The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Mindfulness

No. 162: Re-Colour the Mood

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

Coping Kete… I will practice using mindfulness and visualisation to self-soothe with an exercise in observing my emotions and comforting them with calming colours. This week I will schedule a regular time to practice the exercise and as it starts to feel familiar I will begin testing out how to use it during moments of stress and distress.

Mindfulness simply means paying attention to the present moment, one thing at a time, on purpose and without making judgements about what is good or bad. We all make judgements all the time, so we won’t be able to stop doing it completely. But when we are being mindful, we pay attention to the judgements we notice ourselves making, name them for what they are (e.g. ‘I notice myself judging xyz to be something I don’t like’) and bring our minds back to the present moment, rather than being hooked into the judgements we have made. Paying attention to the present moment means we notice or observe what is outside and inside us and we describe it to ourselves in words. Once we are mindfully aware of what is happening inside and outside us, we are able to decide how we want to participate in the moment and what we need to do that – like maybe a bit of comfort.

This week, I will spend 5-10 minutes each day, practicing how to use mindfulness and a colour visualisation to comfort the places I feel distress. This is an exercise in three-parts.

  1. Body Scan: Sitting still, in a comfortable position, breathing in my natural rhythm.Closing my eyes, I will sit in silence and observe what is happening in my body. Starting at my feet and moving up to the top of my head, I will tune my attention into each part of my body and describe to myself in words what sensations I notice – how hot or cold is my skin? is there pain or discomfort?  As I notice other thoughts entering my mind, I will observe these to myself too, and come back to scanning the sensations in my body.
  2. Mood Scan: Once I have scanned my body, I will turn my mind to the emotions I am feeling in this moment – observing and describing to myself, each of the thoughts, images, memories and feelings I notice and bringing myself back to what I feel. What is the strongest emotion? Where do I feel it in my body? How does it sit in my body? What temperature and colour is this feeling or mix of feelings? With each question I ask myself, I will observe and describe the thoughts and emotions that arise in response or that pull me away from paying attention to this feeling fully, without judgement and without judging my judgements.
  3. Recolour the Mood: Once I have tuned into the strongest emotion in this moment and found a colour that matches it, I will bring to mind a colour that I find soothing. This could be a colour I find peaceful, relaxing, happy, exciting, energising, calming, loving, gentle, supportive. What comes to mind when I think of this colour? What sensations, images, sounds, tastes and memories belong with this colour? I will then turn my mind back to the strongest emotion, where it sits in my body and visualise the colour that goes with it. I will then imagine I have filled a cup with my comfort-colour and am drinking it down, into the part of my body where my strongest emotion lies. In my mind I will imagine re-colouring that strongest emotion with my comfort-colour, seeing it settle more and more, seeing it cool down or warm up as needed, seeing space and tension free up, as I pour more and more of my comfort-colour into that part of my body.

I will then open my eyes slowly and bring myself back to the room and the next task in my day. When I notice my mood shift throughout the day, I will practice observing it, noticing where it sits in my body, giving it a colour, finding a comfort-colour and re-colouring that space in my body.

Once I am familiar with using this mindful visualisation, I will add ‘Re-colour the Mood’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way to self-soothe and create space inside myself, during moments of stress and distress. Instead of trying to stay away from what think or feel, and being pushed around by it, I will be able to observe what is happening inside me, where I feel it, and create some comforting sensations inside me. With each wave of sadness, anxiety, anger, frustration, fear or any other kind of stress, distress or upset, I will tune in, observe the feeling and re-colour it with something comforting.

No. 160: Call On My Compassionate Self

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will create a compassionate self to call on in times of stress and distress. We often have a strong self-critic or even a self-bully that pipes up to tell us all the worst things about ourselves and what we are going through. If we reflect on our self-talk in times of distress we might notice we use blaming, judgmental and sometimes downright mean words with ourselves that leave us feeling ten times worse. Having a compassionate self allows us to use soothing, understanding, non-judgmental, kind and supportive words with ourselves instead of or in response to the self-critic or the self-bully.

