Self Compassion- How to Build Resilience during the Covid Pandemic 2020

Compassion-An Introduction.

I first began learning about compassion through the work of Paul Gilbert.

Through Gilbert’s work I have learnt that being compassionate is something that we are born with. He says it is important in the regulation of our emotions. He describes our motivational system as 3-fold:

  1. We are motivated to avoid danger and harm;
  2. We are motivated to get rewards, and pleasure
  3. We are motivated to seek out comfort and connection.

Compassion fits into this final category. When we are compassionate to ourselves and to others we feel safe and connected.

Compassion is a difficult thing to fully understand and define. We are tempted to think of it as kindness or empathy. Kristin Neff has been interested in compassion since 1997 and devoted her career to understanding it. On her journey she has observed the benefits for herself and others and she now  works with Christopher Germer developing courses such as their Mindful Self Compassion course. It wasn’t until I started the Mindful Self Compassion (MSC) course for myself that I realised how little self compassion I have and what it actually feels like to be cruel all the time to someone (me) who is only trying their best.

Although I still have a critical voice telling me how hopeless I am, I now recognise that I don’t need to believe this voice. When I go running this voice is constant-

‘I’m never getting any faster’, ‘why do I want to stop you’ve only just started’, ‘you ran better last week’, ‘other people are better than you’ and on and on.

Does this sound familiar? I am learning how to reply to this voice, maybe with….

‘you again ,hello’, ‘I am out running, not playing Candy Crush and that’s what counts’, ‘this is exhilarating even though it’s hard’. 

It takes practice to offer words of kindness and acceptance.



Self-Compassion-3 Components (from Neff)

Neff has managed to pull apart self compassion into 3 areas. Each offers a different insight, and you might find you relate to one more than the others.

  • Self Kindness

It may seen odd but self kindness is only part of self compassion. Kindness and compassion are often used interchangeably but there is a difference. Compassion has an element of action attached to it.

Kindness is offering care and comfort for someone who is hurting. Self kindness is offering care to yourself when you are hurting. It is free from criticism and judgement. It is treating yourself as you would treat a friend who is in pain.

I have found learning to offer myself kindness when I am in a critical mode is challenging. Shifting the thoughts from ‘you made a pigs ear of that’ to ones of kindness ‘I know how much you tried. I can tell you are disappointed, I know you did your best. It is important to notice the emotion. Learning to understand the emotions that we feel and our reactions to them is part of mindfulness. Kindness is recognising tough emotions might be present and not dismissing them or pushing them away.

Our body actually changes when we receive kindness, levels of oxytocin increase and we feel calmer. Conversely when we are stressed the brain is less sensitive to these calming influences, so critical self talk actually creates more fear and more agitation.

  • Common Humanity

This is a reminder to ourselves that we don’t stand apart from other human beings, we are all the same, all prone to making mistakes, non of us is perfect. This is not self pity, which is when we feel sorry for ourselves, self pity separates us from others, which in itself causes loneliness and lack of connection. Self pity is ‘poor me’, ‘no-one has the same difficulties I do’, common humanity  helps us feel connected, we all can feel these things. If you remember at the beginning I mention Gilbert’s work, he speaks of us being motivated to connect with others to feel safe, and belonging. Self compassion is an innate biological tool to keep us connected to others.

Common humanity also provides an antidote to one of societies cruel habits, that of continually encouraging us to compare ourselves with others-wealth, beauty, fitness, experiences, material possessions, intelligence. When we compare ourselves we often end up feeling inadequate, or not good enough. This comparison ‘game’ also decreases connection, to be better than someone we have to make that other person worse in our eyes.

In my running club I might often find myself looking for people who I can run faster than to help me feel good about myself. However, it offers more compassion to myself and to others if I am able to see them as also trying there hardest, and maybe unhappy with their speed. Straight away there is a sense of connection rather than disconnection.

