Being kind to yourself can reboot health in post-pandemic life

Excerpt: During the pandemic, some people have gained weight, consumed too much alcohol and suffered from anxiety, depression, or sleep problems. If your health habits have slipped, being kind to yourself rather than critical can help to reset health and wellness as we emerge from the pandemic. Research studies show kindness and self-compassion can help ease stress, promote healthy eating and exercise, improve diabetes self-care, build resilience and restore sleep quality.


As Canadians begin to emerge from the pandemic, trends suggest many people may have gained weight, consumed too much alcohol, been more sedentary, or suffered from anxiety, depression and sleep problems.

Over 40% of Canadians reported gaining weight unintentionally during the pandemic,* according to Dalhousie University, and about 25% of those who drink alcohol increased their consumption,* says Statistics Canada. Clinically meaningful sleep problems rose by 15%,* a University of Ottawa study found, and nearly half of Canadians reported an increase in stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness,* according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Being kind to yourself in difficult times and accepting personal failings, rather than being self-critical and hard on yourself, is an effective way to reclaim a sense of well-being and purpose,* according to Psychology Today. If you slipped up during the long haul of the pandemic, the wisdom of self-compassion can be wonderfully helpful in gradually taking steps to reset your health and wellness as you adjust to life after the pandemic.

Here are some of the ways being kind to yourself can support better physical and mental health:

  1. Ease stress and promote healthy behaviours
    Researchers found that people who adopted kind and accepting attitudes towards their perceived struggles and failures reduced stress and engaged in more health-promoting behaviours than those who remained self-critical,* reported a Health Psychology study.

  2. Boost motivation to exercise
    A University of Alberta study found that women who showed self-compassion had more internal motivation to exercise and realized better exercise outcomes, while those who were self-critical viewed exercise as an obligation.

  3. Improve diabetes self-care
    Self-kindness rather than being harshly critical or judgmental can help diabetes patients to improve self-care, blood sugar control and outcomes in dealing with setbacks in blood sugar readings and adhering to medication, diet, and exercise prescriptions,* advises a Diabetes Spectrum report.

  4. Reframe eating habits
    Promoting kinder, self-compassionate attitudes about eating helped women to stay on track with their healthy eating goals, rather than giving up after an episode of excessive or unhealthy eating,* reported a Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology study. The researchers found that people who tend to feel guilty after eating or are too restrictive in their diet become self-critical and often overeat after slipping up, whereas a kinder attitude after unhealthy eating reduces guilt, distress and the urge to seek comfort in food.*

  5. Relieve depression
    People suffering from chronic depression, who practiced mindfulness-based self-compassion regularly, eased their depression symptoms,* according to a 2020 Journal of Affective Disorders study. The mood-related benefits of kindness continued for at least six months after learning self-compassion skills.

  6. Restore sleep quality
    Older adults who are self-compassionate experience fewer sleep disturbances and better sleep quality,* reported a Geriatric Nursing study.

  7. Build resiliency
    Self-kindness builds resilience by moderating people’s reactions to negative events that involve failure or loss,* according to a Harvard Medical School study. People who are kind to themselves show less extreme reactions, fewer negative emotions, more accepting thoughts, and a greater ability to put their problems in perspective while acknowledging their own responsibility.*

*The following sources provided references for this blog, in order of appearance:
1. CBC. “Anxious over COVID-19 weigh gain? Experts say go easy on yourself.” (2021), online: https://ca.news.yahoo.com/anxious-over-covid-19-weight-080000475.html
2. Statistics Canada. “Survey: pandemic stress affected alcohol and cannabis use among Canadians.” (2021), online: https://www.rcinet.ca/en/2021/03/06/survey-pandemic-stress-affected-alcohol-and-cannabis-use-among-canadians/
3. Journal of Sleep Research. “Profiles of sleep changes during the COVID-19 pandemic: Demographic, behavioural and psychological factors.” (2020), online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsr.13231
4. Public Health Agency of Canada. “Distress centres experiencing a surge in demand with the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health.” (2021), online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsr.13231
5. Psychology Today. “Be kind to yourself, the wisdom of self-compassion.” (2018), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201802/be-kind-yourself
6. Health Psychology. “Self-compassion and physical health: Exploring the roles of perceived stress and health-promoting behaviors.” (2017), online: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2055102917729542
7. Psychology Press. “The role of self-compassion in women’s self-determined motives to exercise and exercise-related outcomes.” (2010), online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15298860903135073?journalCode=psai20
8. Diabetes Spectrum. “Does kindness matter? Diabetes, depression and self-compassion: a selective review and research agenda.” (2015?), online: https://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/diaspect/28/4/252.full.pdf#:~:text=FEATURE%20ARTICLE%20%2F%20SELF-COMPASSION%20IN%20DIABETES%3A%20DOES%20KINDNESS,diabetes%20due%20to%20direct%2C%20reciprocal%20effects%20on%20endocrine
9. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. “Promoting self-compassionate attitudes toward eating among restrictive and guilty eaters.” (2007), online: https://scholars.duke.edu/display/pub782823
10. Psychology Today. “Research finds self-compassion can relieve depression.” (2020), online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/urban-survival/202005/research-finds-self-compassion-can-relieve-depression#:~:text=%20A%20new%20study%20finds%20that%20self-compassion%20can,thoughts.%20For%20example%2C%20if%20a%20recurring...%20More%20
11. Geriatric Nursing. “The impact of self-compassion on mental health, sleep, quality of life and life satisfaction among older adults.” (2018), online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30054094/#:~:text=Findings%20of%20this%20study%20suggest%20that%20self-compassion%20in,older%20adults%27%20mental%20health%20and%20quality%20of%20life.
12. Journal of Clinical Psychology. “Self-compassion in clinical practice.” (2013), online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jclp.22021