The first step is to create a character map of my compassionate self. This starts with thinking about what compassion means to me. I will think about what I might need from my compassionate self and what compassion involves for me. Is my compassionate self forgiving, respectful, kind, aware of what is important to me, caring, accepting, humorous or all of those things and more?  What does my compassionate self think about making mistakes, flaws, limitations, weaknesses and negative life events?

The next step is building a visual image for my compassionate self. What does my compassionate self look like? My compassionate self could look like someone who has treated me this way in the past, a creature I have found comforting or it could look like me when I am being compassionate, understanding and kind. I’ll think about what facial expressions and gestures my compassionate self might make to show their compassion and what it feels like to be near that. How does my compassionate self look at me? Next I need to create a voice for my compassionate self. What does my compassionate self sound like? I’ll think about what tone of voice it uses, what it sounds like, how loud its voice is and how fast it speaks. Finally, I need to create some words for my compassionate self. What does my compassionate self say to me? I will think about what words and phrases my compassionate self uses to soothe, show kindness and be understanding. It’s easiest to do all this on a piece of paper, in writing or drawing, to make it concrete and give us something to come back to later.

When I have created a character map for my compassionate self, I will practice using it by taking one to two minutes each morning to sit mindfully and visualise my compassionate self talking to me about the coming day, whatever it might hold. Whenever I notice other thoughts distracting me, I will describe them to myself, respond to them using my compassionate voice and return to visualising talking to my compassionate self about the coming day.

Once I am familiar with visualising my compassionate self and responding to my thoughts with my compassionate voice, I will add “Call on My Compassionate Self” to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. I will be able to call on the compassionate part of myself to talk me through stressful times with soothing, kind, respectful and understanding words, ideas and images. My compassionate self can even talk directly to my self-critic and my self-bully when they appear. I might not be able to make those parts of me go away altogether when times are tough, but showing compassion for why they are there and sharing some different ideas with them might make them quieten down.

No. 159: Mindful Drawing

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice being mindful by taking a few moments a day to sit and draw something I see.  Drawing can teach us to notice properly rather than gaze absentmindedly (The Book of Life), it doesn’t have to be about artistic ability at all. The aim can be simply to notice properly the parts of things and how they fit together. This makes it a good way to strengthen our mindfulness muscles. My drawings could be simple scribbles in pencil or ballpoint pen. If I notice I get too caught up with trying to draw a ‘good’ or accurate picture, I could do the exercise without looking at the paper at all – it really matters that little what I actually put down on the paper.

It’s never easy to start a new practice, I might need to schedule in some time to do this each day and organise myself some basic materials to have on hand. I could snatch a moment at lunchtime or I could plan a little trip to somewhere I might enjoy noticing in more detail.

Sitting down to draw, I will take a moment to settle into my stillness and allow my breath to fall into its natural rhythm. Sometimes concentrating on drawing can lead us to hold our breath – this isn’t a breathing exercise, but it’s still important to breathe. I’ll allow my eyes to wander until they settle on a scene or object to draw. For the next few moments, I will simply draw what I see on the page, however it comes out. As my mind wanders, I will notice my thoughts and bring myself back to what I am drawing. As I notice my thinking mind judge the ‘goodness’ of what I am drawing, I will use my watching mind to observe the thoughts and bring my attention back to the detail I see around me and continue with the task of drawing it.

As I move through the week, I will experiment with drawing in different locations and drawing different things and observe how focusing on these different things effects my thoughts and feelings.  What is beautiful and soothing to me? What is energising and inspiring for me to see? What sights and scenes weigh me down? How does my body respond to this? Always coming back to my watching self and the act of marking down what I see.