  • Mindful Awareness

This is the third aspect of self compassion. Mindful awareness means bringing attention towards our experience, but without judgment. This helps us notice our pain, and offer ourselves self-compassion. So often we are reactive to our experience, or over identify with it. For example we may forget to do something, a variety of feelings may arise; frustration, guilt, annoyance, self pity. Mindful awareness is about noticing these, and allowing ourselves to recognise we didn’t ‘forget’ on purpose, the feelings may exist, however, we don’t need to feed them, through mindfulness we can recognise them and offer compassion, its ok, you didn’t forget on purpose. Forgetting doesn’t mean you are a failure, or never get things right, this is over identification.

Putting it into action-How to Build Resilience during the Covid Pandemic

Self-compassion may not come easily, and it can be quite overwhelming to receive kindness instead of judgement. If you begin to feel overwhelmed this is quite normal, as it can feel quite odd to accept yourself as worthy of  love and kindness.

Things to try

  • Occasionally just pause from what you are doing and pay attention to the critical voice that might be in your head.
    • Is it there? Do feelings arise from this voice?
    • They are thoughts, they are not true
    • Create an alternative voice that offers kindness
  • When you feel bad remind yourself that everyone has off days, everyone struggles with things. Perfection does not exist.
  • Meditation can be a way to recognise emotions and thoughts as they arise. You may want to start a meditation practice to help.
  • When you feel sadness or negativity be curious as to how a close friend might comfort you. See if you can be that close friend and offer yourself kind words of reassurance and acceptance.

We are struggling through tough times, the pandemic (Covid 19) is not easing. Resilience is waning for most of us. Self-compassion is a tool that can sustain us, it can rebuild resilience and reassure us that we are not alone, we are in this together.

 Useful reading

The Mindful Self-Compassion workbook, A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength and thrive. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer Publ. Guildford press 2018

The Compassionate Mind.  Paul Gilbert . Publ Constable 2013.

Useful Links

Self Compassion 

The Compassionate Mind Foundation.




Mindfulness for Beginners-Short Course

Mindfulness-A short Course

Mindfulness is  learning to be more present in the here and now. Or conversely it is about recognising when we are caught up in our head, thoughts, perceptions or in our emotions and feelings.

When we recognise where our attention is we begin to notice the impact this has on our decision making.


Mindfulness for Beginners

The first course ran in June 2019 and the participants each had different reasons for attending; those who came knowing mindfulness was meant to be good for anxiety, and those who had been told it would be good for them and those who were just curious.

The flexible nature of the course allowed each session to evolve depending on the questions that arose, and the reactions to peoples’ experiences of meditating.

In Session One it was acknowledged that very few people had meditated before, thought of doing so was in itself a little anxiety creating. But the first step into mindfulness almost happened before we knew it. On arriving and settling onto our chairs we were encouraged to just pause and notice the thoughts and business in our heads. We were then encouraged to let these go, knowing we had chosen be in this room with these people.  Session one offered insights into Mindfulness as it has developed in the Western world and also how it is part of Buddhism.  There was an activity which encouraged us to notice how we respond to senses, thoughts and perceptions.

The second session was a little bit more personal. The participants had been encouraged to try meditating at home and so we could ask about the ‘apps’ available and be honest about how hard it was to find time to meditate. We were then taught a little about the biology of anxiety and that it is a normal response to danger. It was useful to notice how thoughts can cause the same anxiety response as real danger.

Also in this second meeting we were encouraged to reflect on familiar habits we might have when we feel anxious or emotional. For example some people will get angry, or want to blame others whilst others can have the opposite response and feel they can never do anything right and become silent and withdrawn. There was a longer meditation. 

We could make suggestions as to what to cover in the last week and people wanted to understand more about why we as humans get stressed and anxious. We learnt how thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and emotions are all inter-linked. It was also helpful to understand that our brain motivates us in different ways and sometimes we over-ride this because we think other things are more important. We work hard to get recognition and money to buy pleasurable things but this might be at the expense of being with friends and family who provide us with safety, comfort and security.

I thoroughly enjoyed leading this course and sharing my knowledge of Mindfulness.

