Self-compassion and diabetes
When living with a chronic condition such as diabetes, self-compassion can be helpful in a number of ways. Embracing self-compassion is not about gaining more control over your life, but rather about controlling how you perceive your life and the struggles you encounter. It is about having the resilience to deal with day-to-day conflicts in a more positive and empowering way.
Diabetes is a complex disease, requiring constant evaluation of your behavior — which is why feeling compassion for yourself is essential to successful self-management. With self-compassion, you can develop a new relationship with your diabetes, in which you pay attention to it without judging yourself. You do this in part by applying mindfulness to your daily self-care activities, such as food preparation, eating, exercise, and blood glucose monitoring. Dealing with the ups and downs of diabetes can be difficult, but being compassionate toward yourself can help you make peace with your diabetes. This has both mental and physical benefits.
Mental benefits. Research has shown that people who treat themselves with compassion have greater psychological health than those who do not take this approach. Self-compassion correlates positively with overall life satisfaction, feelings of happiness and optimism, social connectedness, and emotional resilience. Self-compassionate people also tend to have less extreme reactions to problems than people who are excessively critical of themselves. It follows, then, that lacking self-compassion can lead to self-loathing, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism — all of which will ultimately have a negative impact on your diabetes management. Taking a compassionate approach will lead to greater awareness of your health, more resilience to deal with health-related setbacks, and more nurturing mental responses to distressing thoughts and events.
Physical benefits. A lack of self-compassion has been shown to be related to a variety of eating problems and disorders, including emotional eating. Research has shown that when dealing with a restrictive diet, people who are self-critical tend to feel “eating guilt” when they stray from the diet — which often leads to overindulgence as a method of coping with this feeling. People who practice self-compassion, on the other hand, are more likely to forgive themselves for eating something that’s not on their meal plan and move on.
Furthermore, if you treat yourself with compassion, you will feel more motivated to opt for healthy rather than harmful choices. Self-compassion strengthens humans’ innate yet often neglected awareness of how their bodies are feeling, thus increasing their ability to self-regulate, heal, and maintain good health.
Four ways to increase self-compassion
There are a number of ways to cultivate self-compassion, including the following four:
1. Consider your reaction to having diabetes. Ask yourself: Do you accept your diabetes and work with it, or do you resent your diabetes and try to fight or ignore it? What kind of language do you use with yourself when thinking about or discussing your diabetes? Do you often insult yourself, or do you usually take a kind and understanding tone? By evaluating your initial level of self-compassion, you can identify areas where you need more work and attention.
2. Consider your feelings about having diabetes. Take some time to write about a diabetes-related issue that tends to make you feel inadequate or bad about yourself. Write down how this issue makes you feel inside: Does it make you scared, sad, depressed, insecure, or angry? Focus on whatever emotions arise when you think about this issue. Try to be as honest as possible, examining your feelings without exaggerating them or pushing them away.