Practicing mindful drawing could help me ground myself in the present moment during times of stress and distress. It can be a useful way to learn mindfulness when it is hard to do breathing or visualisation-based exercises, or if mindfulness is an unfamiliar practice. Really, mindfulness just means paying attention to the present moment, this involves using the part of our mind that is aware of our thoughts (our ‘watching mind’) instead of being totally involved in the part of our mind that is doing the thinking (our ‘thinking mind’). Other names for our watching mind are our ‘Observing Self’ (in ACT) or ‘Wise Mind’ (in DBT). In DBT our ‘thinking mind’ is broken down into our ‘feeling mind’ and our ‘rational mind’, because we really do have lots of different kinds of thoughts running through our brains at any point in time.

Once I am comfortable doing mindful drawing in ordinary moments, I will add Mindful Drawing to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. Mindful drawing could take me out of my thoughts for a moment, allow my body a chance to calm down, and give me something neutral or positive to focus on for a while, which could give me a tiny injection of positive vibes when things are feeling chaotic or overwhelming. I could also use the exercise as an excuse to take myself somewhere I might enjoy. Giving myself pleasurable experiences is an important part of engaging with a life I feel is worth living.

No. 158: Plant Seeds and Nurture Them

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice being aware of my valued actions by visualising or symbolically planting seeds for each of my valued intentions. New Years Eve is a good time to set goals for the coming months, but goals tend to be short-lived and easily side-tracked by shifting priorities. On the other hand, our values represent how we want to be in the world, regardless of the state of our goals. Values are always in progress, whereas goals can be achieved, failed or finished with. A goal might be to ‘Quit Smoking’. A value might be ‘Care for my Physical Health.’ Different values tend to take on differing levels of importance as we move through life. Much of the suffering we go through is the result of being distant from our values.

So this week, I will do a ‘Seed Planting Ceremony’ for the New Year. First, I will take a moment to sit in stillness and bring my mind to what I want to nurture in the coming three months. How do I want to treat myself, the planet and others in the coming months? What is most important to me right now? When my mind throws up thoughts of what I don’t want, I will name it to myself and bring my awareness to the values I would like to be guided by in such situations. Next, I will choose an object for each of the important ‘seeds’ or values I want to ‘plant’ and nurture in the coming months, or make ‘paper seeds’ by writing each one down on a piece of paper. Finally, I will take a moment to name each of the ‘seeds’ I am planting, visualise what nurturing that ‘seed’ will look like for me, and place it in a special jar or container. I’ll try to make sure there’s a different seed for each of the most important areas of my life, such as my relationships, my identity/self, my body etc.

As I move through the coming days, I will take time once a day to turn my mind to the ‘seeds’ I planted and my visualisation of nurturing those values in myself.  Over the coming weeks, I will practice bringing my attention to these seeds and seeing how they can guide my actions. When I notice myself feeling lost or confused or distressed or at uncertain, I will pause and visualise how I might nurture each of my seeds as I move forward. Focusing mindfully on these positives that are meaningful to me, might soothe some of that stress or confusion, by opening up a flexible path ahead for me and perhaps balance out some of my negative expectations and self-talk.

Once I am comfortable with setting my intentions by naming and visualising the values I want to nurture, I will add ‘Plant Seeds and Nurture Them’ to my Personal Coping Kete. In times of stress and distress, I will practice planting new seeds or returning to seeds I have previously planted and visualising how I want to move forward, given what I have got.

No. 157: Saying Thank You for the Stories

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice noticing and naming the stories my brain tells me and thanking my brain for trying to keep me safe, in all senses of the word. We usually all have a few chains of thought that repeatedly pop up to trigger stress and distress and pull us away from the things we really want to be doing. We can think of these repetitive thought patterns as stories our minds have learned to tell us to try to keep us safe. In a way our brains are automatic storytellers. Often we get caught up and stuck in the stories our minds are throwing up at us. One way to detach from those stories and take the heat out of the distress they create, is to practice naming each of the stories and then literally thanking our brain for doing its job. We don’t need to believe, accept or agree with the story. But instead of resisting it and struggling against it, this week I will practice naming it and saying ‘thank you brain!’

