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Jean Fain, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W. Headshot

Take a Compassionate Minute

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The practice of self-compassion -- treating yourself like a good friend or loved one -- may be centuries-old news, but suddenly it's new again. Not only did Tara Parker-Pope's blog on the subject make headline news this week, it was the number-one most e-mailed New York Times article of the day.

When you think about it, it's not hard to understand why Americans are gobbling up info on how to go easy on yourself. A steady dose of self-compassion has been proven to work like antidepressants without the negative side effects. It decreases depression and anxiety, improves concentration and perspective.

What's more, self-compassion is not only safer than any diet pill or appetite suppressant, it's proving effective in treating eating problems. In a persuasive, oft-cited study, dieters who fell off the "diet" wagon, but still thought kindly of themselves didn't indulge in emotional eating. In contrast, dieters with their characteristic critical mindset reflexively overindulged despite their best intentions.

But how do you stop beating yourself up and start going easier on yourself? Got a minute? Here's a quick and easy compassion-enhancing practice for right now or the next time you catch yourself in the throes of self-criticism.

If you're walking down the street, feeling self-critical -- maybe you caught a less-than-flattering glimpse of yourself in a store window or bumped into someone who'd last seen you when you were looking better, or maybe divorce has thrown you back into the dating scene -- rather than give yourself a hard time, try a little tenderness in the form of a walking meditation. It'll give you the calm and confidence you need to make your way toward greater health and well-being. Here's how:

As you continue walking, breathe deeply, and silently repeat the traditional phrases of loving-kindness meditation:

  • May I be safe
  • May I be healthy
  • May I be happy
  • May I live in ease

If you come across others who could use some compassion -- a homeless person, an elderly neighbor, a new mother and her baby -- mentally send some their way:

  • May you be safe
  • May you be healthy
  • May you be happy
  • May you live in ease

When it makes sense, return to the "I" phrases (May I be safe...) and notice the difference self-compassion makes. Even one compassionate minute has the power to lighten your mood, brighten your outlook, and enhance your ability to make healthier choices. Why put off feeling better tomorrow when you can take a compassionate minute today?

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Jean Fain is a Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychotherapist specializing in eating issues and the author of "The Self-Compassion Diet." For more information, see www.jeanfain.com.

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