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Self-Compassion: A Key to Thriving in Your 20’s

Emerging adulthood is a time for reflection and self-discovery, which some might expect to have already accomplished as an adolescent. But, young adults are still in the thick of navigating the future and can benefit from learning the practice of self-compassion. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, PhD, describes emerging adulthood as “the time from the end of adolescence to the young-adult responsibilities of a stable job, marriage and parenthood,” and explains that many experience in-betweenness that is difficult to navigate. This is a pervasive challenge for young people, and there is a great need for helping them navigate the transition into careers and family (Munsey, 2006). 

For many, this phase of uncertainty can be accompanied by overwhelming anxious thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, and may lead to low self-esteem. Naturally, people want to distance themselves from this discomfort for self-preservation; however, avoidance amplifies the distress. For example, procrastination alleviates stress and anxiety in the short-term, but they build in the long-term. Avoidance can lead people to get stuck in a self-destructive cycle of anxiety and avoidance. Ultimately, people feel worse as stress and anxiety grows.

Since emerging adulthood is an experience unique to young people, using a personalized approach to navigating uncertainty can alleviate stress and anxiety. The stressful uncertainty of the future cannot be changed; however, they can change their mindset through self-compassion and acceptance. By extending one’s self-compassion, your mindset can shift from self-judgment to self-kindness (e.g., “I should be doing x,” to “May I accept myself as I am). Ultimately, alleviating anxious feelings and negative thinking as a way of making uncertainty more bearable for what it is – uncharted territory (Germer et al., 2019).

Dr. Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, suggests taking a self-compassion break, such as the exercise below:

Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.

Now, say to yourself:

  1. This is a moment of suffering

That’s mindfulness. Other options include:

  • This hurts.
  • Ouch.
  • This is stress.
  1. Suffering is a part of life

That’s common humanity. Other options include:

  • Other people feel this way.
  • I’m not alone.
  • We all struggle in our lives.

Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt the soothing touch you discovered felt right for you.

Say to yourself:

  1. May I be kind to myself

You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:

  • May I give myself the compassion that I need
  • May I learn to accept myself as I am
  • May I forgive myself
  • May I be strong
  • May I be patient

This practice can be used any time of day or night, and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most. 

If you are interested in learning more about self-compassion, then consider connecting with a therapist who can help you identify what to include in your self-compassion practice.

 

References

Arnett JJ, Žukauskienė R, Sugimura K. The new life stage of emerging adulthood at ages 18-29 years: implications for mental health. Lancet Psychiatry. 2014 Dec;1(7):569-76. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00080-7. Epub 2014 Dec 3. PMID: 26361316. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26361316/ 

Germer, C. & Neff, K. D. (2019). Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC).In I. Itvzan (Ed.) The handbook of mindfulness-based programs: Every established intervention, from medicine to education (pp. 357-367). London: Routledge.

Munsey, C. (2006, June). Emerging adults: The in-between age. Monitor on Psychology, 37(7). http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun06/emerging

 

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Katy Robb

Katy Robb is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and received her master’s degree in social work from the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan. She has over a decade of training and experience treating individuals across the lifespan in community-based services, college counseling, and private practice. Katy has been recognized for her work building a community college mental health center.
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