To prepare, I will take some time to write down some of the things that my mind often throws up when I am distressed. I will then name the most repetitive thoughts or the ones that trigger the toughest emotions – there is often some kind of “I can’t cope” story, “bad self” story or “dangerous others” story in the mix.  These are tough thought-chains to deal with when we are caught up believing them or struggling against them, especially when they have been ‘true’ for us in the past. Struggling against a story makes our mind keep repeating it. Naming the story and saying ‘thank you brain’ lets our mind know we are aware and reframes the thoughts as ideas and words instead of realities we need to act on – this often lets our mind know it can stop telling the story so loudly.

Once I have named some of the stories I notice my brain often tells me, I will practice naming them as I notice them throughout my day. This week, I will pause whenever I move between tasks or situations to practice observing what stories my brain is telling in the moment and saying “Thank you brain, for telling me the xyz story. I hear you.”  I will then move forward with my valued direction or do another coping strategy to make things workable.

To start with, I will practice naming stories and thanking my brain for telling them in ordinary, transition moments, rather in times of intense distress when it will be difficult to use a new strategy. It can help to also observe what the function of the story and the emotions that go with it might me.  It can also help to name what our intentions and valued directions are too.  These can be like alternative stories we are learning to tell ourselves. For example, “Thank you brain for the “I can’t cope” story, I know you are trying to make me anxious, to keep me safe from threats. My intention is to discover how to handle this risk because independence and new experiences are important to me.”

Once I am comfortable naming my mind’s stories and thanking my brain for telling them, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. Naming and acknowledging the chains of thought will help me to untangle myself from the automatic stories my brain is telling me, quiet them down and focus on the other story about what is important to me.

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Note: Saying ‘thank you brain’ is a common technique from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT – pronounced ‘act’). You can find some worksheets to help you identify your common stories and understand how they pull you away from your valued directions at  

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No. 156: Extend the Image

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice using extended imagery as a way of coping with unhelpful thoughts of the future that hold me back. Often future-predicting thoughts come to us as images. We ‘see’ ourselves making a fool of ourselves or feeling awkward or finding something unpleasant or ‘failing’ in some way. In real life, events keep unfolding after that moment. Everyone moves on. Someone helps. We learn from our mistakes, solve problems, come away stronger. But our minds usually only give us a flash of the worst bit. This week, I will practice seeing the extended view.

I’ll take a minute or two each day to practice extended imagery so I am familiar with it during times of distress. At my chosen time each day, I’ll sit for a moment just breathing and tune my thoughts to the coming week. As I notice images surfacing in my mind, I will observe and describe the images to myself and then imagine what might happen next, and after that, and after that, until I can take the image all the way forward into the future. Instead of stopping with the image of us feeling tired and unmotivated doing some chore, we could carry the image forward to seeing us resting, guilt-free, with a small sense of accomplishment afterwards. Instead of stopping with the image of us embarrassed or uncomfortable arriving somewhere, we could carry it forward three weeks when the meeting is a distant memory.

It can seem risky to stay with a distressing image our mind has predicted. Our first instinct is often to stay away from the thought (and the situation we’ve imagined). It can seem like staying with it would make the emotion worse. But by extending it out beyond that single worst threat moment, we can learn to send our minds safety signals about that threat in the wider context of our lives. This can be tricky to do during times of distress if we are unfamiliar with the strategy. The temptation can be to use the strategy to linger over a series of possible worst moments or to to linger over that one moment. If I notice this happening during my practice, I will practice extending the image even further, past the image I am stuck on, or extending the image out for the other people present – how will they feel about it the next day/month/year?

As I practice extended imagery, I might also need to practice using the impartial observer voice that goes with most mindfulness exercises. Eventually, I will get to a point in time, when the current predicted image falls into perspective.  I’ll practice daily with my thoughts of ordinary upcoming situations until I’m used to this kind of strategy and have figured out how to make it work for me. We each have our own methods of getting in our own way and I’ll have my own special ways to work around too.