We were provided with handouts and reference material, and told how this course is a good start before embarking on the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course.

Useful resources


  • Wherever you go there you are by Jon Kabat-Zin (2004)
  • Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world By Mark Williams and Danny Penman (2011)

For anyone interested in the science behind mindfulness-

  • The practical neuroscience of Buddha’s Brain, happiness, love and wisdom. By Rick Hanson with Richard Mendius (2009)







3 Stage Breathing Space


MBSR Body Scan


MBSR Body Scan Short Version.


MBSR Awareness of Breath


MBSR Mindful Movement, (Mindful yoga)

Christmas Stress-How to change your mindset using Mindfulness

Christmas Stress – How to change your mindset at Christmas

Christmas and Mindfulness
Anyone hosting Christmas will be aware of all the jobs that need to be done, the presents and party clothes to buy, food to be ordered, the list can go on. For those having Christmas alone, or if this year is the first without a loved one, the festivities provide a complex set of emotions which can be difficult to bare.

It may be that you have a silent dread of Christmas. However, Christmas is going to happen.

What follows are a few ideas about how changing your mindset may help.

Many of the reasons why stress accumulates over Christmas is to do with thoughts and behaviours, habits and expectations.

These reasons include;

  1. The emphasis placed on family traditions
  2. Concern about how much work needs to be done to make the day successful
  3. Present buying; how much to spend, what to buy
  4. The day being a reminder of those we have lost

These may feel like a real representation of how you feel. Mindfulness encourages a different approach to how we attach a meaning to these situations.

Mindfulness allows us to treat the current moment as all there is. How much meaning do we attach to the past at the expense of the present which is where we are now?

  1. The emphasis placed on family traditions

It can be difficult to change habits, certainly if we frame them as ‘family traditions’. I wonder if when your ‘family tradition’ happened for the first time the intention was for it to go on past its sell by date?

Interestingly we are aware in other circumstances, such as holidays, that when we try to repeat the experience it causes greater disappointment. Can this be applied to Christmas?

Traditions may include when to put the decorations up, real tree or artificial, Christmas day menu, the family members invited, the timing of present opening, television and what film to watch.

Before the ball gets rolling why not ask yourself and those involved, why are these traditions important, and do they create a good experience. You can also ask the question is it what they represent rather than the tradition itself?

You may find you can drop one or two and everyone has a sense of relief.

  1. The concern about how much work needs to be done for the day to be successful

There is as much work as you want. Is it true that the more work you put in, the happier everyone is? Or is this about you, and how others might perceive you?

Thoughts can creep into our head and be believed. At Christmas there might be a little bit more organising and planning but it happens every year and we do it every year. It is often worth noticing the thoughts we have, and reminding ourselves they are thoughts. There might be the thought, ‘I won’t get it done in time’ or ‘what if the turkey is under cooked ?’ Notice what happens to your stress levels when you have these thoughts. Are they appropriate, what is the worst that can happen? Thoughts are not facts, mindfulness enables us to notice a thought and not react to it.

Take a mindful moment. Take a deep in-breath and a slower out breath, counting to five. Repeat once or twice more.

  1. Present buying; how much to spend, what to buy

Why are you buying presents, who for and at what cost?

Present buying is a reflection of who you are and your relationship with the recipient, as well as your personal beliefs about Christmas.

There are many ways in which we get distracted from this, especially adverts and consumerism and ‘family traditions’. The shops become full of ‘gift ideas’. Spend a little time reflecting on why you want to give as a gift. There is some truth in the statement ‘it is the thought that counts’. A mindful approach focuses your mind on the reality of Christmas, encourages you to stick to intentions meaning it is less likely you buy things spontaneously.

You may also reflect on what does receiving a gift mean to you, and is this truth based on reality. A common belief is that a person close to you will instinctively know what you want. Unfortunately, life isn’t this simple, either tell them or be prepared for anything. People are not mind readers.

