ExclusivesThinkingDr Chatterjee: “Self-criticism stresses us out”

In the fourth instalment of his series with Work in Mind, Dr Rangan Chatterjee explains how we can beat stress, burnout and anxiety by being kind to ourselves. By Sophie Barton
Sophie Barton6 months ago6 min

While we all want to achieve and succeed at work, it’s important not to be harsh on ourselves if a project doesn’t go to plan. The way we talk to ourselves has a huge impact on our stress levels – and Dr Chatterjee says self-compassion is fundamental to our wellbeing.

“We know from research that people who are kind to themselves are healthier,” he explains. “Your immune system works better, you have slower degrees of ageing and better lifestyle habits. In contrast, if you speak to yourself badly you feel less content and less in control.”

He adds, “I used to talk to myself badly and over the past few years, I’ve really worked on it. There is no better thing to work on – it’s not possible to achieve long term happiness if you hate yourself. You might only be saying these things in your head, but your levels of cortisol and other stress hormones still go up. You are literally stressing yourself out.”

Dr Chatterjee – whose new book Happy Mind, Happy Life, is out now – says research has proven this to be the case. He explains, “Professor Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading authorities on self-compassion, did a programme for healthcare workers.

“When they were really stressed at work, they were taught to be compassionate to themselves in their heads. They just had to say kind things to themselves in the moment, such as ‘today is a tough day, but I’m doing the very best I can in a difficult situation.’

“You might wonder what difference that’s going to make, but her research shows that these healthcare workers experienced lower levels of stress, lower levels of anxiety and reduced rates of burnout. The voice in our head is much more powerful than we think.”

So, the next time you’re struggling with stress, be kind to yourself. Take a few minutes to do a breathing exercise, or you can even try talking to yourself in the third person. “This might sound ridiculous, but there is robust research to show it works,” says Dr Chatterjee. “Instead of saying ‘I am really struggling right now, I might say, ‘Rangan is really struggling right now.’ You are literally putting psychological distance between you and your problems. It reduces stress, it reduces anxiety and it reduces rumination. It can also improve performance and decision making too.”

Happy Mind, Happy Life: 10 Simple Ways to Feel Great Every Day is published by Penguin Life (£16.99).

Catch up on last week’s article from Dr Rangan Chatterjee on how to beat burnout

Happy Mind, Happy Life: 10 Simple Ways to Feel Great Every Day

Sophie Barton

Sophie Barton is our Features Editor. She a journalist and editor with 17 years’ experience in the national media, specialising in wellbeing and lifestyle.

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