Beating yourself up because you could’ve done better on your chem midterm? Feeling anxious about getting a job or being able to pay off student loans? All of these behaviors could be described as addictive and harmful. In a presentation given Wednesday at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, Diana Winston, co-author of “Fully Present,” and Dr. Rory Reid of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, discussed coping methods for those who struggle with issues such as depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD and addiction. Here are five tips they shared with the audience.
1. Learn self-compassion.
Self-compassion is being kind to oneself in the same way that you would be kind to another human being. Kindness sometimes comes in the form tough love, and it can include getting yourself help when you know you need it. Do you hate your friends when they fail a midterm? If you don’t, you shouldn’t hate yourself either.
2. Understand the difference between guilt and shame.
Guilt happens when a behavior is deemed bad (e.g., feeling guilty for eating the brownie). Shame occurs when you feel like you are bad because of the guilt you feel (e.g., I am a horrible person for eating that brownie). Feeling guilty does not have to lead to shame. Once you are able to differentiate between the two, you can stop the self-shaming and learn to accept and let go of the guilt.
3. Stop forming judgments.
According to Dr. Reid, an act itself is neither good nor bad. For instance, if you just went on a summer beach body diet and decided that brownies are off limits, you are deciding that brownies are bad. Then, when you eat that brownie, you decide again that that action is bad. Instead of deciding whether the action is bad or good, acknowledge that it happened, accept the consequences and move on.
4. Recognize you aren’t alone.
During the presentation, Winston asked people in the audience to stand up if they had ever felt alone, hurt, scared and defeated. Most of the room stood up during this exercise, demonstrating Winston’s point that everyone deals with many of the same core struggles that come with being human. Dr. Reid pointed out that oftentimes suffering can be magnified when we think we’re the only person dealing with the issue. Normalizing the problem by realizing other people are just as worried about finding a job or getting good grades can make the suffering a little less painful.
5. Be present and observe.
Using the tiger picture above, Dr. Reid asked us to find the hidden tiger. After looking at the picture for a few minutes, most people in the audience could not see another tiger. He then explained that the stripes spelled the words “the hidden tiger,” and argued that our perceptions are tainted because we automatically assumed that the “hidden tiger” would be another drawing of a tiger, not the phrase in text. Being present in the moment and observing instead of judging is called being mindful. This practice of mindfulness prevents us from obsessing on the future (anxiety) or fixating on past hurts (depression) and allows us to move forward in a happier state.
Mindfulness has been proven to help those with anxiety, depression, addiction issues, ADD, ADHD and negative thoughts, Dr. Reid said. Learning to forgive ourselves for all the nasty things we’ve said to ourselves can be hard. Harder still is the act of recognizing that we are imperfect humans, Reid said, but there is hope.