiritual health, Support, survival | 3 Responses
By Guest Contributor on September 13, 2017
Guest contribution by Dr. Thara Vayali
Empathy comes naturally to us. From our primate cousins to our newborn babies, humans are wired to perceive and respond to another person’s feelings. It has helped us learn skills, build communities and has saved us from danger. It is our language before we learn to speak a language.
We don’t learn empathy. In fact, quite the contrary: we are empathic and for healthy developmental reasons, we mitigate the impact of all the feelings by building boundaries.
In the context of work, politics, education and relationships, empathy is having its golden moment. Praised as a way to improve employee happiness, international relations, interpersonal conflict and learning disorders, empathy has a lot to live up to.
Since empathy is getting so much attention, I think it is worth being crystal clear on the shorthand terms for describing the ways we experience feeling with others. These definitions are a compilation of research in empathy, etymology and communication.
In its essence, without laying out the nuances and qualities of empathic communication, empathy is embedding your emotional being in someone else’s situation (“Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”)
When you observe someone experiencing an emotion, and you feel that emotion well up in yourself, this is empathy. You have a visceral sense of what it feels like even though you are not experiencing the same situation. (“I feel you.”)
Sympathy (more recently cast aside as unhelpful) is often poorly defined as pity and sorrow, which each hold their own as unique feelings. Instead, sympathy is to be with someone else while they emote, despite not feeling it in tandem. We do this in the context of caring and desiring them to thrive. (“Though I do not/cannot know what you are feeling, I will walk beside you.”)
When you observe someone experiencing an emotion but you do not experience that emotion rise up within you, you can still sit with the person through their challenge – this is being sympathetic. You can hold space for the feeling and enable their resilience without feeling it yourself.
Both sympathy and empathy can support someone through distress. When we have the capacity to recognize and validate someone else’s emotions, we are better able to hear them and be supportive of them.
What doesn’t help us is when empathy becomes be “emotional contagion”, where the line between the original feeling and the empathic feeling becomes blurred. The observer perceives that and acts as if both people are experiencing the same thing. This situation often renders both individuals needing support. Small children (and some adults) experience high permeability of emotional states. One person’s distress becomes another person’s distress because healthy boundaries were not developed/established.
To build boundaries is not to build walls or to shut down emotional responses. To build boundaries is to say, “I respect your experience as yours. This is how much time I have, how much energy I have, how much perspective I have, and I will give to that extent willingly.”
To build boundaries means to know yourself well.
Another reason to be conscious of these boundaries is the relationship between stress and empathic response. In a nutshell, stress both increases and decreases empathy, and empathy both increases and decreases stress. Chickens and eggs everywhere.
Stress is ubiquitous and can mean anything from anxiety to surprise, danger or exhaustion. Statistically, 1 in 4 working Canadians report being stressed, but exactly what the stressors are and how they show up emotionally vary from person to person. It is no wonder that stress and empathy are mired in a never-ending loop.
When we experience personal distress, we tend to decrease our empathic response as a protective mechanism: when the stress feels isolated, we become more self-oriented. We may be more sensitive to cognitively noticing someone else in distress, but less capable of understanding their experience.
When we experience a social or contextual distress we tend to increase our empathic response: when we are “all in the same boat”, we become more oriented to the greater good. We may be able to “get it” when someone is in distress, but less capable of taking space away from that emotion.
Striking a balance between thinking and feeling is useful in our “empathic response.” Too much or too little of either and our actions can be misguided.
A useful empathic response is a set of actions:
- Awareness without assumptions
- Curiousity without demands
- Interest without interference
- Compassion without condescension
- Valuing experience without analyzing or judging
When our empathic response is out of balance, it does us well to remember this:
Empathy can be misguided. We are wired to be empathic, but need more information to get a better sense of another person’s plight. It is only through our own eyes (perspectives, realities, histories, experiences, biases) that we imagine the other person’s situation. Our empathy tends to be specific: toward people we care deeply about or are similar to, for experiences we identify with, and to emotions we are familiar with. Through those eyes and those preferences, our statements/actions can be misguided.
Empathy requires energy. Empathic responses require almost all regions of the brain to work together. Like any mental task, the brain uses nutrient resources to meet demand. Compassion fatigue can occur in situations of high empathic demand, weak boundaries and low nutrient resources. We need to stop before the tank is empty, or replenish and refuel.
Empathy is a limited resource. Limited resources can drain; sometimes we use it all day long and have little left for loved ones at the end of the day – or vice versa. If you recall that no resource is limitless without care and conservation, you might be more judicious of how and when you support others.
