More Self-Compassion Improve Your Health and Productivity?

March 21, 2016

Every month, the ARUP Wellness team presents health-based topics to support employees in their efforts to take care of themselves; aside from the fact that healthier people make for happier, more productive employees, ARUP is self-insured and has a vested interest in keeping their employees and their families feeling good—mind and body.

Strengthening one’s self-compassion, as if it were a muscle, wasn’t initially part of the workouts that ARUP Wellness Coach Christyn Dorius created for her clients. But again and again, she witnessed clients hitting the wall and losing motivation, backsliding. The weight would begin to creep back on, choices to exercise or eat healthy regressing back into old habits.

“I noticed there was this disconnect between the mind and body. They wanted their body to go to the gym; meanwhile, their mind was putting them down,” says Dorius, one of four ARUP wellness coaches who specializes in chronic disease management coaching. “Once they shifted to a mindset of self-compassion, they were able to connect these two areas; it was at this point that we would start seeing results.”

“People who develop self-compassion are the ones who are able to maintain healthy habits.”

Christyn Dorius
Chronic Disease Management Coach

“Self-criticism is a big hang-up that prevents people from reaching their goals,” Dorius told a room full of ARUP employees over their lunch hour. She explained how people often internally whisper, or scream, “I’ll accept myself when I lose this many pounds or reach this goal or stop overeating.”

People use critical self-talk to motivate themselves; for example, “You are such a loser if you don’t go to the gym today,” or “You’re such a failure for not working out this morning.” Using this approach to motivate yourself can actually undermine your efforts. Dorius cites a study essentially showing that those who used self-compassion instead of self-criticism were more motivated and successful in overcoming their “weakness.”

Self-compassion is not self-pity, self-indulgence, selfishness, narcissism, or self-esteem. “Self-compassion is seeing yourself and the world around you for what they are and still being willing to be compassionate to yourself despite weaknesses,” explains Dorius, who struggled with her body image and came to find self-compassion through yoga instruction. “Instead of focusing on feeling bad about myself, I focused on a loving place within myself; this made me want to make changes that were good for me.”

The Practice of Self Compassion

While one can know self-compassion, it is another thing to cultivate it. Dorius points out several ways to be more mindful of opportunities for self-compassion; for example, recognizing when you are stressed out without exaggerating or downplaying it (“Okay, this is hard.”) or initiating self-kindness by being supportive and understanding of yourself (“You know, Self, you are actually showing a lot of resilience and strength right now.”). She also points out the importance of reminding yourself that you are not alone in your challenges (“Other people have felt this way too.”).

“As kids we’re taught to treat others with kindness but there’s not a lot of emphasis on treating yourself with kindness too,” says Brittany Hodgson, an ARUP medical technologist specialist. “I really never thought of the viewpoint of having compassion for yourself when you are going through a hard time.” Hodgson attends all the Wellness Center’s classes, noting that the presenters are passionate about what they are teaching and the lessons are applicable to everyone.

Not surprisingly, according to research findings, people who practice self-compassion are happier and more likely to be curious and optimistic, among other positive traits. “Practicing self-compassion makes you more resilient too,” adds Dorius, citing another study. “It allows you to bounce back quicker, and that benefits your physical health, especially in chronic-care situations.”

“The head-to-toe, heart-to-mind approach that the Wellness Center offers helps me manage my diabetes and the stress in my life,” says Denise Dougherty, an ARUP support technologist. “I’ve been telling myself all sorts of negative things, so this idea of self-kindness is just what I needed right now.”

By Peta Owens-Liston, ARUP Science Communications Writer