Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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Learning Self-Compassion
A Tool for Your Diabetes Management Kit

by Nicola J. Davies, PhD

Once you have your honest feelings down on paper, think about a real or imaginary friend who loves you unconditionally and is accepting, kind, and compassionate toward you. This friend knows you intimately and can see all of your true strengths and weaknesses, including any negative aspects of yourself that you’ve been writing about. Reflect for a few moments on the feelings this friend has toward you. Now pick up a new piece of paper and write a letter to yourself from the perspective of the friend, focusing on whatever negative emotions you’ve been probing within yourself. What would this friend say to you about your perceived flaws, from the perspective of unqualified compassion and support? How would this friend convey such compassion to you, particularly in response to whatever pain you inflict upon yourself through harsh self-criticism? What would this friend say to remind you that you are only human, and that all humans have their strengths and weaknesses?

After you finish writing it, set the letter aside for a while — maybe a few days. Then read it as if you were seeing it for the first time, letting the words truly sink in. Reflect on how soothing it is to hear these compassionate words and to realize that they came from inside of you — which means they can come from you again anytime you feel a need for them.

3. Keep a self-compassion journal. Journaling has been found to enhance both mental and physical well-being, and it is an effective way to get in touch with your emotions. Journaling has been found to be particularly useful for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes. Every evening, find a few quiet moments to reflect on the day’s events. Write in your journal about any negative feelings, anything you judged yourself for, or any other difficult experience that caused you pain or sadness — no matter how trivial it may seem. For each event, make a point of using the three components of self-compassion to help frame the way you think about the events:

Self-kindness. Write yourself some kind and understanding words of comfort. Adopt a gentle, reassuring tone and let yourself know that you care about yourself. For example: “It is all right; you strayed from your diet, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Maybe you can keep some healthy snacks at your desk to avoid cravings at work.”

Common humanity. Write down some ways in which your experience was connected to the larger human experience. This might include acknowledging that being human entails being imperfect. (”It is normal to slip up every once in a while.” Or, “I am not the only one facing these challenges; many people have diabetes.”) You may also want to reflect on the underlying causes and conditions behind the negative event. (”I was already stressed out about my afternoon meeting, which made me less resistant to food cravings.”)

Mindfulness. Explore any painful emotions that arose from your self-judgment or difficult circumstances. Write down how you felt, including whether you were sad, ashamed, frightened, or stressed. As you write, try to be accepting and nonjudgmental of your experience, capturing your emotions as they were rather than minimizing or exaggerating your experience. (”I was stressed about my meeting, so I indulged and felt guilty afterward.”)

Using the three components of self-compassion as part of your journaling will help you organize your thoughts and emotions, as well as help you incorporate these attitudes into your everyday life. If you keep this journal regularly, the practices of using kind language and keeping your experiences in perspective will become easier and will help you treat yourself in a caring way.

4. Take care of yourself. Managing your diabetes effectively might mean that you need to recharge your inner battery occasionally to have enough energy to give to others. Grant yourself permission to satisfy your own needs first — recognizing that this will not only enhance your quality of life, but also enhance your ability to contribute to the lives of others. By showing yourself the same love and care you show to the people you care about, you are cultivating a more balanced and capable self. Whether you pamper yourself with a relaxing bubble bath or organize a night out with friends, relaxing and recharging your mind and body will improve your mood, ability to concentrate, and general outlook on life. Taking the time to respect your personal needs — and making a habit of it — will also help you manage your diabetes more effectively.

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