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Although the extent of its impact varies from person to person, everyone is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those with mental illness may be facing even more extreme difficulty coping with social distancing and the cancellation of events and plans. If you are with a mental health disorder, it’s important to get the support you need. One practice that everyone can benefit from during this challenging time is self-compassion.
Self-compassion is a powerful inner resource that allows us to embrace our difficult emotions with kindness and care, especially the uncertainty and loss resulting from COVID-19.
It’s exactly what it sounds like––the practice of showing compassion for oneself.
Self-compassion is about treating yourself with the same kindness that you would give to someone that you care about when they are struggling or experiencing a difficult time.
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There are three elements to self-compassion: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity.
Here’s how they apply to the struggles you may be facing during this pandemic:
Instead of judging yourself for not being productive or not taking full advantage of your free time, be gentle with yourself. We are all experiencing stress and trauma in some way, and cannot blame ourselves for needing quiet time and rest.
Similarly, do not get mad at yourself for eating differently than you did when life was ‘normal.’ Our eating habits are supposed to be flexible throughout our lifetime. If you are struggling with your eating during this time, it may be time to seek help from a professional that specializes in eating disorders.
Practice self-kindness during this time by giving your body the rest, soothing activities, and foods it craves and needs.
Mindfulness is often associated with meditation, which can be very helpful during this time, but you don’t have to meditate to practice mindfulness. The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion suggests this exercise:
“Become aware of how you feel about the virus. Are you feeling anxious, disheartened, confused? Can you feel it in your body? If so, where? Is your mind preoccupied with the virus? If so, what are your thoughts? Can you validate for yourself how you think or feel in a kind and understanding manner? For example, ‘Yes, this is hard.’ ‘This is difficult’. ‘This is really stressful.’ Can you offer yourself a little space around your feelings, knowing that it’s part of the current situation we’re all in?”
Although we may all be isolated in our homes right now, we are not alone in our struggles. No one is safe from the effects of the coronavirus. We are all in this together. If you start thinking, “Why me?” when you are upset about cancelled social events and outings, stop and remember that everyone is facing disappointment right now.
You are not alone in feeling the way you do.
It’s also important when practicing self-compassion to use a tone of voice that expresses your warmth and caring toward yourself.
You may also wish to give yourself a physical soothing gesture of support, like giving yourself a hug or placing your hands over your heart. Research shows that these caring soothing gestures along with gentle vocalizations can tap into our mammalian care-giving system (think of how a mother soothes her upset baby) releasing oxytocin, which can result in feeling less overwhelmed.
Closing Thoughts on Self-Compassion
During this time, self-compassion is a powerful practice that can help you cope with the difficulty in a healthy way, and it may even help you help others.
When you are more self-compassionate, it often increases your compassion for others, which is what our world needs to get through this.
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