**This article was written in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent Social Distancing orders have drastically changed our day to day lives. Many people are now working from home, children are home from schools, restaurants and public parks are closing. For many people anxiety and stress levels are high, and tensions are increasing. We are needing to limit our time with others as much as possible when the need for human connection right now is strong. Fortunately technology has afforded many of us options to stay connected while practicing social distancing, but there are still many challenges. People are spending more time on social media which can be linked to more feelings of depression and inadequacy. How do we take care of ourselves, each other, and our community during this time?
Before my children’s spring break was even officially over I was seeing social media posts with color coded schedules, home art projects, work out programs, DIY projects, home and self-improvement tips. It sounds great, but also feels overwhelming. I’m an educator and I still find this new at home arrangement extremely complicated. Social distancing measures had just begun and I was already behind, already feeling like I’m failing. However, my children are watching and I try to remember to say to myself, “This is a difficult time and it is okay to struggle.” For most parents the stay at home order means less free time, we are now schooling our children and still expected to perform well at our full-time jobs. New expectations of juggling multiple responsibilities and needs at once can make this all feel impossible and foreboding. How will we make it through?
Several years ago, HCWC adopted an agency-wide culture of practicing self-compassion after a couple counselors attended one of Kiristin Neff’s workshops. We read books together on the topic, we share our own strategies, and we meet monthly to discuss it. I was first introduced to this transformative practice when I started working at HCWC. Self-compassion is called a practice because it is not necessarily easy or natural to do, it is something we have to continuously practice to get better at it.
First, ask yourself, if your best friend was feeling bad about themselves or struggling, what would you say to comfort them? While we freely offer compassion and encouragement to our loved ones, oftentimes we are not compassionate to ourselves in our own times of need. Simply put, self-compassion is about treating yourself the way you would treat someone you care about. It’s showing yourself the kindness and comfort every human deserves. Kristen Neff’s practice of self-compassion involves three components: mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity.
The first step in practicing self-compassion is being mindful. Notice how your body feels when you are struggling; don’t ignore your pain, but do avoid overreacting or judging yourself. Learning to recognize how we feel gives us the opportunity to find out what we need to be soothed. It gives us a better understanding of our emotions and connects us to why we may be thinking or acting a certain way.
Be aware of the words you are saying to yourself, attempt to end any self-critical talk, and halt the shame spiral the moment it begins. Instead, be loving and compassionate to yourself the same way you would be to a friend when you’re at your best. It is about offering warmth and sympathy to yourself. Recognizing that imperfection, failure, and life’s difficulties are inevitable can help in being gentle with yourself. This involves stopping the self judgement and actively comforting yourself, saying something like, “This is really difficult right now. How can I care and comfort myself in this moment?” It can help to develop a personal mantra to practice being kind to yourself, something like, “I’m having a hard time and I need to give myself compassionate care”.
This step of self-compassion reminds us of our shared humanity. After all, we are only human. When we feel shame or inadequacy we are more likely to feel isolated from the world and our perspective tends to narrow; we may get bitter. However, compassion is relational, the word compassion means “to suffer with”. We all suffer; it is a part of the human experience. When we are in touch with our common humanity, we remember that feelings of inadequacy or disappointment are shared by all. There is comfort in recognizing we do not suffer alone, every human is in the same boat, we don’t always get what we want, we don’t always get treated well. Remember we are all in this together because feeling connected with others in our life experiences fosters compassion and connection, rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our own suffering.
Currently we are all living in a time of isolation and yet have never been more joined in thoughts, experiences, and fears. Together we are adjusting to a very different lifestyle and it’s okay to feel like you don’t have it together. This is the common human experience in our world right now, we are not alone in our struggles and worries, and it won’t last forever. Self-compassion is linked to resiliency and reducing the effects of anxiety and trauma. It empowers us to handle what we need to in our lives because we care about ourselves and want to reduce our suffering. I believe this interruption in our lives is an opportunity to practice more compassion towards each other, our community, and ourselves and perhaps we will all come out of this having made the world a little better.
Here is a self-compassion mantra to practice during this time:
“This is a really difficult time, a lot of people feel the same way, I choose to be kind to myself, and give myself the compassion I need.”