  1. The day is a reminder of those we have lost

Anniversaries are reminders. Allowing a time in the day to acknowledge absent friends and family can be useful. You and other friends and family also represent a little of that missing person, a shared joke, or shared gene, this too can be honoured. They have not gone completely.

Mindfulness encourages us to stay in the here and now, it is this moment that is important, comparisons often bring dissatisfaction. Each Christmas will be different, enjoying it for what it is can be more rewarding than not liking it for what it isn’t.

Mindfulness at Christmas

Mindfulness involves a regular commitment to paying attention to the present moment. Christmas often draws us into the past, the past has gone, enjoy the ‘now’ as this too will soon be gone.

You might be interested in

Thoughts and Anxiety-Using psychotherapy to alleviate stress

Mindfulness meditation for novices-Part 3

Mindfulness- making use of our tidy brain

The Brain and Automatic Pilot

My experience and understanding of mindfulness has led me to acknowledge the power thoughts have to manifest as reality. A thought is not reality, it is a specific activity of the brain.

Do you realise our thoughts  motivate our actions and behaviours even when they are not real!

The human brain has an amazing capacity for storing, collecting, summarising and accessing data. Data as memories, and information. Memories as embodied physical experiences, as well as stories. It has so much information that it is necessary to create short cuts to frequently used experiences and behaviours. It tries to keep things tidy and organised. For example, when you clean your teeth do you actually think about and plan your hand movements, or when you get dressed are you conscious of the order you put on clothes? Our brain has made many things for us very easy, so easy we often do not fully participate in what we do. How often, on our way to work do we wonder how we got there because we had been so caught up with thoughts. In Mindfulness terms this is often called ‘automatic pilot‘.

How did thoughts and thinking  become so important?

A subtle switch has happened in our development and culture. Descartes, is reported as saying I think therefore I am. Our thinking has become more important than our experiencing.  Rather than being present with reality, be conscious and awake to what is happening in each moment, as would a wild animal, we are lost in the meandering synapses of our brain. It is valued in culture and society to think, ‘think before you speak’ and experiences are minimised, we are encouraged to right lists of pros and cons rather than go with ‘our gut’. We are encouraged to use our huge brain to evaluate and plan. It is thought of as helpful and beneficial. We base our knowledge on measurable, objective data.

Has our tidying system got the priorities wrong?

Whilst society encouraged and nurtured our capacity to think, and develop a logical and scientific approach to the world, we failed to recognise and adapt to the types of thinking which fed our emotional and creative abilities. A thought can create anxiety and another joy. Thoughts were not real, they can help understanding but they also take us from reality.

I may have a thought, and before I know it I have a scenario in my head about something that isn’t real. My attention has been with the evolving thought. The thought often becomes manifest in the body. Happy thoughts; my mouth will begin to smile, sad thoughts my mood drops, fearful thoughts my pulse rises. Our brain reacts to thoughts as it does reality.

Interestingly our thoughts engage with our memories of experiences and emotions. This is how our emotions can become disproportionate and anxiety and stress become disabling. We respond to a current event as if it were a repetition of an event in our memory. In a very simplified way we might respond to our manager offering constructive criticism as if it were our parent, when we were a teenager, offering advice when we don’t want it. What has happened is the brain has developed a quick access, (neural pathway) to emotions of anger or threat when we hear words that are interpreted as critical. These neural pathways become so well used we do not have time or space to evaluate whether are response is useful or even appropriate.

Making use of our Tidied Brain- MINDFULNESS

So we have a wonderfully well organised brain, with systems to access all sorts of things when we need them. What we fail to have done is pay attention to the appropriateness of the brains responses to stimuli. This is not a phenomenon of today, this has been the case for hundreds of years. At one time the responses were appropriate, the protection of the family from wild animals or other foraging beasts by physical attack was balanced and about survival. Now anger and attacking are often exhibited at the smallest of threats, the dishwasher not being emptied, being ignored, loosing car keys, the response is reactive and instantaneous.