When I am comfortable and familiar with extending images, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for times of stress and distress. When I find myself upset or anxious, I will tune into the images my mind is throwing me and visualise extending those images forward in time. During moments of distress, we are often stuck on a particularly distressing image. By moving our minds beyond that single imagined moment, we might find some perspective. Even if something terrible has happened and our lives are irreversibly changed, we might see that in many years time we have found a way to adapt.

No. 154: Supportive Self-Talk

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice catching my inner critic and responding to my self-talk with kindness.  As I move through my week, I will pause each time I notice my mood change and take a moment to observe what I am telling myself about the situation and my feelings. When I notice critical, judgemental or harsh self-talk, I will label the thoughts and deliberately respond with self-talk that is kind, compassionate and supportive towards my situation, my feelings or myself. When I notice supportive self-talk, I will label that too and respond with self-talk that recognises the way I have been able to support myself in the moment and encourages me to keep talking to myself in this way.

For example, I might say “I notice I’m telling myself I am a stupid, loser for making that mistake. It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes. It’s okay to feel bad about it. It doesn’t mean I’m a loser though. I am still learning.

As I move through the week, I will learn to label my unhelpful self-talk and deliberately talk to myself in a way that builds me up instead of cutting myself down.  Self-talk is automatic but we can bring it into our awareness and use it to support ourselves through moments of stress and distress.

When I am comfortable noticing, labelling and responding to my self-talk with support and kindness, I will add ‘Supportive Self-Talk’ to my Personal Coping Kete for moments of stress and distress. When times are tough, I’ll be able to catch my harsh inner critic and feed myself supportive, compassionate self-talk to balance out my response. Self-judgement adds another layer of distress to already difficult situations. Giving ‘voice’ to my inner supporter can make my distress less intense and easier to cope with.

No. 153: Label Thoughts As Thoughts

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice noticing my thoughts and seeing them for what they are – thoughts. This week, whenever I notice myself look at a clock, I will take a brief moment to be still, take a breath and register what is in my mind. As I notice a thought running through my head, I will tell myself “I am having the thought that…“.  For example, if I look at the clock, breathe and think “I am going to be late”, I will say to myself “I am having the thought that I am going to be late”.

If I notice a second thought attached to the first, I will describe that to myself too. Thoughts often come in chains of ‘this’ and then ‘that’ and then… etc. Sometimes we have second thoughts about our first thoughts. I will let these surface if they are there too. If I notice myself judging or labeling my thoughts as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in some way, I will describe that to myself too, “I am having the thought that…”. I will try to use neutral words.

When my mind goes blank or I feel distressed, I will label my thoughts about that and come back to my breathing. After I have taken about five good breaths in and out, I will return my attention outward again by describing what is around me right now, “Right now I see…Right now I hear… “. Then I will turn back to whatever I was about to do before. As thoughts pop up to distract me from my task, I will label them as thoughts and return my focus to what is around me and what I am doing now. Sometimes I might only spend a couple of seconds noticing one thought and labeling it as a thought, it doesn’t matter what thoughts I notice and label, but this week I will practice stepping back and labeling my thoughts as thoughts.

Usually our thoughts are constantly running through our minds without us noticing them and we just go along reacting to them on auto-pilot.  By doing this exercise, I will get used to taking a step back to observe my thoughts and recognise them as ideas happening in my mind. Labeling my thoughts as thoughts will highlight the distinction between what is coming in through my senses and what is the meaning attached to it by my mind. Often these two things we will be an obvious match. However, just as often things are a bit more ambiguous and unclear. Often there are multiple potential meanings and labeling thoughts can help me keep sight of that. This can help the body know it is safe to calm down any stress responses it has been automatically firing off.

It is harder to step back and label our thoughts as thoughts when our emotions are high. This is why practicing for just a moment at regular intervals when emotions aren’t high is helpful while we get the hang of it. I might find that looking at a clock isn’t the most useful reminder to practice for me. If that’s the case, I can pick another thing I do everyday to use as a reminder to practice.