How to make friends with empathy:
Take a body break. When you feel yourself picking up on another person’s emotion, notice your body. There is a section of your brain oriented to do just this: what sensations do I feel and where are they? What are they telling me?
Take a breath, and localize the emotion (Chest? Head? Fingers? Gut?) It’s somewhere – that’s part of how we pick up on another’s feelings – through our nervous system. If you can place it, you can also release it. Stretch it, breathe it, squeeze it, visualize throwing it away. Do something so you are not at the whim of the emotion within you.
Check your boundaries daily. How much energy do you have? How have you eaten? How have you slept? How are your personal stressors being managed? How many people are relying on your support today? Know your limit. Stay within it.
Be kinder to yourself. A vital piece of experiencing sustainable empathy is developing a positive self-image. If we can be kind to ourselves and our own emotional states, we have more room for another person’s emotion. If we feel poorly about ourselves, feeling another person’s emotion can feel invasive and depleting. When you feel your emotional tank for others starting to run low, take a moment to let yourself refuel, reflect and remember what you love about yourself. Ask yourself: What could I do to be kinder to myself today?
Empathy is a tool. Like any tool, we need to know how to use it safely to protect ourselves and others. Used wisely and with practice, we have an opportunity to create a beautiful outcome. Practice with your body, boundaries, and being kind to yourself – your empathic response will serve you well.
Thara Vayali is a naturopathic doctor and yoga teacher in Vancouver, as well as a UBC alumna. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones and pain-free bodies. She is also the creator of Change Natural Medicine, which offers budget-conscious, membership-based health consulting.
By Miranda Massie on December 7, 2016
Welcome to December everyone! However hectic your fall term may have been, I hope it was meaningful and filled with success. We now find ourselves getting ready to launch into another busy season, one that can sometimes be overshadowed by consumerism, gift buying and all manners of excess.
I saw a really great ad the other day that urged: “Create memories, not garbage this holiday season”. In keeping with the newsletter’s theme of spiritual health this month, I want to share a gift with you that I hope will serve as a reminder of the true meaning and spirit of this time of year. My wish is that this gift will support you in making wonderful memories with family and friends as we approach the new year.
Give yourself the gift of self- compassion
What is self-compassion? It is taking the time to treat ourselves the same way that we would treat a loved one or dear friend. It is acknowledging that we too deserve care and comfort during stressful and difficult times. It is the act of silencing our internal critic in the hope of accepting that we, like everyone else, are human and entitled to a break.
Experts believe that self-compassion involves three main actions:
- Self-kindness instead of self- judgement: Accepting our imperfections with sympathy instead of shame and criticism. The more we cling to aspirations of perfection, the more we judge the end result.
- Common humanity instead of isolation: Acknowledging that we may face difficult situations, and that we are not alone in this. Trials and tribulations are part of the common human experience.
- Mindfulness instead of Over-identification: Ensuring that we process negative emotions in a constructive way in order to avoid reactivity and negative thought patterns.
Why is this important? I am reminded of the saying “Charity begins at home”. I believe that compassion begins within. In order to truly experience compassion and kindness for others, we must be willing to do the same for ourselves. We at UBC are fortunate to work with some of the most amazing, selfless and dedicated colleagues on this campus. If we truly want to continue supporting colleagues and serving students, we also need to be willing to go to bat for ourselves.
This holiday season I invite you to give yourself the gift of self-compassion. Cut yourself some slack. Silence that negative critic in your head and replace it with one of kindness and charity. Forgive yourself. Leave pessimistic self-talk and resentment behind and as 2016 closes, prepare to greet the New Year with fresh eyes and an open heart.
Posted in Editorial, Mental Health, Miranda Massie | Tagged care, compassion, editorial, forgiveness, giving, Holidays, humanity, kindness, Mindfulness, Miranda Massie, self-care, self-compassion, spiritual health, Support, UBC, work | 2 Responses
By Melissa Lafrance on July 6, 2016
We hear a lot about relationships. There are love/romantic relationships, partnerships, work/colleague relationships, friendships and even ships that have sailed. In service of all these outside relationships, we often overlook or even neglect our most important relationship: our relationship with our own selves, or our self-relationship.
When we think about relationships, we often think about the ways in which we are connected and linked with another person. Our minds don’t often go right to our self-relationship. Having a healthy self-relationship can have an immense impact on our frame of mind, which influences our interactions, emotions, experiences and outcomes, and challenges can arise as a result.
Here are just a few things to keep in mind to improve your self-relationship:
Care for your basic physical and mental needs
Start by getting enough good quality sleep, which is absolutely essential to good health, effective functioning, and safety. Eight hours of sleep a night is optimum for healthy adults. Read more about sleep.