Mindfulness training slows down this reaction. We are encouraged to be present in the moment, engage and move towards any emotions that arise, being curious towards our feelings and not reactive. We retrain the brain, the data and memories stay the same. We cultivate an ability to notice what the data is, let it inform us but not let it be absolute.

I believe this enables us to become the true self we intend to be, losing attachment to our past, and desire for an unknown future, and being present in each moment.

Emma Dunn is currently training to teach the MBSR programme

You may also be interested in

Thoughts and Anxiety -Using Psychotherapy and Mindfulness to alleviate fretful thinking

Introduction to Mindfulness. Available in Brighouse, a balance of theory, shared experience and meditations.

Experience of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

This mindfulness novice gets serious

It is a while since my last blog on Mindfulness and a lot has happened. I have really noticed a difference in my mood, and reactivity to situations. I find I  notice my mood change and feel equipped to control it before I do something I might regret. My whole family is calmer and we are able to voice our emotions better without feeling vulnerable.

I have used Headspace a lot but also some other resources available on YouTube. You might want to experiment yourself. I like meditating to chanting and more often than not do it in silence.

I have done a lot more training and reading and I want to tell you a little about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course.

What is MBSR?

The 8-week MBSR course is a standardized course shown to improve symptoms of anxiety by using mindfulness techniques, and  daily meditations over an 8 week period. It involves attending group classes for 2 hours each week and some homework. The homework increases awareness of our feelings and responses to everyday situations. We were encouraged to keep a diary,  to think of an event that happened that day and reflect on how we felt physically and emotionally. The mindfulness course encourages us to get in touch with our bodies a lot more, to notice where we might feel things in our body and yoga is treated as a mediation practice. Other meditations vary from  20 minute sitting meditations, to a 45 minute body scan meditation usually done lying down. During the course there is a little taught theory but mainly discussion and sharing of experiences. I found the majority of the attendees had a little knowledge of mindfulness and were curious to see if it would benefit them.

The course has no religious or spiritual content so you don’t need to know anything before hand or have any religious beliefs.

There is a lot of research to show it works and is becoming more accessible through work, schools and the NHS. For more information The Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice has a comprehensive web site

Why did I attend this course?

I wanted to know more about Mindfulness, quite simple. I felt it had already impacted on me, increasing my self awareness . Self awareness is important in counselling and it seemed a good idea to learn to combine  counselling and mindfulness.  I could teach mindfulness to those clients who wanted to give it a try. After doing some googling I discovered the main training institutions that provide training and endorse the Good Practice Guidelines say all trainees should have completed this course.

What did I experience?

The course leader, Sally was lovely. We met in a quiet converted house on the outskirts of Huddersfield, and meditation equipment, mats and cushions were already there. There were always lovely smells of incense or candles to welcome us.

There were 11 in the group, mainly women, who came from all sorts of backgrounds. Some had suffered stress and anxiety for a long time, many years and had taken time off work due to its severity. Others were still managing to ‘live normally’ but their relationships were suffering as a result of short tempers and erratic behaviour. Others, like me wanted to use it in their work to help others.

We did a lot of small group work, talking to one other person but there was no expectation to share within the larger group unless you wanted to. However it became apparent really early on that the more we were prepared to share the more we learnt about how mindfulness was working for each of us.

There were 1 or 2 meditations in each class, and the ones we did in the session were the ones we were encouraged to do during the week at home. Sally would give us a recording of this to use at home.

Over the 8 weeks everyone felt different. More present in their life.

I had a great experience and would recommend it.

I am looking forward to some retreats and more training.

Book Review Mindful Emotional Eating; Mindfulness skills to control cravings, eat in moderation and optimize coping.

Book Review

 Pavel G. Somov- Mindful Emotional Eating; Mindfulness skills to control cravings, eat in moderation and optimize coping. (2015)

Mindful Emotional Eating


Written for both the client and the clinician this book is in 3 parts. In the first part the author describes his model of working to enable ‘Mindful Emotional Eating’ (MEE). The second is how to develop clients so they can manage situations of relapse without them becoming catastrophes, and the final part describes more specific approaches to four more common emotional eating situations.

