Being Your Own Best Friend
As our Emotivity team members write this, many people in this world are experiencing – and feeling anxious about the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19). The situation appears to be deteriorating and increasingly worrying in Europe, and at least for now, there appears to be no sign that the pandemic will abate in the United States. The unprecedented and almost surreal reality that we find ourselves in has occupied most of our waking hours, filling our minds with anxiety, worry, and some of us, boredom, or even frustration over the movement restrictions imposed on our households. The pandemic has brought out unhelpful and unsavoury range of human behaviours, ranging from panic buying to price-gouging of essentials such as surgical face masks. Indeed, the flurry of emotions we are experiencing can lead us to feel overwhelmed by all that’s going on around us.
Crises, moments of strife and conflict with loved ones, and major changes to one’s life can bring turbulence and uncertainty to our existence. It helps, however, in these times, to be kinder – not more selfish, toward oneself. The pandemic situation, for example, can bring out the uglier, less pleasant parts of ourselves. We punish ourselves for not managing to keep our kitchen and pantry stocked, we think that since we are working from home now (most of us, anyway), that we should be more productive, and that we should be enjoying good relationships with our family members now. But we don’t experience any of these. We rush out to our nearest supermarket only to be confronted with empty shelves and limited choices, we procrastinate and can’t be bothered to get out of bed to start our work, and we get into verbal fights with our spouses because we can’t agree on what to have for dinner.
In times like these, it is essential to cultivate self-compassion. While much has been said (and written) about self-compassion on Emotivity and websites focused on well-being, the act and habit of being patient, accepting, kind and loving toward oneself is even more important in such trying times. Self-compassion involves directing kindness to ourselves – to treat ourselves as we would a close friend. By being self-compassionate, we also recognize that everyone else too, is suffering, is anxious, and is going through an uncertain time in their lives. You are not special in this regard – and that’s a good thing. And by being self-compassionate, we are being mindful toward the thoughts and emotions we are going through. We accept, observe, but don’t consider our unhelpful thoughts and emotions to be who we are . If you can be kind to others, if you can sacrifice your needs and concerns for others, why not do so during the time where you need it the most? Self-compassion is not selfish; it is a loving and kind reaction toward the person who needs it the most and who has often been neglected for so long – yourself. Here are three ways you can practice self-compassion toward yourself during difficult times.
Accept that the Thoughts and Emotions You Feel are Normal
It is normal – really, to experience anxiety and frustration over our circumstances. By no means should we suppress them or force ourselves to be joyful all the time. One part of being self-compassionate is to accept, acknowledge, and ultimately, be mindful of the thoughts and emotions we experience. Our anxieties and worries are there for a reason – they inform us of concerns and threats that we should be aware of. But we do not need to let them overwhelm or occupy more space in our minds that they already have. Acceptance that others too, experience similar (if not more intense) anxiety and worries, can help you realize that your reactions are in fact, normal. You are not worse off, or struggling dramatically more than the other person, and this mindful realization can lead to greater self-acceptance of yourself and your reactions. Indeed, one study has shown that by being mindful can lead to lowered depressive symptoms and that this is because mindfulness increases self-acceptance . What thoughts and emotions are you currently experiencing? Listing them and acknowledging them – i.e. being mindful of them, is the first step toward accepting them as part of, but not the defining part of, who you are.
Focus on the Good and Shared Humanity that Brings Us Together
What good does any crises situation bring out of us? It may be difficult – impossible, nearly, to see the goodness and positives in the world around us under trying circumstances. But you owe it to yourself – as an act of self-compassion, to at least try finding silver linings despite under dire circumstances. One way may be to engage in benefit-finding – as the term suggests, to seek out, pay attention to, and focus on finding benefits from a given situation. One study examining the well-being of cancer patients over a 4 to 7-year period showed that, after controlling for initial distress and depression, benefit finding improved patients’ well-being when they had follow-up checks . Benefit-finding can also extend to focusing on the good that still resides in humanity, even in trying time. By being self-compassionate, we recognize – and experience gratitude toward those who continue to serve the greater good amidst all the uncertainty. We recognize and can be thankful that most of us have homes we can go back to, that we still have access to our necessary daily essentials – and for some of us, that we can “afford the luxury of boredom.” What benefits can you find in your current circumstances?
Count Your Media Calorie Intake
We are incessantly confronted with news, updates and postings on the news and websites of all that is wrong in this world. Indeed, our negativity biases mean that we tend to pay more attention to the troubles, problems, and challenges in our lives, and in the world around us. And again, such a tendency is normal – being attentive to threats helps us be vigilant, to be prepared in dealing with whatever comes our way. But excessive, uncontrolled exposure to negative news and updates on crises situations can work against our well-being and mental health. Excessive social media use, for one, has been shown to increase ‘cognitive preoccupation’ – obsessive thought patterns involving technology use, which then leads to conflicts in relationships with family, personal life, and work . Constantly checking news of an impending or unfolding crisis is a surefire way to increase unpleasant emotions and worsen ruminative thoughts and emotions; it is easy to seek and find negatives when they’re pretty much all that occupies the media airwaves. Try counting your media calorie intake instead. How often do you spend time checking – refreshing, your news thread in search of new information during times of crises? Could that time be better spent doing something else more productive and enjoyable? Instead of consistently checking in, schedule set times for a quick update on a crisis. You wouldn’t tell your friend to constantly be checking on their phones for updates – why should you do the same yourself?
In all that you do, take the time now to reflect but not ruminate, to acknowledge without being uncaring, to be kind to yourself without feeling guilty for doing so.