We all have priorities in our lives, and it can sometimes seem that there is no time for taking care of ourselves beyond our basic needs. However, a balance is needed in all areas of our lives to build resilience. Caring for yourself involves intentional actions and effort to take care of our own physical, mental, and emotional health. What self-care looks like varies from person to person, but can be in the form of enjoying a bath, cooking, listening to music or podcasts, meditating, travel, exercising, or simply taking a five-minute breathing break in a quiet room to refocus. Check out more ideas for self-care.
Practice love and kindness towards yourself and others
This can take on many forms, and let’s face it, our world needs some love and kindness. Consider practicing loving-kindness meditation, which focuses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards yourself as well as others. Download free audio recordings of guided meditations. Select the Loving Kindness Meditation link and go through the practice. You can choose yourself as the medication’s focus.
Reflect and be aware of your thoughts, feelings and emotions
On a regular basis, ask yourself “what am I feeling?” and “what am I thinking?” Be curious as to why you are reacting a certain way or why certain things mean so much to you. Keep a journal and write down your thoughts, feelings and emotions. This can help you become more self-aware.
Work towards positive mental health
Positive mental health is a state of being in which social, emotional, and spiritual factors intersect to create a high level of functioning. Positive mental health can coexist alongside mental illness. Find out more about positive mental health.
Thrive is a UBC-specific initiative focused on building positive mental health for students, staff, and faculty and reducing stigma. Thrive week occurs each year during the first week of November and involves a variety of awareness building and knowledge sharing events. Learn more about Thrive.
Take a moment to look in the mirror and speak positive and uplifting words to yourself. Continue speaking these affirmations to yourself every day, and you will bolster your self-confidence and self-acceptance. Check out these 35 affirmations you can say to yourself or write on post it notes.
Ask for help and seek out resources
Many supportive resources are available for UBC staff and faculty. Check out this month’s Benefit Spotlight on healthy relationships to learn about resources you can access through the UBC Employee and Family Assistance Program.
The following resources are available:
- Employee and Family Assistance Program
- Thrive at UBC
- Mental Health Resources at UBC (including available workshops/trainings)
- Learn to Meditate 3-part Series (July 11, 18, 25)
- Mindfulness and Meditation at UBC
- Making the connection: tactics for a healthy mind and body
- Getting involved in summer activities with colleagues
- 6 ways you can have a healthy relationship with yourself
By Miranda Massie on March 3, 2015
I have heard a lot of chatter over the last few months about diet detoxes and health cleanses. The New Year tends to bring with it a renewed motivation to get fit, cleanse our system and revamp our health behaviours. In January, I attended a Healthy UBC lunch-and-learn hosted by Dr. Thara Vayali, called ‘The Toxin Myth’. Dr. Vayali defined toxicity and explained the consumption and elimination methods of toxins in our bodies. In addition to listing the environmental and metabolic causes of toxicity, she included emotional causes as well. This intrigued me.
If I’m being honest, when it comes to cleanses and detoxes, emotions are not exactly a ‘sexy’ sell. We would never see a magazine add that promised “to reduce self-critical talk and reveal a stunning disposition in only 12 days!” We want to hear about miracle cures or a fast-pass to lasting health and vitality. But what good is a makeover to the physical body without at least considering how we might also care for what’s on the inside?
I had never considered how emotions could act as toxins. In reflecting on this after the presentation, I wondered why we aren’t more concerned about toxic emotions and the effects that they might have on our health. Personally I think that holding a grudge or internalizing anger would probably be more destructive to my health, than consuming the occasional dose of nitrates contained in processed foods.
This month, I will be embarking on an emotional cleanse to rid my life of negativity, judgment (of myself or others) and emotions that do not serve me in a productive way. I practice a lot of these behaviours already but in setting concrete (and very public) goals, I hope to become a happier person.
In her presentation, Dr. Vayali included five examples of how emotions can become toxic to our bodies and I have set a goal to accompany each one.
Toxicity: the degree to which something can cause harm to a living organism.
|Toxic emotions||Proposed Cleanse|
|Withheld emotions||Share and then let go. Share frustrations and anger with others when they arise or commit to letting them go (for good). Refuse to stew in negative emotions.|
|Dwelling||Look forward and not backwards. We have never been able to change the past so forgive yourself and focus on doing better next time. Dwelling might prevent you from finding an opportunity to excel.|
|Gossip/Judgement||Cut others some slack. We can never truly know what others are facing in their lives. Give people the space to be themselves and afford yourself the same. Judging others only provides an excuse for not improving ourselves.|
|Self-deprecation||Say “I’m awesome” every day. Focus on what makes you awesome. Critical self-talk, when internalized, can change the way we interact with the world. Embrace your awesome.|
|Digital Addiction||Turn off before bed. Having an ipad (with Netflix) and a smart phone are great, but they have drastically changed my bedtime routine and sleep habits. Books and magazines only before bed this month.|
Embarking on this type of an emotional detox will not be easy. Training our brains to think and act differently will take time and practice. In the long run however, I feel that this type of cleanse has to be easier than drinking nothing but lemon water for two weeks straight, right?
