Support for university students during COVID-19: How to be kind to yourself during these challenging times (Part 2), by Dr Inês Mendes

Support for university students during COVID-19: How to be kind to yourself during these challenging times (Part 2), by Dr Inês Mendes

Building my compassionate inner space

Being self-compassionate is to acknowledge our thoughts and feelings, and do this with curiosity, allowing them to be there, even if they hurt. This our first act of kindness to ourselves. Then, we can activate this inner compassionate self to help to ease the experience of negative emotions. You may not know how to do it, and that is okay, the recognition that it would be important for you to be more compassionate and kinder is the first step, and it is a big one.

To build our compassionate inner space we will use imagery, which can be extremely powerful to activate this experience in you. So, let’s just rewind a little bit… Remember what you would say to your friend who is struggling? Can you write that down? Additionally, think about the tone of voice you would use, your facial expression, and your body posture. You would most probably talk to them in a caring, gentle and understanding way.

The aim of this practice is to build a place within ourselves where we can feel understood, supported and cared for, similar to how we feel when receiving it from a very supportive and compassionate other (e.g. friend, family member).

Now let’s move our attention towards ourselves. You may want to gently put a hand in your heart to promote this shift inwards. In order to set the stage for this practice you may start by slowing your breathing. So sit comfortably or lay down (whatever works best for you), try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Keep breathing in gently and regularly.

Try to imagine someone who was caring, kind, and warm towards you. Think how good it feels to feel the warmth of a hug of someone that cares about us. Close your eyes and remember one of those times. Focus on as much specific detail as you can remember and stay with that for a moment…

Now, let yourself sense this compassionate other looking back at you with care and compassion, using a warm and gentle tone of voice. Would they say anything or would they just hold you in silence? If they say anything, what would they say?

They might say something along these lines: “It has been so hard… but it really is okay not be okay! It’s okay not to concentrate, it’s okay not to work if you have other things in your life taking your time, your energy, your focus… Whether you are experiencing the threat of the life of your loved ones, or protecting your loved ones… It’s so hard to deal with unpredictability, to find ways to float in the midst of these strange and unpredictable times… It’s okay! I’m here with you!”.

Think whatever words resonate with you and just repeat them in your mind.

Feel the warmth pouring into yourself.

Allow yourself to observe to feel what is like, to feel held, to feel accepted, understood, to offer these things to yourself. And very gradually, when you are ready, bring your attention back to the world around you.

Take your time…

Spend as much time as you want with this practice. This can take a little bit of time and probably will not work at first. Being self-compassionate may feel threatening or overwhelming. That’s okay! It’s not easy, but with practice we can all build our compassionate self.

The main message today is “It’s OKAY not be okay!” It’s okay just to survive for a bit. We are all doing what we can the best we can, and that is already a lot! So do not only use supportive statements to support others, but also to support yourself.

If you wish to practice self-compassion further and learn more, there are audio resources from the Centre for Mindful Self-Compassion, linked below:

Self-compassion break (5 min)

Self-compassion break (12 min)


Source: Gilbert, P. (2013). The compassionate mind. London: Robinson.

See Part 1 of this two-part blog series which introduces and discusses the importance of self-compassion.