In your darkest hour, remember this

We all have moments of pain and distress. When the demands of our lives stretch us to our limits. When we feel grief, heartbreak or hopelessness. When these kinds of really big painful moments happen, our knee-jerk responses tend to make things worse in an already difficult time.

Often we struggle against the discomfort we feel. We might try to push the pain away, block it out, numb it or distract from it. Other times, the feelings consume us, and we sink into the quicksand of overwhelm.

Over a decade of psychological research suggests that none of the above strategies for dealing with emotional pain are helpful or healthy and in fact, they tend to only amplify our distress and can even lead to mental illness over time.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Press play on the podcast, or keep reading below, where I am sharing a really powerful, evidence-based tool that will help you find strength, ease and relief in your darkest moments. 

In your darkest hour, go gently

Rather than shutting down or being locked in battle with ourselves when we’re hurting, what is much more helpful is to give ourselves the gift of self-compassion. Self-compassion engages our innate emotional intelligence through self-kindness and mindful awareness.

Through her research, Professor Kristen Neff has shown that when we practice self-compassion, our body’s threat response is down-regulated. We experience the release of oxytocin and endorphins, which reduces stress and increases feelings of safety and soothing.

In this calmer physiological and mental state, we’re able to become less emotionally reactive, we find greater mental clarity and are better able to make more skilful choices about our next best steps to support ourselves through hard times.

Research also suggests that people who cultivate compassion for themselves during difficult times have greater resilience to cope with stressful life events. They bounce back faster and experience greater life satisfaction over the long term and experience less anxiety and depression.

 So it’s important to remember that in our darkest moments, this is when we need acceptance, kindness and gentleness towards ourselves the most.

The self-compassion break for times of pain and distress

Here’s a practice to guide you through your darkest times with compassion, mindfulness and gentleness. It was created by Dr Kristen Neff and it’s called the self-compassion break. I want to walk you through the steps in the form of a mini-meditation here, so you can give it a try. You can also just hit play on the guided meditation below and I will guide you through, step-by-step.


Start by bringing to mind a situation in your life that is challenging, painful or causing you distress.

Tune into your body and see if you can locate where you feel the physical sensations of the emotion in your body. Then…

Step 1. 

Bring mindful acceptance to what is happening. By doing this we can begin to let go of hardening against, and mental struggle with, what is happening. 

So step one is to say to yourself either out loud or mentally:

“This is a moment of suffering” or, “Ouch” or, “This hurts.”

Step 2.

This is about realising our common humanity and normalising the experience of having difficult feelings (we all do sometimes). There is no need for us to feel so alone in our experience or feel guilty or ashamed of what is a normal part of being human.

In this step say to yourself either out loud or mentally:

“Suffering is a part of life. I am not alone in this.”

Step 3.

This step is about offering yourself compassion and soothing. This is a difficult moment, so here we bring kindness into the midst of our pain. You might like to place your hands over your heart as a gesture of self-compassion, or if there is another gesture that feels right for you, do that instead. 

Then say to yourself the third phrase:

“May I be kind to myself.”

Step 4.

This is an optional extra step. If it feels right, you might also ask yourself what you need right now or what action you might take that would feel nourishing and helpful for you. 

An action step such as such as:

Taking a warm bath, going for a walk in nature, meditating, calling a friend for support and so on.

You can repeat these steps, saying the phrases as many times as you need for them to really be felt more deeply by you.

So in your darkest hour and in your moments of pain, see if you can remember to give yourself the gift of self-compassion. By doing so, you can find connection, softness and soothing when you are hurting. You can bring kindness to yourself when you need it the most.

This week’s mental strength practice

For the week ahead I invite you to try this supportive practice in any difficult moment – large or small. Remember, you can look at the steps outlined above, or you can also use the meditation above.

I hope this brings you soothing and strength when you need it the most. 

Want to dive deeper into becoming mentally stronger? 

I have so many great resources to give you the support to do that.

Why not try my free 5-day Mental Strength Challenge? You can start it right away, and it’s designed to give you quick wins in your mental strength, wellbeing, happiness, and resilience.  

If you want access to ongoing tools to build your mental strength and a community to support you, join us in the Mental Strength School. For a dollar a day you can take care of your mental wellbeing once and for all with carefully crafted, cutting-edge and evidence-based tools to transform your mind for the better.

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