This month, I invite you to reflect on how you might start to include emotions when thinking about caring for your physical health and body.
Want an easy start? Watch this Ted Talk: The Happy Secret to Better Work. In addition to being extremely funny, it provides some examples for how to tune our thinking towards the positive.
All my best,
By Colin Hearne on February 4, 2014
Legend tells us that Valentine’s Day came about when a Roman, set to be executed for his religious beliefs, sent a love letter to his jailor’s daughter, who had visited him during his confinement. It is said that he signed the letter from your Valentine, forever chiseling the phrase into history as a symbol of kindness, compassion and love. Although the truth behind the Valentine legend is murky, it does emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and – most importantly – romantic figure, and as a result has made February a month to share aforementioned kindness, compassion and love. The heart has become a central symbol of all of these.
Is this good for us?
It can feel good to be the recipient of a kind word or offer of help from a friend or colleague. Acts of kindness, compassion and love not only make the world a better place, but bestowing them on others reflects back on us – improving our mental and physical health, boosting our self-esteem, and allowing us to communicate better with others. People who perform acts of kindness would agree that it makes them feel good to be kind to others.
What the studies say
Research shows that not only can kindness, compassion and love make us feel good, but can also have significant physical and mental health benefits.
Some examples are:
- Researchers from the Universities of California, San Diego, and Harvard found that when people benefit from kindness, they ‘pay it forward’ by helping others who were not originally involved. When people in the study were given money to help someone else, a domino effect occurred, causing each person’s generosity to spread to three people, then to nine people, and then to still others in subsequent waves of the experiment.
- Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York, found that feelings of love trigger the brain’s dopamine-reward system. Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter that affects pleasure and motivation. It is activated in many people, for instance, by winning a lot of money or taking stimulants. Put simply he found that love invigorates us
- Researchers at Harvard University showed a film about Mother Teresa’s work among the poor in Calcutta to 132 students. They then measured the levels of Immunoglobin A (an antibody that plays a critical role in immunity,) which showed markedly increased levels in all test subjects. In other words, purely witnessing compassion has the power to boost our immune system.
- Practicing small acts of kindness can help you become a happier, and the boost in mood can stay with you for months, according to research from York University. More than 700 people took part in a study that charted the effects of being nice to others, in small doses, over the course of a week. Six months later, participants reported increased happiness and self-esteem.
- The act of compassion triggers activity in the parts of the brain involved in pleasure and reward, according to researchers at Emory University.
Feel the glow
In the spirit of the story of Valentine’s Day, here are seven ways you can bring a warm glow to your own heart, and bring more meaning to the lives of others.
- Smile more often: Something as simple as a smile can create a connection with others and leave both parties feeling happier. Smiling and saying hello to people doing their job can make all the difference in how that person views his or her profession.
- Give compliments: A sincere compliment can turn a person’s world around. By making it a habit to give at least three sincere compliments a day, we can acknowledge the good in others and we can start to see the good in ourselves.
- Send thank you notes: Often, we are so busy that we don’t take the time to properly thank someone who has done us a good turn. A short hand-written note can be a pleasant surprise to receive; so too can a note letting someone know how much you appreciate them.
- Volunteer: By giving your time and energy to causes that you believe in, you are making a difference in the world. People who volunteer their time tend to be happier.
- Practice patience. Allow someone to get in line in front of you in a checkout line or in traffic.
- Give little gifts for no reason: People love to receive thoughtful gifts (whether purchased or handmade) when they aren’t expecting it. You can even give a gift to a stranger by donating items to a local charity for distribution.
- Kindness on a budget. There are many ways to show kindness without breaking the bank. Leave an extra-large tip for the busy wait-staff, pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-through, or put money into someone’s parking meter that is about expire. Giving anonymously is guaranteed to make you smile.
(Source: Homewood Health)
Start the kindness by taking care your own heart. Sign up for the 2014 Travelling Health Fair at UBC. This year’s dates are Feb. 20th in Henry Angus Room 254, and Feb. 25th in Neville Scarfe Building Room 1005, 9am – 4pm.This year will focus on Cardiovascular Health. For more information click here or call 604.827.3047. Space is limited so register early.