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Self-Compassion for Stress Management and Health Behavior Maintenance

Older woman wearing a sweater while looking out the window and drinking coffee

Maija Bruzas, PhD, a licensed psychologist and member of the Penn Bariatrics team, shares information on how to use self-compassion in times of stress.  Dr. Bruzas designed a 10-week self-compassion and mindfulness program for health behavior change.

Many of us are going through emotionally difficult experiences.  You may feel like your regular eating and exercise routines have been disrupted.  Now, more than ever, it’s important to take time to be aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical experiences, deepen your sense of connection to others, offer yourself compassionate words and engage in self-care.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion includes showing yourself compassion and cutting yourself some slack during times of perceived inadequacy, failure, or suffering. Here are three steps you can take to practice self-compassion.

  1. Be Mindful: Take five minutes and ask yourself, “what am I thinking, feeling, and experiencing in my body?” Observe and acknowledge whatever bubbles up. Example: “I am feeling overwhelmed right now.”
  2. Connect: Imagine all the other people who are also experiencing what you are feeling. Remind yourself that you are not alone. Example: “Many people are feeling overwhelmed right now. That is a normal reaction. I’m not alone.”
  3. Positive self-talk and self-care: Validate your experience and offer kind words to yourself. Example: “This is hard. I need to take good care of myself right now.” Then, engage in an act of self-kindness, which can include listening to music, taking a walk, reading, reaching out to a loved one, or gardening.

Changing or Maintaining Behaviors with Self-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion can help you cope with stressful situations, by better regulating your emotions and behavior. Here are three steps you can take to help change your behaviors by practicing self-compassion.

  1. Be Mindful: Take five minutes and ask yourself, “What thoughts and feelings do I have about my health behaviors?” Observe and acknowledge whatever bubbles up. Example: “I fell out of my exercise routine. I am feeling disappointed,” or “I have been snacking more since working from home. I am frustrated.”
  2. Connect: Imagine all the other people who are also experiencing what you are feeling. Remind yourself that you are not alone. Example: “Many people feel off track with their eating and exercise routines right now. It is hard to avoid during this time and I’m not alone.”
  3. Positive self-talk and self-care: Validate your experience and offer kind words to yourself. Example: “It’s hard to figure out how to stick to my eating and exercise goals in this new situation.” Then, focus on the future and not the past. Engage in a health-oriented act of self-care, which can include planning a nutritious meal, taking a walk, practicing yoga, making an exercise or meal calendar for the week, or going to bed a bit earlier.

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Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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