Feeling Fear & Anxiety? Take a Self-Compassion Break

Most of us have spoken the word more times than we can count; thought about it more than we care to admit; and Googled it so often our fingers are getting calluses. For the foreseeable future, we might as well tattoo the word “coronavirus” on our lips. (Hopefully in semi-permanent ink.) 

The truth is, we don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know what the future holds for any of us. Feelings of fear and anxiety in our current situation are not abnormal. In fact, I would argue they’re pretty warranted. But, allowing them to overtake us, allowing them to cripple us, only stands to increase our suffering.

Let’s explore how self-compassion might lessen your fears and anxieties during this difficult time. How it might give you just enough mental clarity to take a clear-headed approach to whatever comes our way. It’s worth a shot, right?

What is Self-Compassion?

In essence, self-compassion is just what it sounds like: compassion for oneself. Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in self-compassion, describes it way better than I can

“Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”

When in the throes of fear and anxiety, research has shown self-compassionate people have less negative emotions, are more accepting of situations, and have an increased ability to put their problems into perspective. Additionally, increased self-compassion has been found to decrease anxiety, depression, and rumination.

The Three Pillars of Self-Compassion

There are three pillars that are essential for building your practice that converge to provide the tools needed to effectively practice self-compassion.

Mindfulness:  Many of us have heard of mindfulness—aka the ability to exist in the present moment to fully experience what’s happening around us and inside us. In the context of building self-compassion, mindfulness is our emotional “metal detector.” It allows us to identify what we’re feeling in a given moment and soothe our distress. 

Common HumanityFeelings of common humanity can help shift us out of ourselves, reminding us we are not alone. That suffering, like it or not, is something we all go through. When we’re able to remind ourselves of this, we feel less isolated and more connected to others when things get tough. 

Self-kindnessSelf-kindness is treating yourself with the same compassion, understanding, and patience you would to a loved one who is struggling. If we find ourselves being driven by fear and anxiety and reacting in ways that are out of character, we can call on ourselves to provide the support and comfort we seek to ease our pain. 

Take a 3-Min Self-Compassion Break

There’s one strategy I frequently rely on when I’m feeling fearful or anxious: I take a self-compassion break. (Though I’m a pretty smart lady, I didn’t create this strategy myself. I tweaked the original structure developed by Dr. Kristin Neff, available here.) You can use my version, or rework it to incorporate language that feels right to you:

Step 1 (Mindfulness) 

Bring Awareness to the Present. Ask yourself: How am I feeling and how are my emotions manifesting in my body? Here are a few examples of what this might look like:

  • “Ugh, I can’t focus on writing this email. My shoulders are really tense. I must be feeling anxious.”
  • “I can’t stop checking the news every two minutes. My whole body is clenched. I’m definitely scared.”

Acknowledge the Emotion is Causing You Distress or Pain. You can say to yourself some version of the following: 

  • “This is painful”
  • “I’m feeling really uncomfortable”  
  • “I’m really suffering right now.”

Step 2 (Common Humanity)

Remember Emotional Pain is Part of Being Human. We’ve all experienced negative emotion, emotion that at times feels unbearable or beyond our control. Others can relate to what we’re feeling, and we are all connected as a result of this shared understanding. 

Repeat to Yourself a phrase that resonates with you. Maybe something like:

  • “I’m not alone in these feelings”
  • “We all experience pain”
  • “In this moment, we’re all struggling”

Step 3 (Self-Kindness)

Be Kind to Yourself. It’s ok to comfort yourself with kind words, even give yourself a hug. Though it may feel weird at first, it can be incredibly powerful to see how you can actually be your own support system. 

Ask This Question: What words can help relieve my suffering right now? When you find what you’re looking for, lather, rinse, repeat. Here are some things I say to myself when I’m afraid or anxious:

  • “I can weather these feelings, and be better for it on the other side”
  • “Even though I may be scared right now, I’ll be OK”
  • “I deserve to give myself kindness in this moment”

To be clear, I am not a therapist or self-compassion guru. And, I don’t believe self-compassion will completely remove our feelings of fear and anxiety. All I can tell you is that it’s a practice that is helping me. So, I thought I’d pass it on, with the hope it can lessen your worries, and give you enough mental clarity to take a clear-headed approach to whatever is about to come our way. 


Self-compassion practice has deep roots, with many more benefits that I didn’t dive into. Apart from easing fear and anxiety, it can help silence your inner critic, reduce stress, increase motivation, and generally improve emotional well-being. If you found this post helpful, I highly recommend you learn more about the many ways it can help you.

Devin Boyle is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is Senior Consultant at Wheelhouse Group supporting the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) as Emerging Technology Lead and acting as Adviser to XR Access. An experienced communicator and avid writer, she has authored articles for national, local, and trade publications to advocate for societal change and social inclusion for vulnerable populations. She believes in the benefits of preparation before execution and the personal and professional power of Mindful Self-Compassion practice. She lives with her partner, dog, and one-eyed cat in Arlington, VA. You can follow her on Twitter and read her posts here

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