Self-Compassion for Heart Health
Written by Alyce Wellons, LCSW
We know that diet, exercise and family history play a role in your heart health, but it is also important to look at how mental health affects your heart. Stress, anxiety, and depression have all been linked directly to heart health. When it comes to your heart health, it is essential to make sure you are looking at your overall health and wellness.
As a psychotherapist, I practice from the evidence-based perspective that our biochemical processes can be influenced by our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I help people work toward behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that will strengthen their mental and emotional health, thereby strengthening their overall health and wellbeing.
To honor American Heart Month we are going to focus on a mental health practice that creates a boost of positive neurochemicals and feelings of wellness and wellbeing in heart, mind and body…self-compassion.
What is self-compassion?
Most of us easily extend kindness, encouragement, and forgiveness to others. Yet, how often do we extend that same kindness to ourselves? Self-compassion does not mean you are selfish or feel sorry for yourself. It simply means we treat ourselves with the same level of kindness and love that we would a friend or family member, and that we have a warm and understanding attitude toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate.
The heart-centered practice of self-compassion consists of opening our hearts to ourselves and remembering that our true nature is good. When we take the time to have compassion for ourselves, to be truly kind to ourselves, we not only give ourselves a loving and neurochemical boost, we have more kindness and love to give to others. This creates an expansive heart in every way!
Here are some ways to begin deepening your practice of self-compassion:
- Talk to yourself with kindness and respect like you would a friend or family member. Our words matter, especially the ones we use on ourselves, so watch your language!
- Take care of your body by eating things that are nutritious and healthy and getting daily movement. When our intentions turn into behaviors, the health benefits are exponential. You matter, act like it!
- Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, is paying attention in the present moment without judgement. When we observe our thoughts, actions, and feelings with less judgement, we can loosen the critical voices and create kinder ones. Sitting in meditation, observing thoughts and feelings, and focusing on the breath as an anchor can help us notice those things instead of getting stuck in them.
- Gratitude and encouragement are very helpful in supporting self-compassion practices. Encouraging ourselves with positive and supportive thoughts and statements can be very beneficial. Also, listing things we are grateful for within ourselves sends us the message that we value ourselves. When doing any of these practices, you can place a hand on your heart, sending that signal to your central nervous system that all is well, and that you are giving yourself a little hug.
Self-compassion increases motivation, feelings of happiness, self-worth, resilience, and mental health—thus reducing stress, anxiety and depression, those things directly linked to physical and heart health. By engaging in these heart-centered practices, you have the ability to directly impact your physical, mental, and emotional health. This mind/body and heart centered synergistic approach is also free, portable, and potent to increasing your sense of wellbeing in the world.
Remember that taking care of your heart involves more than regular check-ups and eating right. Pick one of these practices and begin taking care of your heart in a kind and loving way.
Alyce Wellons, LCSW
Alyce maintains a private psychotherapy, supervision, and consultation practice in person and online and is currently licensed in North Carolina and Georgia. Alyce has taught nationally and internationally, been featured in professional publications, contributed her expertise to podcasts and panels, and served on numerous Boards for her profession. Alyce’s areas of focus are attachment, addiction/recovery/relapse, interpersonal theory, neurobiology, PTSD, trauma, and related work with individuals and couples. She has in depth training in LifeForce Yoga, Mindfully Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and Imago Therapy.
In addition to 21+ years of training and experience in the practice of psychotherapy, Alyce believes in the healing power of mindful presence and the respectful use of humor and laughter to connect with the wonder of life, and also navigate the difficult passages we face along the way.
For more information visit www.alycewellons.com