Part 1

I was disconcerted by Somov’s style and selling technique apparent in part one. He is using this book to teach other clinicians tools to help their clients, and it initially felt like a product promotion. However, with perseverance I continued.

The tools described are based on the neuroscience as well as the philosophy of Mindfulness. Mindfulness per se is not touched on, and the readers are not expected or encouraged to seek mindfulness as a way of being.

Somov describes how each of the 4-5 sessions planned for clients should run. He outlines his rationale, starting with reframing emotional eating, as either something to do mindlessly or mindfully. Identifying that we all have, by our nature as animals, strategies to preserve our own life; and emotional eating is a harm reduction strategy.  Abstinence (aka dieting, and avoiding food) takes away emotional eating as a harm reduction strategy, leaving us exposed, and so diets are likely to fail.

Take a breath before an impulsive act

Take a breath before an impulsive act

Throughout the book he emphasises that the client’s understanding of the shift in how they approach their eating behaviours is key. Breaking down the feelings of guilt and failure which often arise when giving in to a desire to emotionally eat, and replacing then with acceptance and permission. The training is about doing emotional eating, mindfully and not mindlessly.

He provides tools to enable choice. Initially teaching relaxation, quick, bottom up relaxation, engaging physiologically with the parasympathetic nervous system, so humming or blowing out forcefully as an exhalation.

Second are skills, he describes as choice awareness training, to ‘stay awake’ for example using the wrong cutlery, different plate, wrong hand.

Thirdly, ‘craving control training’ similar to a 3-minute breath meditation although described as a river bank exercise, focusing more on the impermanence of feelings and thoughts, watching them go. During this course clients are encouraged to engage with their ‘fullness’ either physically or emotionally, and given permission to carry on if they are not ready to stop.

Part 2

This second part, in my eyes, parallels the outcomes of mindfulness, creating a space for choice, appreciating the impermanence of thoughts and promoting self-awareness/acceptance.

Self-acceptance =motivational innocence + effort acceptance’

Or the greater our awareness of what drives us to eat combined with the belief that we do our best in the moment will increase self-acceptance, and this is likely to decrease the need to emotionally eat mindlessly.

In part 2 ‘motivational innocence’ and ‘effort acceptance’ are described more fully. One interesting idea related to dieting, or being abstinent, is that our brain is using stores of glucose to provide this self-control. The more we try to control ourselves; deny impulses, the more our brain responds by sending messages that we need something sweet, an energy fix. Giving in to a sugar fix is therefore an appropriate physiological response to the work we are doing marinating resistance, we can give ourselves permission to respond in this way without guilt, making a conscious choice to have a piece of chocolate or similar. This is an empowering shift.

He describes binge eating and how it might manifest either a result of the inability to cope emotionally-striving to feel good, or as a desire to feel numb, without emotions.

Somov is realistic about the struggle people have with relapse. He describes working collaboratively, supporting clients as they are able to apply more frequently and consistently the mindfulness techniques described in Part 1 which bring clients into the moment, encourage space between the feeling and the impulse and allow for self-acceptance, if in that moment, their effort was not what they had hoped for.

He finishes part 2 with information about Eastern traditions and philosophies about eating, including the extremes of Jainism, achieving the state of Santhara, fasting to the point of death.

Part 3

Finally, Somov provides some useful interpretations to manage emotional eating for boredom and emptiness, sadness and grief, anger and fear, and stress. Helping clients understand at a fundamental level what these emotions represent and how food is providing a ‘harm reduction’ strategy, and learning to eat mindfully rather than mindlessly.

In summary

This book grew on me as I began to see how mindfulness was being used in a genuine way to help clients move from mindless eating to mindful eating. I would recommend it to health professionals wanting to engage with clients in a real, humanistic way. This book is not about losing weight. If you have an issue with emotional eating this book will help, however, agreeing with the author, I would strongly recommend having the support of a buddy.

Of Interest

Ruby Wax: A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

Eating Disorders-Do you recognise physiological hunger