When I am comfortable with stopping to label my thoughts as thoughts during everyday moments, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping in times of stress and distress. When I notice my emotions getting high or my mind starting to race, I will take a moment to breathe into my belly and let my thoughts register one by one. As I notice a thought, I will describe it to myself “I am having the thought that…” . Once I have sat for a moment and let each of my thoughts register and be recognised as  a thought, I will turn my mind to the sensation of breathing and what is surrounding me right now. “Right now I see… Right now I hear…”. I will turn my attention to what I need to do next by telling myself, “Right now I could…” . This might be a self-soothing or distraction exercise or some form of expression, support or engagement.  Labeling my distressing thoughts as thoughts might help to soothe their sting if they are overwhelming, slow them down if they are racing or make them clear if they are clouded.

No. 151: Mindful Moment

This week to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will pause once a day to practice being mindful of the present moment and myself inside it. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment on purpose, without judgment and with full awareness of both the internal and the external parts of our experience. I can do this by purposefully observing the present moment, describing it to myself and then participating in the experience.  In order to fully observe, describe and participate in the moment I need to focus on one thing at a time, take a non-judgmental stance and be effective. Being effective means choosing the direction that is most helpful or doing what needs to be done without being trapped in our emotions but without ignoring them either. This week I will practice taking the time to observe what is around me and what is inside me. I might need to set an alarm or decide on another reminder ahead of time to help me remember to practice. While I’m new at mindfulness, I’ll practice at a time when my emotions aren’t running super high.

Once a day I’ll practice taking a mindful moment. Breathing calmly and moving into a comfortable position, I will focus my mind on the here and now…Noticing what is happening around me right now, I will observe my surroundings and describe them  to myself without judgement. When I notice myself making judgments, I will observe them that way, carefully re-word them and return my mind to the present moment as I continue with my breathing. I can ground myself in the present moment by paying attention to my five senses and participating in them with awareness. What do I see around me right now… what do I hear… what do I smell… what do I taste… what do I touch? I will allow my thoughts and feelings to register and come back to my senses. I will name thoughts as thoughts, feelings as feelings, separating the past from the present, acknowledging the things that are unwanted instead of pushing them away. I will observe and describe any thoughts and worries about the past or future that arise, without evaluating them or chasing them. I will then turn my attention back to observing and describing the physical environment around me and how I experience it. Once I have observed the whole of my surroundings and what is going on inside me, I will turn my attention to the next task I have at hand, carrying my wider awareness with me.

When I am comfortable paying attention to the present moment at an ordinary time, I will add ‘Mindful Moment’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I notice my emotions starting to run high, I will be able to pause, ground myself in the present and tolerate my distressing thoughts and feelings without pushing them away. I will be able to observe and describe my experiences for what they are and continue to be fully aware of my surroundings and my senses.

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Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 148: Practice Compassion

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice being compassionate towards myself. When I notice critical thoughts or judgments about myself or things I have done or not done, I will practice responding in my mind with kind words, that share sensitivity for my suffering and respect for my humanity. I will practice choosing compassionate and accepting words to talk to myself about my mistakes, weaknesses, flaws and limitations.  Other people can criticise me if they wish, but I will give myself compassion.

As I move through my week, I will keep an eye out for self-talk that is harsh, critical and judgmental. For example, I will watch out for self-talk where I label myself stupid or useless when I make a mistake. When I notice I am labeling myself harshly for my mistakes and limitations, I will give myself compassion by pausing to remind myself it is human to struggle. I will appreciate my strengths by remembering them to myself and recalling that my flaws and limitations are simply part of a whole, not all that I am.  By responding to myself with compassion throughout the week, I will practice accepting my whole self, warts and all. I do not need to be perfect, nor would I want to be.

When I am used to talking to myself with compassion and acceptance on an ordinary day, I will add ‘talk to myself with compassion’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I find myself in distress, I will be mindful of how I am talking to myself and be careful to use compassionate words. In times of stress and distress, I will be better able to give myself messages of kindness, instead of giving myself messages of shame or judgement that make me feel worse.