Over the last four and a half years, my life has literally turned upside down. After 18 years together, my husband and I sadly parted ways. While I’d lived on the East Coast my entire adult life, it no longer felt right to be there after our split. And so, a few years after the dust had settled, I moved to Los Angeles, a place where I neither had work nor knew many people. In so doing, I moved away from the man I’d been involved with for three years after my husband and I split—someone I love deeply but with whom I’m not compatible enough to build a life.
A few months back, I was on a date with a guy who didn’t appeal to me, but something he said struck me. “Wow,” he remarked. “You’re starting your life over geographically, professionally, and romantically. And you’re doing it all at the same time. That’s a lot.”
You’re telling me. Suffice it to say that I’ve been dealing with more than my share of stress over the last few years. That’s why I’m particularly interested in Dr. Susan Lord’s tips for managing stress. An integrative family physician and an expert in mind-body medicine, Dr. Lord says mindfulness is the key to stress reduction.
I’m not going to give away all of Dr. Lord’s steps of mindfulness living, but I can tell you that if I could master the last one on her list, it would probably change my life—and, without question, substantially reduce my stress. What is it? Stop judging yourself.
I don’t know about you, but I’m quite sure that the self-talk going on in my head about my life circumstances probably causes me more stress than the circumstances themselves. It’s been a really tough few years and instead of having compassion for myself and the difficulties I’m experiencing out here on my own, I often judge where I’m at. Whether it’s my feelings about my work, my income, my body, my ability to make friends, or my ability to find love, I can be one harsh critic. And as my self-judgment intensifies, my stress does, too. They go hand in hand.
So I’m going to try an experiment, and maybe it’ll appeal to you. The next time I catch myself berating myself for what I haven’t yet accomplished, I’m going to say aloud, “Cancel that.” And I’m going to make a concerted effort to turn my self-judgment into self-compassion.
What would it feel like to be kind to myself, to praise myself for all the strides I’ve made—for the courage it took to leave the familiar and venture into the unknown alone? What would it feel like to say, “Look at you. Look at the work you’ve found, the friends you’ve made, the home you’ve created. You may not be where you imagined you’d be at this age, but look at what you’ve been able to do in the midst of some turbulent emotional times. Look at how resilient you are. Look at how resourceful you are. Look at how amazing you are. Stop, Portland, and look. And breathe. And pat yourself on the back. You’re doing okay.”
If I could do that—if you could do that, if we all could do that—the world would be a gentler place, reflecting back to us the gentleness we show ourselves.